Serotonin, carbohydrates, and atypical depression

Pharmacol Toxicol. 1992:71 Suppl 1:61-71. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0773.1992.tb01630.x.


At least three categories of atypical depression have been described. The hysteroid dysphoria is characterized by repeated episodes of depressed mood in response to feeling rejected, and a craving for sweets and chocolate. Two other issues are characterized by a cyclical occurrence of changes of mood and appetite, i.e., the late luteal phase dysphoric disorder (DSM-III-R, appendix), or "the premenstrual syndrome" (PMS), and the major depression with seasonal pattern (DSM-III-R), or seasonal affective disorder (SAD). The reactive mood changes are frequently accompanied by features as hypersomnia, lethargy and increased appetite, particularly with a preference for carbohydrates. Central serotonin pathways participate in the regulation of mood and behavioural impulsivity, and modulate eating patterns qualitatively and quantitatively. Depressives with PMS og SAD benefit, in general, from treatments with serotonin potentiating drugs, suggesting that brain serotonin plays a role in the pathophysiology. Ingestion of carbohydrates increases the plasma ratio of tryptophan to other large neutral amino acids in man and animal, and the serotonin synthesis in the rat brain. Based on these findings it has been suggested that the excessive carbohydrate intake by patients with PMS and SAD reflects a self-medication that temporarily relieves the vegetative symptoms via an increased central serotonergic activity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antidepressive Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Appetite
  • Depressive Disorder* / classification
  • Depressive Disorder* / drug therapy
  • Depressive Disorder* / physiopathology
  • Dietary Carbohydrates / administration & dosage*
  • Humans
  • Self Medication
  • Serotonin / biosynthesis
  • Serotonin / blood
  • Serotonin / metabolism*
  • Serotonin Receptor Agonists / therapeutic use


  • Antidepressive Agents
  • Dietary Carbohydrates
  • Serotonin Receptor Agonists
  • Serotonin