The chemical Serotonin is made in the brain and acts as a neurotransmitter. In much the same way telephone lines relay conversations, these serotonin neurotransmitters relay messages between one area of the brain to another. Research shows that between 80-90% of all serotonin is found in the enterochromaffin cells of the gut.
It is generally believed that a serotonin deficiency plays a role in depression. Since there is no way to measure levels in the living without dissecting their brains, there is no way to accurately know how low the low serotonin levels need to be to cause a depressive state.
How Serotonin is Thought to Lead to Depression
Serotonin levels are thought to become low due in part to low levels of tryptophan in the body. The amount of the tryptophan amino we have is thought to be influenced by our diet. Less tryptophan equals less serotonin which can lead to depression, memory problems, and lack of pleasure.
Fatty or sugary foods often temporarily raise serotonin levels which leads the people who eat these foods to feel happy for a while but then have an increase in craving for those foods after the effects of these foods wear off.
Anti-Depressants and Serotonin
Antidepressant medications are prescribed in the treatment of depression to alleviate some of the main symptoms of depression. People with depression may experience some or all of the following: emotional difficulty due to low moods, anxiety, memory issues and lack of pleasure. These antidepressants play a role in the treatment of major depression, bipolar depression, and other depression related disorders.
There are several notable side effects of this medication including headache, fatigue, insomnia, weight loss or weight gain, mania and changes in sexual behavior. Since each individual is different, the side effects they suffer from will also be different. Not all people who take antidepressants suffer from these side effects.
One type of antidepressant medication that is commonly used is selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors also called SSRI. Research indicates that the serotonin reuptake inhibitors are usually very effective for severe or major depression.
The efficacy of the inhibitors for mild and moderate depression is in dispute. Some studies suggest that the reason these antidepressant medications do not work as well on mild to moderate depression is due to the drugs impact or lack there of on the brain chemical dopamine.
New Serotonin Research and the Role of Dopamine
According to an article in the March 2007 issue of Archives of General Psychiatry, the reason antidepressants work for some people and not others is that when the drugs work it is due to certain unknown interactions between serotonin and dopamine that causes the dopamine levels to be increased.
Most of the funding for depression medication research in the 60′s and 70′s was directed towards serotonin reuptake inhibitors and not as much attention was paid to how serotonin impacted dopamine. That is slowly starting to change but not enough information is yet known about the interaction.
Some experts believe that dopamine may actually turn out to be more of a factor in the treatment of mild to moderate depression than the currently prescribed serotonin inhibitors.
One issue that is thought to be delaying this research is that while SSRI’s are prescribed on a recurring basis it may be that an antidepressant medication that more accurately targets the dopamine or dopamine-serotonin interaction would not require long term use. It is thought that such a drug could provide fast, long lasting relief.
Again, this is just speculation by certain experts. The study of the dopamine connection is still not known and is in the early stages of research. While dopamine supplements are available for help with depression there are risks to taking them and there is dispute over whether they work or not. Before you try a supplement it is recommended that you talk with your doctor or medical care provider to see if it would be helpful based on your individual circumstance.