Depression, chocolate and the magic of neurotransmitters
The most striking part of the lecture about neurotransmitters for us was the linkage between neurological disorders and neurotransmitters, as well as the intervention of the former via medication which alters neurotransmitter function.
It was interesting to learn that in the treatment of alcohol addiction, blocking of mu-opioid receptors showed positive effects. Currently, such medication does not seem to have developed to its full potential, thereby we wonder how much such a transmitter-based medication could help to treat one of the most common addictions in Europe. Can the same principles be used to treat addictions to other drugs such as pain killers or heroin?
Also in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, medication altering neurotransmitter function is used. In detail inhibiting the enzyme, which breaks down acetylcholine, can help with memory loss, but again the effects are limited. This raises the question of whether there is a strict upper limit to possible interference to the neurotransmitter system with medication or is there just a lack of scientific knowledge in this domain hindering more drastic results?
Neurotransmitters also play a central role in social affective and mood disorders, such as depression. Especially changes in dopamine and serotonin functioning seem to be relevant. It was found that low levels of dietary tryptophan, a precursor of serotonin, are linked to lower mood. Given that chocolate has high levels of tryptophan, should the general public increase their chocolate intake as a preventive measure against depression? Can free offerings of chocolate in Aalto university buildings have long-term positive effects on the mood of students?
Depression is a common disorder that is often referenced in pop culture (e.g https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2MRdtXWcgIw, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j0lSpNtjPM8 , https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O4irXQhgMqg ) which underlines the prevalence and commonality of the disease. We thereby wonder how well neurotransmitter-focused treatment alone can heal depression. Especially given the link of depression to traumatic events and stress. How can singular or collections of events influence neurotransmitter functioning so drastically? Are there general societal factors influencing neurotransmitter behaviour and if so what societal changes need to be implemented to enable overall healthy neurotransmitter function within the general public?
Finally here is a fun but fuzzy video about Henry Dales initial neurotransmitter research https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L2OUZFBRL8s