What Causes Depleted Serotonin?

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Prescription drugs can regulate the neurotransmitter serotonin.
Prescription drugs can regulate the neurotransmitter serotonin. (Image: "A History Of Psychotropics" is Copyrighted by Flickr user: schoschie (Niels Heidenreich) under the Creative Commons Attribution license.)

Serotonin is a nerve transmitter in the brain that regulates a number of key physiological processes, including sensory perception, sleep, mood and depression. When levels of this crucial hormone are depleted, the body’s natural rhythms are disturbed. There are several causes for reduced levels of serotonin, many of which are environmental factors that people face on an everyday basis.

Genetics

Genetic factors often are considered the primary culprit in cases of depleted serotonin levels. People with depression are frequently found to have inherited a genetic defect in the brain’s serotonin receptors, making it difficult for these receptors to absorb the brain’s circulating serotonin. This defect makes serotonin receptor sites shorter than they normally would be, hindering their ability to both receive and release serotonin in the brain.

Stress

Whether brought about by everyday life or by a significant traumatic event, prolonged or intense stress has been found to cause changes in the brain’s chemistry, including the depletion of serotonin. A 1989 study by J.J. Mann, Victoria Arango and P.M. Marzuk revealed that chronic stress caused by ongoing problems or a specific stressful incident likely contributed to neurochemical changes in participants, leading to episodes of depression.

Diet

Serotonin levels can can be affected by a poor or unbalanced diet, as an adequate protein supply plus specific vitamins and minerals are necessary to build neurotransmitters. These required vitamins and minerals are known as cofactors, and when too few cofactors are present in the body due to poor nutrition and low protein intake, a neurotransmitter imbalance arises.

Chemical Substances

Certain substances in our environment also can be to blame for cases of depleted serotonin levels in the brain. Drugs are a major cause of lowered serotonin levels, including such everyday substances as nicotine, alcohol, antidepressants and caffeine. Exposure to harsh chemicals such as pesticides and heavy metals also can lead to permanent damage to the nerve cells responsible for producing serotonin.

Lack of Sunlight

Increasing research has revealed a link between lack of sunlight and depleted serotonin levels. When the body’s internal clock does not receive signals from the sunlight to release certain energetic hormones such as serotonin, levels of this nerve transmitter are lowered.

According to Psychiatric News, a study conducted at the Center for Addiction and Mental Health at the University of Toronto shows that sunlight controls serotonin transporters, proteins that prevent nerves from receiving serotonin. The study found that higher levels of serotonin transporters were found in the brain during darker autumn and winter months, leading to depleted serotonin levels.

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