Causes Of Low Neurotransmitter Levels
If low levels of neurotransmitters can contribute to depression, an important question is what causes the low levels of serotonin, norepinephrine, or dopamine in the first place? When there is a breakdown anywhere in the process, low levels of neurotransmitters can result.
Research has indicated several potential causes of chemical imbalances in the brain, including:
- Molecules that help make neurotransmitters are in short supply
- Not enough receptor sites to receive the neurotransmitter
- Presynaptic cells are taking the neurotransmitter back up before it has a chance to reach the receptor cell
- Too few of the molecules that build neurotransmitters
- Too little of a specific neurotransmitter is being produced
Several emerging theories are concerned with the factors that promote lowered levels, such as cellular stress. But one of the main challenges for researchers and doctors hoping to connect depression to low levels of specific brain chemicals is that they don’t have a way to consistently and accurately measure them.
Combatting The Chemical Imbalance Stigma
Acknowledging the limitations of our current knowledge of depression and its treatment is important. In recent years, some researchers have expressed concerns that pharmaceutical companies marketing antidepressant medications may have misled consumers by oversimplifying or misrepresenting the research into the brain chemistry of depression.
Sociological research has found that the stigma attached to depression is not necessarily lessened by the theory of chemical imbalance.
Several studies have found that when told depression is caused by a chemical imbalance, people tend to feel less confident in their ability to manage the condition. Other studies have found that when depression is framed as a disease of the brain, people are more likely to feel the need to avoid a person with depression .
Not all the research has been negative, though. Several studies included in a 2012 meta-analysis indicated that one of the most effective ways to address and challenge social stigma around mental illness is to educate and discuss conditions and treatmentwhich includes being upfront and honest about what is still unknown or not well understood.
Depression Medications And Treatment
Some new and investigational treatments for depression include drugs that block the neurotransmitter glutamate, which can be toxic in large doses, or that help regulate hormones involved in sleep or the stress response. Some drugsas well as brain and nerve stimulation therapies that appear to have benefits in depressionmay work by promoting or regulating connectivity within certain parts of the brain. It appears that certain neuronal networks can be either overactive or underactive in depression.
The more researchers study the brains of depressed people, the more theyre able to pinpoint specific brain abnormalities associated with each aspect of depression. Several research projects, for instance, have linked specific features of depression, including disrupted or unbalanced feelings of guilt, the tendency to ruminate about negative thoughts, anhedonia, and disruptions in memory, with very specific brain imbalances or abnormalities.
The eventual goal is that people with specific depression types, or even specific genes associated with depression risk, will be matched with the treatments that are most likely to be helpful for them as individuals.
Originally published in 2016, this post is regularly updated.
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How Is Depression Treated
Depression is among the most treatable of mental disorders. Between 80% and 90% percent of people with depression eventually respond well to treatment. Almost all patients gain some relief from their symptoms.
Before a diagnosis or treatment, a health professional should conduct a thorough diagnostic evaluation, including an interview and a physical examination. In some cases, a blood test might be done to make sure the depression is not due to a medical condition like a thyroid problem or a vitamin deficiency . The evaluation will identify specific symptoms and explore medical and family histories as well as cultural and environmental factors with the goal of arriving at a diagnosis and planning a course of action.
Changes In Structure And Connection
There are many components to our brains. Shrinkage is one example of how the areas of the brain can change structurally. However, depression can also affect the brain by increasing the size of certain areas or changing their shape. Because of this, how the areas of the brain interact and communicate with each other can be altered by depression.
Changes in the structure of the brain due to depression usually takes at least 8 months to become apparent. These changes can result in long-lasting or permanent shifts in memory, attention, mood, and emotions–even after a major depressive episode has ended.
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The Effects Of Brain Changes
If you compare the brain of someone with depression to the brain of someone who is not depressed, on the outside they look pretty similar. However, when imaging scans from such tests as an MRI have been used to look inside the brain, discernible differences in brain activity have been noted in the brains of people with depression, particularly those with long-term or chronic depression. People with a history of chronic depression have been found, on average, to have a smaller hippocampusa part of the brain that is involved in memoryand a thinner right cortex, which is involved in mood.
Researchers still dont know the exact reasons for these differences, but they may reflect the long-term impact on the brain of biochemical changes related to stress and depression. In turn, these differences may affect the brains ability to process emotional stimuli and respond to new environmental stresses.
Normal activity in the brain is also disrupted in depression. Regions of the brain that are involved in reward processing are less active in depressed people. As a result, people who are depressed sometimes say that they have almost entirely lost the ability to experience pleasure . Many people with depression no longer look forward to activities they once enjoyed, like traveling to a favorite destination, watching a favorite sport, or going out with friends.
What Does Major Depression Do To The Brain
Depression is more than just a mood disorder. It is a psychological condition that affects more than just the way you feel. Major depression, also known as clinical depression, can cause the chemical activity of your brain to change resulting in numerous different symptoms. So, how exactly does depression impact the brain? Keep reading to find out!
How To Get Help
Tell your doctor if you have symptoms of depression. Theyâll want to rule out other health conditions so they can find you the right treatment. You might need to make some lifestyle changes, take medicine, or talk to a mental health specialist. Some people benefit from a mix of all three.
Some treatments for mild or serious depression include:
- Healthy diet change
Suicide is a serious symptom of depression. Get help right away if youâre thinking about hurting yourself. You can reach someone at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Theyâre available anytime, day or night.
Molecular Psychiatry: âSubcortical brain alterations in major depressive disorder: findings from the ENIGMA Major Depressive Disorder working group.â
Translational Psychiatry: âProfound and reproducible patterns of reduced regional gray matter characterize major depressive disorder.â
Neural Plasticity: âThe Role of Neural Plasticity in Depression: From Hippocampus to Prefrontal Cortex.â
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America : âDepression, antidepressants, and the shrinking hippocampus.â
Frontiers in Immunology: âThe Role of Inflammation in Depression and Fatigue.â
The Lancet Psychiatry: âMicroglia and major depression: not yet a clear picture,â âAssociation of translocator protein total distribution volume with duration of untreated major depressive disorder: a cross-sectional study.â
What Anxiety And Depression Does To Your Brain
Depression is a debilitating disease that runs rampant in todays world. It affects nearly 4.4 percent of the worlds population, a shockingly large number when looking at the size of the worlds population of 7 billion people, and the numbers keep growing. The disorders prominent status in society is followed closely by that of anxiety. Both disorders can deeply affect the life of the sufferer. The two psychiatric diseases pose a major concern for neuroscientists seeking to understand and find answers for sufferers of the disorders.
The great concern surrounding depression lies in its effect on the brain. Studies have shown that the condition causes the memory hub of the brain the hippocampus to shrink. While this may initially manifest as poor memory, it becomes far more problematic later in life. The presence of a shrunken hippocampus has become linked to the development of Alzheimers Disease and dementia in patients with neurocognitive disorder.
In the past, there have been fewer studies of the relationship between depression and anxiety when it combined in patients. However, more recent studies are taking steps to analyze the effect this comorbidity of the two disorders might have on the patient. Comorbidity of the two conditions has grown in concern as the conditions presence increases in society, particularly as the presence of both diseases in a patient have been noted to lead to poorer health and suicidal ideation.
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What Does Loneliness Do To Someone
Loneliness can make a person feel alone, unwanted, empty, suicidal, helpless and worthless. Lack of self-esteem and self-care may also show due to the effects of depression. However, loneliness can make a person creative. There are a lot of brilliant people who suffer from depression who are successful in their career such as J.K. Rowling, Chester, Jim Carrey, Johnny Depp and Robin Williams.
Residential Treatment Provides A Space To Heal
One of the most important reasons to choose residential care for depression treatment is that it gives you the space, the time, and the opportunity to truly focus on healing. There are no distractions of home, work, and other responsibilities, only a safe place to get better. The damage that depression has done to your brain and body can be slowed, stopped, and even reversed with good care.
The most effective treatment for depression is a combination of therapy and medications, both of which take time to work. This is another reason that residential treatment is a smart choice for depression care. It gives you time to develop a rapport with a therapist and to make positive changes. It also gives you a chance to try one or more antidepressants to find the medication that will adjust your brain chemicals in just the right way for maximum impact with fewest side effects.
Getting relief from depression through treatment will immediately begin to help your brain, reversing the shrinking of certain areas, the inflammation, and the overflow of cortisol. This in turn will help you feel better overall, and you will begin to get relief for the physical symptoms.
Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive treatment for people struggling with mental health disorders as well as co-occurring substance use disorders. Contact us to learn more about our renowned Los Angeles-based program and how we can help you or your loved one start on the path to lasting wellness.
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What Depression Does To Your Brain
Feeling depressed or sad are normal reactions to life’s challenges. But when sadness or feelings of hopelessness and defeat last for days or weeks, they can have a significant impact on your life.
A persistent feeling of sadness may be a sign that you have clinical depression, a treatable medical condition.
Depression, sometimes referred to as major depressive disorder, is one of the most prevalent mental health disorders in the United States. The condition affects more than 19 million adults¹, or about 8% of the population annually.
For some people, major depression causes overwhelming feelings of sadness and despair that severely interfere with their ability to lead a normal, active life.
In addition to affecting a person psychologically, clinical depression can cause various physical symptoms. For example, major depression can lead to pain, headaches, digestive issues and has the potential to alter your brain’s physical structure.
The Brain’s Impact On Depression
Popular lore has it that emotions reside in the heart. Science, though, tracks the seat of your emotions to the brain. Certain areas of the brain help regulate mood. Researchers believe that more important than levels of specific brain chemicals nerve cell connections, nerve cell growth, and the functioning of nerve circuits have a major impact on depression. Still, their understanding of the neurological underpinnings of mood is incomplete.
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Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation
TMS involves inducing an electric current within the brain using pulsating magnetic fields that are generated outside the brain near the scalp . Using this technique the TMS device can only stimulate the surface of the brain immediately underneath where the magnet is placed. Drawing from neuroimaging findings of reduced metabolism of the prefrontal cortex in depression TMS therapy for depression has until present been restricted to the prefrontal cortex. Recently, stimulation of the left prefrontal cortex with TMS received Food and Drug Administration approval for the treatment of depression resistant to antidepressant medications . Other targets and techniques that have been explored is the application of slow TMS on the right DLPFC .
Even though TMS stimulates the dorsal prefrontal cortex, its effects are thought to be generated by downstream effects on the limbic system . Neuroimaging studies have shown changes in limbic regions such as the striatum and the amygdala though a correlation of these changes with changes in depression has not been demonstrated .
A Depressed Brain Isnt Damaged Goods
We all have the same basic brain structure although the neuronal connections, determining the activation of and communication between brain circuits, are unique to every person. The particular circuits excited over and over in your brain become the go-to default pattern for you and are the product of your thoughts, interactions with others and the world, and the events that happen to you.
In the 1960s, we were told depression was due to a deficiency of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine. Then, a still popular theory blamed depression on too little serotonin. Today, we know that its much more complicated than either of these and involves many other neurochemicals which influence and are influenced by depression. To oversimplify, each neurotransmitter tends to contribute to a particular depressive symptom.
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Is This A One
Major depressive illness has a long-term influence on the brain, and experts are still attempting to find out what kind of long-term effects to expect. According to the study, the effects may be long-lasting.
The brain can be impacted at any level of clinical depression, but the long-term effects of persistent depression can be exceedingly detrimental. Even after years of depression, people who have had a lifetime major depressive disorder may have alterations in their brains . According to some research, the effects of depression on the brain compound over time.
Furthermore, translocator protein levels rise in sad people. According to research, several chemicals in the brain are linked to inflammation and can:
- Damage the neurons in the brain
- Prevent the emergence of new ones
- Interfere with concentration capacity
- Changes in the brain with age
Even if levels return to normal, short-term changes in growth and aging can have long-term repercussions. One thing is certain: long-term depression is likely to change brain structure and function.
Can Depression Damage Your Brain
Depression mostly affects three parts of the brain the hippocampus, amygdala, and prefrontal cortex. The hippocampus, located in the centre of the brain, is responsible for storing memories and creating cortisol, a hormone released during periods of mental and emotional stress as well as during depression. When excessive amounts of cortisol gets sent to the brain, it can cause problems including memory loss.
The prefrontal cortex is located in the front part of the brain and performs the function of regulating emotions and helping to form memories. In the situation where excessive cortisol is produced, the prefrontal cortex starts shrinking.
The amygdala is the part of the brain responsible for producing emotions such as pleasure and fear. With excess cortisol, the amygdala expands and also becomes more active, causing problems in sleep patterns.
As per studies, cortisol is believed to create structural and functional alterations in the brain. To understand what happens in the brain during depression, lets understand the two alterations in detail.
Shrinkage in the certain parts of the brain- The brain regions namely hippocampus and the frontal lobe shrank among those individuals who had suffered from depression for years together.
One of the possible causes for the decrease in the levels of key neurotransmitters mentioned above is because of the enzyme activity of the monoamine oxidase which breaks those chemicals.
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Modulation Of The Brain Network By Treatment
Stress can cause atrophy of both the hippocampus and PFC, with morphological changes in both regions being observed in patients with depression. Under these conditions, an ideal antidepressant should prevent cortical atrophy and stimulate the mechanisms of neurogenesis. Some studies that examine the volume of the hippocampus in patients with a long history of depression, find correlations with the time spent by the patient in symptomatic conditions. This suggests that a successful treatment quickly reduces symptoms and stops the deteriorating processes. Even in patients with PTSD, where we also find a reduction in hippocampal volume, antidepressants improve declarative memory.
Subcortical Abnormalities Of The White Matter
Until recently, studies focused mainly on gray matter in the depression neurocircuit, neglecting connections to the subcortical white matter. Abnormalities at this subcortical level have been described in depressed elderly people , which initially led to the idea that it is a neurological problem associated with ischemic vascular pathology. MRI signal show that in the prefrontal area there are many hyperdensities of white matter, being associated with low metabolism in the frontal lobe and cortical atrophy . Opposition disorder present in childhood is considered to be associated with low structural connectivity of several white matter neural tracts located at the following levels: corpus callosum, hooked bundle, cingulum, fornix, upper longitudinal bundle, lower longitudinal bundle, inferior fronto-occipital bundle. We find the anomalies described above in both children and adolescents and adults. Of all, the decrease in the integrity of the corpus callosum is the most consistent finding. The corpus callosum is a broad commissure fiber, which connects the cortical cortex of the two hemispheres, having a crucial role in ensuring the integrity of interhemispheric communication in terms of processing higher cognitive functions but also processing perception and arousal, as well as everything that means emotionalmotivationalvolitional regulation. The corpus callosum integrity decreases in people who experienced opposition disorder or early depression .
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