Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy and Bashful – four of Disney’s dwarfs are named after feelings ruled by one chemical in the brain, serotonin. It may not make you Dopey or Sneezy, but abnormal serotonin levels will definitely earn you a trip to the Doc.
The “grouchy” gene
Neurotransmitters, like serotonin, essentially define who we are. They control our emotions, moods and attitudes, and even influence memory, energy levels and libido. So what happens when our genes predispose us to different serotonin levels?
Exhibit A – the “grouchy” gene. Linked to unhappiness and an increased risk of depression, “grouchy” refers to an altered version of the SLC6A4 gene involved in serotonin uptake.
Serotonin, often called the “happiness molecule,” is responsible for our feelings of pleasure and well-being.
The 5-HTT serotonin transporter (encoded by the SLC6A4 gene) regulates the uptake of serotonin into neutrons. This transporter is important for functional neural circuits. DNA changes within the SLC6A4 gene, can influence the levels of 5-HTT and its activity.
One common variation of SLC6A4 occurs in a region known as 5-HTTLPR. Some people have a shortened version of the 5-HTTLPR region, known as the S allele. Due to its association with an increased risk of depression, this short form is known as the “grouchy” gene.
Grumpy Brits explained?
The economist Andrew Oswald has gone as far to suggest that the “grouchy” form of the gene can explain a cultural stereotype – why the British and the French are grumpy. Many more Brits, French and Americans have the “grouchy” version, while supposedly happier people from Denmark and the Netherlands are less likely to have the short form.
However, the effects of the “grouchy” gene, are actually much more complicated. The short form of 5-HTTLPR is also linked to an increased risk for a whole series of neurological diseases (including depression, Alzheimer’s disease and bipolar disorder), to drug addiction and to sudden infant death syndrome.
To make matters worse, a variety of other genes and environmental conditions also regulate serotonin levels.
Improving your serotonin levels
Did the Grinch steal Christmas because he had the “grouchy” gene? Was it his genetics that made him so unhappy? Irrespective of the answers, it’s too late for the Grinch.
But, if you have the “grouchy” gene, there are ways to increase your serotonin levels and avoid depression. Drug-free methods include exercise, increased exposure to bright light and eating tryptophan-rich foods like turkey, pumpkin seeds, crab and beans.
Tryptophan is the key ingredient needed to make serotonin. So, tryptophan supplements are another option. Various antidepressants act by elevating serotonin levels. However, some of these may be less effective in people with the “grouchy” gene.
What’s your risk?
Genetics might predispose you to depression, but the decision to stay unhappy remains with you. Choose to act and fight for happiness with the Anxiety and Depression 5-HTTLPR DNA Test.