Women Are Born to Bemoody

Article excerpt

Byline: LOWRI TURNER

ARE women born to be grumpy? This sounds like the sexist moan of a disgruntled husband, torn off a strip for failing to put the rubbish out. Again. Except that science now seems to back the idea that women's brains may be wired for increased anxiety, depression and mood swings.

And the problem could be exacerbated by those high-protein, low-calorie weight-loss programmes -- such as the Dukan Diet.

It's long been known that women suffer more from depression, or at

least reported depression. Around one in four women will be treated for depression at some point, compared with one in ten men.

This had been explained partly by social factors -- women are more likely to seek help for their symptoms compared with men. However, a recent study from Sweden has discovered two key differences in the way men and women's brains process serotonin, the so-called 'happy hormone'.

Good levels of serotonin induce feelings of contentment, reduce appetite and improve sleep. Low levels are associated with depression. It's this understanding of serotonin that led to the development of antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

These drugs -- which include Prozac -- work by increasing the amount of serotonin available in the brain.

Now scientists from the Karolinksa Institute in Sweden have been using brain scans to investigate serotonin levels. And the news is not so cheering for women.

The researchers looked at serotonin uptake -- that is, how much serotonin is actually used by the brain -- in men and women. Their scans showed women have more serotonin receptors than men.

Every cell in your body has receptor sites on its surface. These are the cellular equivalent of motorway service stations, where you can refuel your cells. Only, instead of petrol or breakfast rolls, cell receptor sites allow substances such as nutrients and hormones in and out.

In the case of serotonin, how happy you feel is dependent not just on how much serotonin you make, but on there being sufficient receptor sites in the brain to make it work.

The fact that the women in the Swedish study had more serotonin receptor sites sounds like good news. So, too, does the other finding -- which was that women had lower levels of a protein that 'mops up' used serotonin.

This means your old serotonin will continue to circulate, bumping up the general level, making you feel happier.

So not only do women have more places in the brain that can be activated by serotonin, but they seem to be able to hold on to it for longer. Or so it seems.

In fact, the Swedish research suggests something else. When cells are short of a chemical, such as serotonin, they open up as many receptor sites as possible to 'catch' every morsel.

THE cells that need it increase their number of receptors to try to make the most of the little that is available. It's a bit like tipping your bowl to catch every last drop of an especially delicious soup.

For women to have more serotonin receptor sites and be holding on to available serotonin longer seems to indicate they had too little available in the first place.

Other research backs up this idea that women make less serotonin than men. Scientists at the University of Montreal found that men's brains, on average, make 52 per cent more than women. …