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The Depressing Facts About Antidepressant Drugs
The Depressing Facts About Antidepressant Drugs
More than 30 million Americans take antidepressant drugs every day to try to lift their moods. But is this the best approach to a healthier and happier life? The easy answer is absolutely not. There are better ways to feel good about yourself and life. In fact, in many cases, these pills can cause more harm than good.
The medical approach to depression focuses on manipulating neurotransmitter levels in the brain rather than identifying and eliminating the underlying factors that are responsible for producing these imbalances. There is a focus on specific neurotransmitters, including serotonin, dopamine, GABA and others. Neurotransmitters are chemicals released from nerve cells that transmit the impulse from one nerve to another.
Most of the commonly used antidepressant drugs work primarily by increasing the effects of serotonin—typically by inhibiting the reuptake of serotonin after it is released by the transmitting nerve cell. These drugs are referred to as SSRIs—selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors—and include brands such as Zoloft, Paxil, Prozac and many others.
Are SSRIs Effective?
The adoption of SSRIs by conventional medicine is a house of cards that will eventually crumble under the reality that these drugs are just not effective.
Very detailed reviews of all of the published clinical trials by highly respected medical experts have concluded that SSRIs have not been shown to work any better than placebos in cases of mild to moderate depression—the most common reason for prescription medication.
One 2006 review by Dr. Joanna Moncrieff of the University College of London asked the question, “Do antidepressants cure or create abnormal brain states?” The results are shocking and challenge the benefits of these drugs. What’s more, claims that antidepressants are more effective for more severe depression conditions have little evidence to support them. In fact, experts like Hans Moller of the University of Munich have shown that SSRIs and other antidepressant drugs might actually increase the likelihood of suicides in adults and children.
According to a 2010 article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, an additional alarming finding is that 25 percent of patients taking antidepressants do not even have depression or another diagnosable psychological problem. So the bottom line is that more than 7.5 million people are using antidepressants for a problem they do not have, and for the people who have a diagnosable condition, these medications not only don’t work in most cases but may cause significant side effects.
As one group of researchers concluded in a 2011 issue of the British Journal of General Practice, the “uncertain benefits of antidepressants are unlikely to outweigh the risks, suggesting the need to explore other approaches to treatment.” This statement is a clear mandate to consider natural medicine therapeutics for mood disorders.
What About Side Effects?
While antidepressant drugs are, at best, only marginally successful in alleviating depression, they do produce many side effects.
Approximately 20 percent of people who take SSRIs experience nausea, 20 percent have headaches, 15 percent suffer from anxiety and nervousness, 14 percent have insomnia, 12 percent become drowsy, 12 percent get diarrhea, nine and one half percent suffer from dry mouth, nine percent have a loss of appetite, eight percent report sweating and tremors, and three percent develop rashes.
In addition, antidepressants inhibit sexual function. In a 2009 study featured in the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology in which sexual side effects were thoroughly evaluated, 43 percent of men and women taking SSRIs reported loss of libido or diminished sexual response. It is one of the most frequent reasons for discontinuation of these drugs.
There is also a significant risk of weight gain and the development of type 2 diabetes. Making matters worse is that once weight gain begins while taking antidepressants, it usually does not stop.
SSRIs induce weight gain because they alter an area of the brain that regulates both serotonin levels and the utilization of glucose, which evidently leads the brain to sense that it’s low in glucose. That sets in motion very powerful signals to eat. And if a person has sugar cravings or other food urges, they typically are dramatically enhanced by antidepressants.
Other changes produced by SSRIs can lead to insulin resistance, setting the stage for inevitable weight gain and, perhaps, type 2 diabetes. Studies have shown that individuals who are predisposed to diabetes are two to three times more likely to become diabetic if they use an antidepressant medication.
Alternatives to SSRIs
There are effective alternatives to antidepressant drugs. For example, there are a number of lifestyle and dietary factors that lead to the reduced serotonin levels that contribute to depression. Chief among these are cigarette smoking, alcohol abuse, high sugar intake, eating too much protein, blood sugar disturbances (hypoglycemia and diabetes), and various nutrient deficiencies. All of these factors have one thing in common—they lower serotonin levels by impairing the conversion of the amino acid tryptophan to serotonin.
A health-promoting lifestyle and diet go a long way to restoring optimal serotonin levels and relieving depression. But in the interim, natural agents like 5-HTP, St. John’s wort and SAMe can provide the necessary boost in mood to help make important changes in diet and lifestyle easier to accomplish.
In particular, numerous double-blind studies have shown that 5-HTP—the direct building block to serotonin—is as effective as SSRIs and is also less expensive, is better tolerated, and has fewer and much milder side effects. The most recent study with 5-HTP published in the Neuroendocrinology Letters showed that 5-HTP can even be effective in depression due to romantic stress (e.g., being “dumped”). And, unlike SSRIs, 5-HTP has actually been shown to reduce sugar cravings and act as an effective weight-loss aid.
It’s clear that we have viable natural alternatives to explore before resorting to SSRIs.
For more information on depression and antidepressants, click here.
Dr. Murray is president and CEO of Dr. Murray Natural Living and director of product development and education for Natural Factors, a major manufacturer of nutritional and herbal supplements. Dr. Murray is a graduate and faculty member of and serves on the Board of Regents of Bastyr University, where he received his doctorate in naturopathic medicine. He is coauthor of A Textbook of Natural Medicine and the Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine. He has also written more than 20 other books, including Dr. Murray's Total Body Tune-Up, The Pill Book Guide to Natural Medicines and The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods. For more information, visit DoctorMurray.com.
January 7th, 2012