Depression May Not Start in the Brain, But Rather in the Gut

Since the 1950s, the types of medications used to treat depression have changed along with researchers’ understanding of the mental health disorder. First, anticholinergic agents—known to have a psychiatric effect—were used: chlorpromazine, thioridazine, and levomepromazine. However, the approach to depression treatment changed in the 1960’s, with the discovery of monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOI), iproniazid, tricyclic antidepressants (TCA), and imipramine agents. Due to several adverse side-effects, dietary restrictions, and drug interactions, however, MAOIs quickly fell out of favor. By the 1970’s drug development for depression had shifted its focus to norepinephrine and serotonin, and by the 1980’s almost completely focused on serotonin alone. In 1987, fluoxetine—more commonly known as Prozac—became the first FDA approved selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) and became the primary treatment for depression. Today, focus has shifted once again to include medications that work on the glutamate system. Ketamine infusions and Janssen Phamraceutical’s recently-approved Spravato are two of the most promising depression treatments to ever hit the mental health landscape.

Different claims regarding other potential causes of depression have circulated for decades. Some claim that other neurotransmitters—besides serotonin and norepinephrine—play a larger role in regulating mood. One recent claim, which has grown in popularity, is that depression is gut-related.

A new study conducted by research teams from Columbia & Duke Universities, published in the Journal of Gastroenterology, describes the procedures for correcting the proposed gut abnormalities that are linked to mental illness. These abnormalities are a growing problem around the world—specifically in nations that rely heavily on processed foods.

The truth is that 95% of the body’s serotonin is actually produced in the gut, not the brain. What connects the two? Many who suffer from depression also suffer from constipation. In fact, constipation accounts for over 2.5 million doctor’s visits, and more than 100,000 hospitalizations each year.

The study evaluated serotonin’s role in constipation and depression in mice. What they concluded was that a shortage of the neurotransmitter produced a dour mood. And, when the serotonin level was raised—in both the gut and in the brain—the subject’s mood was elevated, and the depression appeared to be alleviated.

“Serotonin affects not only intestinal functioning, but also sleep, pain sensitivity, mood, appetite, and well-being,” explained Emeran Mayer. He believes that emotions are not a ‘brain-only’ phenomenon, despite the medical treatments being used as such.

For now, this research remains interesting, but is still new. For many, it is still unclear how to tackle depression through the gut. The easiest thing to do is to simply alter your diet by eliminating processed foods, or trying probiotics to to establish a healthy gut flora. This is especially useful if the source of the depression is assumed to be serotonin related. However, if another neurotransmitter—like glutamate—is thought to be deficient, then other treatments—like ketamine infusions—may prove to be more effective.

Contact Vitalitas Denver

Vitalitas Denver is one of Denver’s leading ketamine clinics, with clinic locations in Littleton and Westminster, CO. We have performed thousands of ketamine infusions over the years, and are happy to answer any questions you have about ketamine infusions and how they could help you or a loved one. Contact us today and take the first step towards reclaiming your mental wellbeing.

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