High serotonin may increase social phobia

Social phobia from Shutterstock
Social phobia from Shutterstock

Levels of the brain chemical serotonin are too high in people with social phobia, rather than too low as previously believed, a new study says.

Oversensitive fear centre

Researchers at Uppsala University in Sweden conducted brain scans on volunteers and found that those with social phobia – also called social anxiety disorder – produced too much serotonin in the amygdala, which is part of the brain's fear centre.

The more serotonin their brains produced, the more anxious they were in social situations, the investigators found.

"Serotonin can increase anxiety, and not decrease it as was previously often assumed," researcher Andreas Frick, a doctoral student in the psychology department at Uppsala, said in a university news release.

Read: Anxiety disorders

The study was published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

Serotonin, which is produced by nerve cells, helps to relay messages from one area of the brain to another.

Previous research showed that nerve activity in the amygdala is higher in people with social phobia and that the fear centre in their brain is oversensitive. These new findings suggest that too much serotonin plays a role.

Social phobia is often treated with drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which increase the amount of available serotonin in the brain.

Read more:

What is social anxiety disorder?

Stranger anxiety

Fine-tuning treatments for depression

Image: Social phobia from Shutterstock

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
Have you entered our Health of the Nation survey?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
34% - 9269 votes
66% - 17898 votes