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Too Little Or Too Much Serotonin, At Present, They Are Only Guessing

Marilyn Folk BScN medical reviewer
Written by: Jim Folk.
Medically reviewed by: Marilyn Folk, BScN.
Last updated: April 3, 2019

Serotonin exerts different and sometimes opposing effects on different parts of the brain, which renders low serotonin as the cause of anxiety and depression too simplistic, new study finds.

New research by the Columbia University Medical Center found that serotonin exerts different and sometimes opposing effects on different parts of the brain, and therefore, renders the view that low levels of serotonin play a role in anxiety and depression as being too simplistic.

"Our study breaks with the simplistic view that 'more is good and less is bad,' when it comes to serotonin for mood regulation," said study leader Mark S. Ansorge, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychiatry at CUMC and research scientist at New York State Psychiatric Institute. "Rather, it tells us that a more nuanced view is necessary."

This research comes on the heels of previous research that found that too much serotonin could be contributing to problems with anxiety and depression rather than not enough. The previous research also found that taking medications that increase serotonin in the brain often cause more harm than good because of the lack of understanding that currently exists among researchers about the role serotonin plays in mood regulation.

Finding biological causes for behavior and mood will continue to be fraught with problems of mis-assumptions and speculation since looking for a biological cause of anxiety is like trying to find the biological cause of why people choose to exercise or drive to the store.

We believe their efforts would produce far richer fruit if they were to approach these challenges from a behavioral perspective - what motivates behavior from a cognitive standpoint. Until researchers come to the realization that we willfully (and often subconsciously) choose behavior, their efforts to find biological causes will continually be undermined by the complex relationship between the mind and body.


The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the most effective way to address anxiety disorder and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed - the underlying factors that motivate apprehensive behavior - a struggle with anxiety disorder can return again and again. Identifying and successfully addressing anxiety's underlying factors is the best way to overcome problematic anxiety.

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