I wrote the above question in an entry back in April '08 when I was embarking on my detox. Davka wrote a comment to that post that I never answered and I would like to now. She wrote:
"wow- i can't believe that about the serotonin. i'd like to know the details of the study- maybe its a nurture thing instead of a nature thing. maybe we are all depressed because we live in a patriarchy? probably not"
My doc, a funny, wise, opinionated old codger, postulates that the reason behind the lower levels of serotonin are evolutionary: nature - not nurture. I'm sure it's at least a little of both, like it always is. His idea is that the serotonin disparity between the sexes came from when we were still hunter/gatherers.
Science break: We're all aware that we lived in hunter/gatherer societies for a long ass time right? Science tells us that Homo erectus (why is that still funny?) evolved about 3.2 million years ago. Those erect humans did not learn to cultivate plant life until 10,000 years ago. So here, "long ass" = 3,190,000 years. Right, my brain doesn't comprehend that either.
In the human tribes men, typically, were the hunters. Why was this the way? It probably has everything to do with birth: since the lady birthed the baby, she had to stay with the baby. And wild cat hunts are, as we all learned in first grade, no place for babies. I'm just guesstimating here. I am curious about what history exists to read on this subject, so if anyone knows of a good book tell me the name and I'll add it to my reading list.
So the men were the ones out hunting the meat to feed themselves and their tribes. The hunting these men did, over long periods of time, helped them evolve strong coping mechanisms so they could track, stalk and kill their prey. One of the coping mechanisms they developed a cache of was probably the compound serotonin. Serotonin doesn't only make us happy, it desensitizes us by cushioning our nervous system from the stresses of the world. It also keeps us sharp and physically healthy.
That is the origin of my doctor's theory on why women have a quarter of this happy compound readily available in the make up of their brains than men do. My doctor credits this "lack" of serotonin with enabling women to be more sensitive to the world around them. We are more acutely aware of stresses, he theorizes, which is why we often suffer more from depression, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia and a slew of other hormone, serotonin and stress related symptoms.
I would venture to bet the Davka is a bit right on too, which her assertion that perhaps it is the culture we live which trends us toward depression as well. Women in modern culture are given far less respect then they were afforded when the human body was evolving. Cartoons love to characterize that time as a time of cave men dragging their women around by the hair but that is an asinine way to view the way it was.
The people of that time had to really struggle for survival. Every man, woman, child and other gendered person (and they definitely fucking existed then, they were respected then as well) has to pull their own weight so the tribe didn't starve or get taken over. The women had to do the bulk of the work at any place the tribe set up to stay for a time because the men were out hunting. What were the other gendered people doing? Being medicine people and shamans historically. True, I'm probably mixing my time periods severely, but I couldn't leave that important part out. Trans people were mega respected in many (if not most) indigenous tribes.
Back to the previous subject, (bio-) women and serotonin. How do we protect and build our serotonin reserves naturally? You've heard the answers before. Here's one that is not listed as often as it should be (though I think, in time, it will be): Positive Mental Attitude.
Controlling, or more accurately, directing one's mental process is key to helping women stay happy and healthy. I swear to all that is holy: becoming aware of, and learning how to direct and re-direct your own mental habits, is the grail of well being. Monks have been saying this shit for thousands of years.
The other, more common, ways to keep you stores of serotonin safe from stress are as follows:
- get unfiltered sunlight as much as possible. This has nothing to do with getting a tan. It helps if you leave your sunglasses off for at least 10 minutes of this sun soaking because more of the good stuff will get into your system through your retinas than any other way.
- eat as many fresh fruits and veggies as possible.
- Good fatty acids from fish, seeds and nuts are helpful in protecting the serotonin you've already got. Taking fish oil supplements help too.
- Don't worry about the good carbs. My body, for one, craves carbohydrates like nothing else when winter comes - partially I suspect to my heritage being drawn from the cold climates of Britain and Eastern Europe. Eat as many potatoes, squash, whole grain breads, chips, and cereals as your body desires. This is a major boost to serotonin, but short and non-sustaining, so don't make it your first or only line of defense.
- Dark chocolate and red wine help, but in small portions.
- Vitamin B and St. John's Wort help make fresh serotonin more quickly.
- Exercise, laugh and have orgasms. These are the physical triple threat to feeling down.
- Once again, Do Not Guilt Yourself. Learn to re-direct negative thinking. If you're walking around thinking about how lonely, lazy, fat, or cold you are then you're only going to feel those things more acutely. Instead, notice that thought and reverse it. Tell yourself you're doing a great job, you've accomplished a, b and c today. (No matter how small! If you're having a tough time and can only think of "I cleaned the cat box" today, run like hell with it. Compose an ode to yourself on the amazing vigor you showed while doing such an unsavory chore.)
Be Well, Be Love