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Home: Articles: Miscellaneous: Anhedonia

Notes on Anhedonia and SAD

by Sister Leslie of the Bipolar Planet®

Brain Chemicals in the Body

I have been considering the theory that anhedonia results when you aren't getting the physiological changes that happen in tandem with your emotions. Because they accompany each other, most people aren't aware that they can be sorted out.

Here is what I mean by that. You don't know the difference between the emotion "dread" and the sudden *boom* in your gut that accompanies it? Without the *boom*, dread becomes an intellectual exercise.

That *boom* in your gut is a shot of adrenaline. Did you ever notice that a frightened animal voids its bladder and bowels? Even a submissive pet may lie on its back and pee when approached. The relative lack of this gut-level response is what they mean when they say someone has "guts". Or "intestinal fortitude" as an old friend of mine likes to say.  Simple, eh?

All of the brain chemicals are present in other parts of the body. Does it make sense that a drug that increases the bioavailability of serotonin in the brain may also increase it in the gut? Yeah, serotonin is involved in digestion. 95% of the serotonin in the body is in the gut. Stress can create imbalances that wreak havoc with the digestive tract. Here's an interesting article on serotonin and Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

Likewise, norepinephrine, dopamine and acetylcholine all carry your emotions from the brain and create somatic reactions. Mind over matter, they say.
Dopamine - pleasure.
Acetylcholine - vigilance, learning.
Norepinephrine - attention.

Dopamine and Love

Dopamine is something I want to explore further sometime. A lack of dopamine causes flat affect. Love increases dopamine.  SSRIs primarily keep serotonin available to the synapses. However, they also interfere with dopamine, and therefore with one's ability to experience love.

Those are the people that I think are in jeopardy of not being able to fall in love. In fact, this is why people take these SSRI's. They take them to blunt the emotions but when you blunt the emotions you blunt your ability to fall in love. SSRI's also suppress obsessive thinking, which is what you want when you are terribly depressed but it is also another central component of romantic love. Serotonin enhancing anti-depressants and the simple lack of sexual activity can jeopardize romantic love in marriage in other more subtle ways.

I've noticed over the years that quite a few relationships break up after one partner goes on an SSRI. Maybe it's due to increased independence and self-esteem. But when the partner on the SSRI states "I don't feel the same about him/her," it may be the lack of dopamine. The doctors should warn us about that, huh?

Dopamine is the primary factor in some folks' depression rather than serotonin. It is also involved in sex drive.  And in tardive dyskinesia. And in Parkinson's. My understanding is that Parkinson's patients have a characteristic "mask", and their emotions don't reach their faces. Somebody want to explain that to me? I don't know anyone with Parkinson's.

Ever wonder why lovers bring chocolate?

Perhaps chocolate's key ingredient is its phenylethylamine (PEA) "love-chemical"... Phenylethylamine releases dopamine in the mesolimbic pleasure-centres; it peaks during orgasm.

The Sacred Relationship Between Predator and Prey

This quote is from Thinking Animals: Animals and the Development of Human Intelligence by Paul Shepard.

...elements of intelligence and consciousness come together in different styles in predator and prey. Herbivores and carnivores develop different kinds of attention, related to their lives of escaping or chasing. Arousal in herbivores or prey species produces adrenaline from the adrenal glands, which is fear-inducing. In predators, the substance produced is its reciprocal, norepinephrine, resulting in aggression.

We are omnivores.  We can gather plants for food, or we can stalk animals. We can release either chemical, exhibit either behavior, manifest either type of attention. We are flexible in our approach to the world around us. Are you predator or prey? Do you always feel as if something is about to happen to you? Or do you go out and make it happen? Do you allow yourself that uniquely human capability of adjusting your style to the situation?

The Cyclic Nature of Mood Disorders

Bipolar disorder may be caused by a desynchronization of the circadian hormone fluctuations. This often caused by a genetic variation that causes our pineal lobes (the "third eye") to ignore the external stimuli that reset most humans' internal clocks by the sun every morning. Melotonin plays a big part in the sleep-waking cycle, and it is released by the pineal lobe as darkness falls. The low light of winter can slow down the metabolism, increasing melatonin and creating lethargy and depression - Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Non-bipolars who experience jet lag know that desynchronized feeling quite well. SAD can occur in the absence of genetic bipolar disorder, especially in northern regions such as the Scandinavian countries.
Buffaloskin - Seasonal Affective Disorder

Another important hormone with a circadian rhythm is cortisol. Cortisol is highest in the morning and lowest at midnight. If the cycle is reversed, it's difficult to sleep at night and it's difficult to stay awake during the day.  Sound familiar? Stress can cause a higher level of cortisol. So can Adrenal tumors and Cushing's Syndrome. These ailments also cause mood swings. They are called mimickers because it is very common to misdiagnose them if the doc tests one urine sample rather than doing the 24-hour test. Interestingly enough, low cortisol levels caused by Addison's disease also can result in mood swings.

Reading back over this post, it seems that everything is interesting to me, eh?

What's my point?  Hell, I don't know. But it's certain that most psychiatrists aren't endocrinologists. And that endocrinologists aren't psychiatrists. Where do we take this information? Someday there will be alternatives, but for now we each must ride the meddy-go-round until we happen to stumble upon chemical paradise.

P.S.  I've been using a great program to manage my studies. It keeps track of abstracts and articles from online journals and databases. Reference Manager Professional Edition by ISI Research Soft. I highly recommend it to anyone who is serious about learning.

Sister Leslie of The Bipolar Planet® is an electrical engineer, a Reiki Master in Usui Shiki Ryoho, and a bipolar.

Modified May 14, 2006

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