What you think you know about serotonin and depression may be outdated. A new study calls into question the theory that a chemical imbalance causes the condition.
The idea that low serotonin levels were to blame has been around since the 1960s. Even then, many experts questioned the scientific evidence.
However, the concept became firmly entrenched in the public mind. Surveys show that up to 90% of adults accept the idea, partly due to marketing by pharmaceutical companies.
Now, a large-scale review by six top European research teams has concluded there is no connection between reduced serotonin and depression.
While some of the thinking has changed, it’s important to keep in mind that there are still many effective treatments for depression. Learn more about what this recent news means for you.
In spite of the uncertainty about how antidepressants work, they still provide relief for many patients.
Follow your doctor’s recommendations and consider these suggestions for minimizing side effects and achieving the desired results:
1. Take with food. Nausea is a common complaint. Unless the directions say otherwise, try taking your medication on a full stomach. Eating smaller and more frequent meals may help too.
2. Monitor weight gain. About 25% of antidepressant users gain 10 pounds or more. Catching any upward trend early makes it easier to prevent the pounds from adding up. Your doctor may also be able to suggest an alternative drug.
3. Prevent dry mouth. If your saliva is reduced, drink more water and be sure to breathe through your nose. Avoid substances that dehydrate you, like alcohol and tobacco.
4. Involve your partner. A drop in libido can disrupt your love life. Keep your partner informed and work together on finding solutions.
5. Keep a journal. Drugs affect each individual differently. Writing about your experiences allows you to keep track of your progress and any side effects. Your notes could also help your doctor to update your treatment plan.
6. Be patient. While serotonin may be a minor factor, antidepressants still appear to have positive effects on brain chemistry, maybe in more complex ways. It usually takes at least two weeks to see any results.
Your daily habits have a major impact on your mental health.
Talk with your doctor about positive changes you can make to complement your treatment, such as:
1. Work out. At least one study has found that regular exercise can be just as effective as antidepressants for some adults. Focus on aerobics, like walking, running, biking, and swimming.
2. Eat healthy. Forget about magic foods, but a balanced diet gives you energy and brightens your mood. Fill your plate with delicious whole foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and fish.
3. Sleep well. You might suffer from insomnia, or you might want to stay in bed. Either extreme can make your depression worse. Stick to a consistent schedule that provides 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night.
4. Appreciate nature. Green spaces are a safe and natural stimulant. Eat your breakfast outdoors. Go hiking or play tennis on weekends. Hang out at the playground with your kids.
5. Reduce stress. Difficult life events like divorce and unemployment can contribute to depression. Treat yourself with compassion. Develop relaxation practices.
6. Seek support. Even if you feel like withdrawing, push yourself to stay connected with family and friends. Talk about what you’re going through and share fun activities.
As research continues on serotonin, you can take advantage of the many options available to you now for managing your depression symptoms. Your doctor can help you find the appropriate combination of medical care and natural remedies for you.