Experts have found a link between brain chemicals and depression. Accordingly, abnormal levels of certain brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) influence brain activity (particularly in the limbic system and cortex) trigger bouts of depression. Neurotransmitters, by the way, are chemicals that enable the transmission of signals or information throughout the body. Neurotransmitters are what move the different parts or organs of the body to do what they are supposed to do. They send signals to your heart (the reason why it beats), to your lungs (the reason why you breathe), and so on. They influence mood and concentration, as well. But you can't have these neurotransmitters in normal levels all the time. Genetics, stress, diet, substance and alcohol abuse can throw these brain chemicals off-balance.
Glutamate and Depression Prevention
There are different brain chemicals that can prevent depression, and glutamate is one of them. An amino acid, glutamate is mainly involved in the production of proteins but it is believed to prevent depression, if not, reduce depression symptoms, by inhibiting brain activity in some areas.
The Role of Monoamines in Depression
The more popular lot of neurotransmitters is the class of monoamines that includes serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine. Rarely can you stumble on an article about depression that does not talk about these three particular brain chemicals!
Serotonin is a brain chemical that stabilizes mood. Its function is inhibitory in nature, it balances the effects of other neurotransmitters that excite the brain. Serotonin also helps prevent sleeping disturbances and keeps one from turning to destructive way of dealing with depression. Serotonin levels can become abnormal with excessive use of stimulants and too much caffeine intake.
Norepinephrine excites rather than inhibits. Too much norepinephrine can cause anxiety while low levels of this neurotransmitter can dampen mood and cause sleeping problems and low energy.
Dopamine, meanwhile, is linked to memory, focus and concentration. It pushes you to get things done. It goes to say that when you have either high or low levels of this neurotransmitter, it can manifest in forgetfulness and inability to concentrate on one task alone.
Medications To Treat Depression
Based on the foregoing, drug options for depression will typically include:
- Tricyclics. Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), such as Anafranil, Adapin, Aventyl, Elavil, Norpramin
- Pamelor, Pertofrane, Sinequan, and Surmontil, Tofranil, and Vivactil, are prescribed primarily to increase the levels of serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain. While often regarded as an effective depression treatment, TCAs come with many undesirable side effects, among them, blurred vision, tremors, dry mouth, drowsiness during daytime, constipation and bladder problems, sexual problems, weight gain, fatigue, and increased heart rate.
- Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors. Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs), like Parnate, Nardil, and Marplan, are usually recommended when "all else fails". This is because prescription for MAOIs comes with special considerations and restrictions. For one thing, they can cause adverse reactions when taken with other drugs, cheese and alcoholic beverages, so avoidance of these substances is emphasized when on MAOI. These drugs can also cause potentially life-threatening side effects just like chest pain, stiffed neck, abnormally fast heart rate, and nausea and vomiting.
- Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors. SSRIs, such as Celexa, Lexapro, Luvoc, Paxil, Prozac, and Zoloft, are among the more popular antidepressants prescribed by doctors. They help one deal with depression by increasing the levels of serotonin in the brain. Like other depressants, SSRIs come with many side effects, too, such as reversible, sexual problems, dizziness, nausea, and difficulty sleeping.
- Serotonin and Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors. SNRIs are another class of antidepressants. They work by increasing not just serotonin but also norepinephrine levels in the brain.
As you may have noted, however, all of these drug options come with side effects. Thus, it may be wise to include preventing depression in the treatment plan as well.