Is Depression A Chemical Imbalance?

Is Depression A Chemical Imbalance?

Is Depression A Chemical Imbalance?

After decades of study, there is now a big question about whether serotonin levels or serotonin activity are responsible for depression, according to a major review of prior research.
A huge study just published in Molecular Psychiatry (1)  suggests that depression is not likely caused by a chemical imbalance, and calls into question what antidepressants do.

What Is Serotonin?

Most of the commonly prescribed  antidepressants are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which were originally said to work by correcting abnormally low serotonin levels. This is the  accepted pharmacological mechanism by which antidepressants affect the symptoms of depression.

The Study That Challenges the Main Theory Of Depression

The umbrella review aimed to capture all relevant studies that have been published in the most important fields of research on serotonin and depression. The studies included in the review involved tens of thousands of participants. The findings led the authors to conclude that there is “no support for the hypothesis that depression is caused by lowered serotonin activity or concentrations”. (1)

Co-author Dr Mark Horowitz, a training psychiatrist and Clinical Research Fellow in Psychiatry at UCL and NELFT, said:

“I had been taught that depression was caused by low serotonin in my psychiatry training and had even taught this to students in my own lectures. Being involved in this research was eye-opening and feels like everything I thought I knew has been flipped upside down.”

NOTE – The researchers caution that anyone considering withdrawing from antidepressants should seek the advice of a health professional, given the risk of adverse effects following withdrawal. Professor Moncrieff and Dr Horowitz are conducting ongoing research into how best to gradually stop taking antidepressants.
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A New Theory of Depression

If you have been following me. you know that I love the work of Kelly Brogan, MD. I highly recommend her book titled A Mind of Your Own: The Truth About Depression and How Women Can Heal Their Bodies to Reclaim Their Lives.(2) 
According to Dr. Kelly Brogan, antidepressants not only overpromise and underdeliver, but their use may permanently disable the body’s self-healing potential. We need a new paradigm: The best way to heal the mind is to heal the whole body.
Based on her expert interpretation of published medical findings, combined with years of experience from her clinical practice, Dr. Brogan illuminates the true cause of depression: it is not simply a chemical imbalance, but a lifestyle crisis that demands a reset. It is a signal that the interconnected systems in the body are out of balance – from blood sugar, to gut health, to thyroid function– and inflammation is at the root.

The “Next Steps” in the Research

The authors encourage further research and advice into treatments that might focus instead on managing stressful or traumatic events in people’s lives such as

  • psychotherapy
  • exercise
  • mindfulness
  • addressing underlying contributors such as poverty, stress and loneliness.

NOTE : The information in this article is intended for your educational use only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.


  1. Joanna Moncrieff, Ruth E. Cooper, Tom Stockmann, Simone Amendola, Michael P. Hengartner, Mark A. Horowitz. The serotonin theory of depression: a systematic umbrella review of the evidenceMolecular Psychiatry, 2022; DOI:
  2. Brogan, Kelly. A Mind of Your Own: The Truth About Depression and How Women Can Heal Their Bodies to Reclaim Their Lives.