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Scientific research against depressive disorders

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With advances in medical science, research is now quicker and broader than ever in the past and great strides are being made in diagnosing this mental health condition. With every advance in this science, doctors are finding it easier to treat this mental health condition and are recognizing it quicker with better results.

Despite extensive research, scientists and medical professionals are still uncertain about what causes the depressive disorder. New studies have shown support for several possible causes, but much of the theories that exist today are based on the success of treatment and family history records. For example, positive results have been achieved when norepinephrine levels are adjusted, thereby leading many to believe that chemical imbalances may play a role in the onset of the illness.

Basically, two areas have been focused on: genetics, and hormonal or brain chemical activity. Some studies have also included environmental factors such as stress, and medical issues like infectious agents, with some interesting information being discovered.

Many researchers also believe that there is a genetic connection that may predispose an individual to depression. One field of the study suggests that an individual does not necessarily inherit the disorder, but that the genes involved are somehow ‘altered’ at conception. Some scientists say that these genetic changes can result in the production of faulty proteins within the brain cells, thereby leading to disorder. The idea is that it is not passed down from generation to generation, but that it does have a genetic basis. In other words, no one in your family may have ever had a mental illness, but if something goes wrong genetically at conception, you could be at risk for developing the disease.

While this group of professionals believes that there is a genetic, but no familial connection, there is another area of study that shows strong support for the idea that depressive disorder does, in fact, run in families. They argue that even if the disease is caused by genetic factors, an individual can actually inherit the predisposition to biological abnormalities that lead to disorders. Scientists have proven that you can die of depression! You must know effective ways to treat this psychological problem,the best depression treatment ways.

And, in looking at the evidence, it is difficult to deny the fact that mental illness often seems to carry through the generations, showing that there may be some support for a familial link. In fact, statistics show that close relatives of people with bipolar disorder have a 4-20% likelihood of developing the disease, as compared to a less than 1% chance among those in the general population.

However, many other studies have produced conflicting or inconclusive information regarding a link between depressive disorder and inherited factors. So, while we know that there is definitely a genetic connection, we are uncertain whether genes are actually a cause, or if an individual’s genetic make-up predisposes them to something else that may be the cause. In other words, are genes to blame or are they simply risk factors rather than causes?

Many people also argue that just because a disease runs in a family doesn’t necessarily mean it has a genetic basis. For example, members of the same family are often exposed to similar non-genetic factors such as diet, toxins, infections, and lifestyle habits including smoking, drug use, or stress management skills. Let’s say that you smoke, and your father smoked, and your grandfather also smoked, and you all have battled lung cancer at some point in your lives. Is it fair to say that lung cancer runs in the family, or is it the smoking habit that actually runs in the family? You may have a genetic predisposition to lung cancer (since some smoke for years and never develop the disease) but are your genes actually to blame? If you didn’t smoke, your genetic ‘risk factor’ would not be an issue because you would not be causing the damage necessary for cancer cells to thrive and grow.

The argument is similar to many mood disorders. A genetic predisposition does not guarantee that you will develop the disease. In fact, many can go their entire lives with no episodes at all while others, because of their lifestyles, will experience symptoms.

Chemical causes of mood disorders

The idea that bipolar disorder is caused by chemical imbalances has been supported by the Catecholamine Theory. Basically, the brain’s chemical functions are governed by little messengers called neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are chemical substances that transmit information from one nerve cell to the next and affect everything from mood and appetite to attention, sleep, and learning processes. Many scientists believe that depression is caused by a deficiency in the neurotransmitter epinephrine, also known as adrenaline. In fact, several studies have shown that not only does low epinephrine supply lead to depression, but an excessive supply will cause mania. One particular study found that manic patients had a significantly higher level of epinephrine and norepinephrine than those of depressed or control subjects. When bipolar patients were given Resperpine, a drug known to reduce epinephrine and norepinephrine supply, many showed a lessening of manic symptoms.

Research has also shown that a low level of serotonin, another neurotransmitter, is also linked to both mania and depression. Oddly enough, both “poles” of the disorder seem to be impacted by a lack of serotonin, which is a mysterious finding considering the opposite symptoms that are manifested.

Studies focusing on chemical imbalances in the body have shown strong support for a link between the levels of certain neurotransmitters and bipolar disorder. Although further investigation is still necessary, there seems to be promising evidence to indicate a biological cause to the illness since many patients, when give medications designed to help correct imbalances, have experienced significant improvement in symptoms.


This article was written by Dr. Andrew Gordon, M.D. in neurology and psychotherapy; Associate Professor of Neurology at the University of Washington, Law, and Humanities Committee of the American Academy of Neurology, and chair of the Ethics Committee of Northwest Hospital.
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