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Depression Health Center

Serotonin: 9 Questions and Answers

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6. Can exercise boost serotonin levels?

Exercise can do a lot to improve your mood -- and across the board, studies have shown that regular exercise can be as effective a treatment for depression as antidepressant medication or psychotherapy. In the past, it was believed that several weeks of working out was necessary to see the effects on depression, but new research conducted at the University of Texas at Austin found that just a single 40-minute period of exercise can have an immediate effect on mood.

That said, it remains unclear of the exact mechanism by which exercise accomplishes this. While some believe it affects serotonin levels, to date there are no definitive studies showing that this is the case.

7. Do men and women have the same amount of serotonin -- and does it act the same way in their brain and body?

Studies show that men do have slightly more serotonin than women, but the difference is thought to be negligible. Interestingly, however, a study published in September 2007 in the journal Biological Psychiatry showed there might be a huge difference in how men and women react to a reduction in serotonin -- and that may be one reason why women suffer from depression far more than men.

Using a technique called "tryptophan depletion," which reduces serotonin levels in the brain, researchers found that men became impulsive but not necessarily depressed. Women, on the other hand, experienced a marked drop in mood and became more cautious, an emotional response commonly associated with depression. While the serotonin processing system seems the same in both sexes, researchers now believe men and women may use serotonin differently.

Although studies are still in their infancy, researchers say defining these differences may be the beginning of learning why more women than men experience anxiety and mood disorders, while more men experience alcoholism, ADHD, and impulse control disorders.

There is also some evidence that female hormones may also interact with serotonin to cause some symptoms to occur or worsen during the premenstrual time, during the postpartum period, or around the time of menopause. Not coincidentally, these are all periods when sex hormones are in flux. Men, on the other hand, generally experience a steady level of sex hormones until middle age, when the decline is gradual.

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