A commercial sponsored by Pfizer asserts, “While the cause [of depression] is unknown, depression may be related to an imbalance of natural chemicals between nerve cells in the brain...” It's often said that depression results from a chemical imbalance, but that figure of speech doesn't capture how complex the disease is. There are many possible causes of depression, including faulty mood regulation by the brain, genetic vulnerability, stressful life events, medications, and medical problems. It's believed that several of these forces interact to bring on depression. To be sure, chemicals are involved in this process, but it is not a simple matter of one chemical being too low and another too high. Rather, many chemicals are involved, working both inside and outside nerve cells. There are millions, even billions, of chemical reactions that make up the dynamic system that is responsible for your mood, perceptions, and how you experience life.
Science tracks the seat of our emotions to the brain. Certain areas of the brain help regulate mood. Researchers believe that nerve cell connections, nerve cell growth, and the functioning of nerve circuits have a major impact on depression. Still, their understanding of the neurological underpinnings of mood is incomplete. Trauma early in life, hormonal changes, sustained stress, or sudden, emotional losses can push some people over the edge. Interestingly, alterations in brain wave electrical patterns during sleep (for example, reduced deep sleep and time spent dreaming) and changes in the cerebral blood flow, also have been linked with depression.
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