A new study published in the September 15th issue of Biological Psychiatry reports on important sex differences in the way that men and women react to reductions in serotonin function, specifically in terms of their mood and impulses.
One of the most studied conditions in the field of biological psychiatry is Major Depressive Disorder, or MDD. In this new work, scientists found that women and men appear to respond differently to the same biochemical manipulation. These differences between the sexes are seen when serotonin levels in the brain are reduced.
Using a technique in healthy participants called acute tryptophan depletion, which decreases serotonin levels in the brain, these scientists found that men became more impulsive, but did not experience any mood changes in response to the induced chemical changes. However, women in this study reported a worsening of their mood and they became more cautious, a response commonly associated with depression.
One of the study's authors, Dr. Espen Walderhaug, explains, "We were surprised to find such a clear sex difference, as men and women normally experience the same effect when the brain chemistry is changed...it is possible that men and women utilize serotonin differently."
Most of today's most popular antidepressants block the serotonin "uptake site", also known as the transporter, in the brain. This is done in order to keep adequate levels of serotonin in the brain.
In another category of support for low serotonin levels, the classification of plants called adaptogens are thought to work by making serotonin's precursors, tryptophan and 5-HTP, more available to the brain, thus increasing the amount of serotonin in the brain. Many people have found that adaptogens can be used instead of prescription antidepressants, or along with the pharmaceuticals at reduced levels.
Dr. Walderhaug comments that their study's findings "might be relevant in understanding why women show a higher prevalence of mood and anxiety disorders compared to men, while men show a higher prevalence of alcoholism, ADHD and impulse control disorders."