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Depression - it is probably not caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain

Liz Blamire

16th August 2022

A systematic umbrella review, reported in the journal Nature, has challenged the long-held idea that low or inactive levels of serotonin are responsible for depression.

The research - The serotonin theory of depression: a systematic umbrella review of the evidence - reviewed existing research to examine the evidence on the relationship between serotonin levels and depression. Included in the review were studies on:

  • Serotonin receptors and transporters in the brain in people with and without depression
  • Concentrations of serotonin in the blood in people with and without depression
  • The artificial lowering of serotonin to see if it would provoke depression
  • Genetics: studies involving tens of thousands of participants (with and without depression) looking for any differences in gene instructions for serotonin transporters.

The researchers concluded:

The main areas of serotonin research provide no consistent evidence of there being an association between serotonin and depression, and no support for the hypothesis that depression is caused by lowered serotonin activity or concentrations.

An excellent commentary by two of the researchers can be found at The Conversation - Depression is probably not caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain – new study

Liz Blamire

Liz is the current tutor2u subject lead for Health and Social Care. She is a former NHS midwife, who has worked in community, birth centre and acute hospital settings. Liz is an SSAT Accredited Lead Practitioner, who has taught Health and Social Care in FE and secondary schools, where she was a successful HOD. Liz is an experienced senior examiner and author.

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