By Dr. Mercola
Depression is a pervasive health issue today. According to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in 10 American adults report some form of depression.1
Eleven percent of the U.S. population over the age of 12 is on antidepressant medication.2
However, mounting evidence shows the drug approach is not helping this trend. On the contrary, it may be fueling it...
At best, beneficial results from antidepressants are comparable to placebos, and at worst, they can cause devastating side effects, including suicidal and homicidal tendencies, and deterioration into more serious mental illness.
Meanwhile, research has shown there ARE effective treatments for depression.
The problem is, they're not drugs, so there's no way to make a profit on them...
And that may be why you don't normally hear about these strategies.
I will list them at the end of this article, and by the time you've reviewed the many side effects of these drugs, which is the main topic of this article, you will hopefully be motivated to give those drug-free alternatives a try.
Antidepressants and Heart Disease
Antidepressant use has been linked to thicker arteries, which could contribute to the risk of heart disease and stroke. This is in addition to the already heightened risk for heart disease that accompanies depression.
The results of a study of 513 twin veterans, presented at the American College of Cardiology meeting in New Orleans last year,3 found that antidepressant use resulted in greater carotid intima-media thickness (the lining of the main arteries in your neck that feed blood to your brain). The researchers found that the intima-media thickness of the men taking antidepressants was about five percent thicker than that of those who were not using the drugs.
This was true both for selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and antidepressants that affect other brain chemicals, so while the researchers speculate that the vascular changes may be due to changes in serotonin, the underlying cause is still undetermined.
According to Emory University4:
"Antidepressants' effects on blood vessels may come from changes in serotonin, a chemical that helps some brain cells communicate but also functions outside the brain... Most of the serotonin in the body is found outside the brain, especially in the intestines... In addition, serotonin is stored by platelets, the cells that promote blood clotting, and is released when they bind to a clot. However, serotonin's effects on blood vessels are complex and act in multiple ways. It can either constrict or relax blood vessels, depending on whether the vessels are damaged or not."
This isn't the first time the issue of serious heart-related effects of antidepressants has been raised. For example, in August of last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a safety alert on the antidepressant Celexa5, warning it can cause abnormal changes in the electrical activity of your heart, which can lead to abnormal heart rhythm and fatal heart attacks. Celexa is part of the class of antidepressants called serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
People with underlying heart conditions and low potassium and magnesium levels in their blood are particularly at risk for this, and the drug should no longer be used at doses greater than 40 mg per day, the FDA said. While the drug's label indicates that "certain patients may require a dose of 60 mg per day," studies have shown that there's no benefit in the treatment of depression with doses higher than 40 mg, the FDA added.
Antidepressants Also Increase Your Risk of Stroke and Sudden Cardiac Death
Newer antidepressants also raise your risk of bleeding and stroke, according to a recent report in Pulse Today which cites a brand new study published in the BMJ on April 3:
"GPs should consider carefully the increased risk of bleeding and stroke with newer antidepressants before prescribing them, say US researchers. Their study looked at the records of 36,000 patients with a diagnosis of major depression taking serotonin transporter inhibitors (SSRIs) as monotherapy, and the frequency of bleeding complications over 19 years. SSRIs were categorised into 'high', 'moderate' or 'low' affinity for the serotonin transporter and patients with multiple prescriptions and those on tricyclic antidepressants or monoamine oxidase inhibitors were excluded.
Over 600 bleeds were observed in the 21,000 patients in the high-affinity group, compared with 333 among the 15,000 patients in the low affinity group, and this equated to a risk ratio of 1.17. Stroke risk was also elevated in the high affinity group compared with the low affinity group, with a risk ratio of 1.18."
Another large study of women who have been through menopause found that those taking tricyclic antidepressants and SSRIs were 45 percent more likely to suffer a fatal stroke6. The findings came from an analysis that involved 136,000 women between the age of 50 and 79. Comparisons were made between the women who had been prescribed antidepressants since being enrolled in the research, and those who had not. The research also found that overall death rates were 32 percent higher in women on the drugs.
According to one theory, this tragic effect may be due to how the drugs affect blood clotting. Antipsychotics are even more problematic and should be used with strict caution. A review of the medical literature from 2000-2007, published in Expert Opinion on Drug Safety in 2008,7 found that:
"Antipsychotics can increase cardiac risk even at low doses, whereas antidepressants do it generally at high doses or in the setting of drug combinations."
Another study published in January 2009 in the New England Journal of Medicine8 also found that antipsychotic drugs doubled the risk of sudden cardiac death. Mortality was found to be dose-dependent, so those taking higher doses were at increased risk of a lethal cardiac event.
Other Well-Documented Side Effects
The interactions of antidepressants on your brain, liver, digestive system and other systems are still not fully understood, but we do know that the side effects are numerous, and many are quite serious, as the studies above can attest to. Aside from potentially lethal cardiac events, other serious side effects include:
- Suicidal thoughts and feelings and violent behavior: The primary side effect that you should be concerned about is that SSRI's can actually DOUBLE your risk of suicide.
- Diabetes: Your risk for type 2 diabetes is two to three times higher if you take antidepressants, according to one study. All types of antidepressants, including tricyclic and SSRIs, increase type 2 diabetes risk.
- Problems with your immune system: SSRIs cause serotonin to remain in your nerve junctions longer, interfering with immune cell signaling and T cell growth.
- Stillbirths: A Canadian study of almost 5,000 mothers found that women on SSRIs were twice as likely to have a stillbirth, and almost twice as likely to have a premature or low birth weight baby; another study showed a 40 percent increased risk for birth defects, such as cleft palate.
- Brittle bones: One study showed women on antidepressants have a 30 percent higher risk of spinal fracture and a 20 percent high risk for all other fractures. This is because serotonin is also involved in the physiology of bone. If you alter serotonin levels with a drug, it can result in low bone density, boosting fracture risk.
Two Side Effects Your Doctor Likely Won't Tell You About
Aside from everything mentioned so far, there are two additional side effects or risks that really need to be addressed, and that everybody should be thinking about. These show up in the scientific literature, but are rarely discussed. Medical journalist and Pulitzer Prize nominee Robert Whitaker brought these issues to my attention during a 2010 interview. (If you missed it, I highly recommend listening to it now9 as he discusses numerous other areas of confusion and shares many additional facts about the treatments for depression.)
Total Video Length: 01:02:08
- The first risk is that you'll convert from unipolar depression to bipolar depression.
- The second risk is that with long-term use, antidepressants are associated with cognitive decline.
Whitaker's research shows that as many as half of all children placed on an antidepressant for five years will convert to bipolar illness! About 25 percent of adult long-term users convert from unipolar depression to bipolar. This is a very serious concern, not just for each affected individual and their family, but even for society as a whole. As Whitaker explains:
"When you convert from depression to bipolar, now you're in a category where you're often treated with a cocktail of medications including an antipsychotic medication, and long-term bipolar outcomes are really problematic in this country. Only about 35 percent of bipolar patients are employed. So you see this risk of [permanent] disability.
So, when you go on an antidepressant, you have a risk of having a manic episode and... becoming "a bipolar patient," and at that moment you're into a much more long-term problematic disorder that does not have a good outcome today."
Key Factors to Overcoming Depression
Your diet and general lifestyle are clearly parts of the "root" that must be healed if you want to resolve your mental health issues, because your body and mind are closely interrelated. Depression is indeed a very serious condition; however it is not a "disease." Rather, it's a sign that your body and your life are out of balance. This is so important to remember, because as soon as you start to view depression as an "illness," you think you need to take a drug to fix it.
In reality, you may need to find a way to return balance to your body and your life. Fortunately, research confirms that there are safe and effective ways to address depression that do not involve unsafe drugs, including:
- Dramatically decrease your consumption of sugar (particularly fructose), grains, and processed foods. (In addition to being high in sugar and grains, processed foods also contain a variety of additives that can affect your brain function and mental state, especially MSG, and artificial sweeteners such as aspartame.)
There's a great book on this subject, The Sugar Blues, written by William Dufty more than 30 years ago, that delves into the topic of sugar and mental health in great detail.
- Increase consumption of probiotic foods, such as fermented vegetables and kefir, to promote healthy gut flora. Mounting evidence tells us that having a healthy gut is profoundly important for both physical and mental health, and the latter can be severely impacted by an imbalance of intestinal bacteria.
- Get adequate vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 deficiency can contribute to depression and affects one in four people.
- Optimize your vitamin D levels, ideally through regular sun exposure. Vitamin D is very important for your mood. In one study, people with the lowest levels of vitamin D were found to be 11 times more prone to be depressed than those who had normal levels10.
The best way to get vitamin D is through exposure to SUNSHINE, not swallowing a tablet. Remember, SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is a type of depression that we know is related to sunshine deficiency, so it would make sense that the perfect way to optimize your vitamin D is through sun exposure, or a safe tanning bed if you don't have regular access to the sun.
- Get plenty of animal-based omega-3 fats. Many people don't realize that their brain is 60 percent fat, but not just any fat. It is DHA, an animal based omega-3 fat which, along with EPA, is crucial for good brain function and mental health11. Unfortunately, most people don't get enough from diet alone. Make sure you take a high-quality omega-3 fat, such as krill oil.
Dr. Stoll, a Harvard psychiatrist, was one of the early leaders in compiling the evidence supporting the use of animal based omega-3 fats for the treatment of depression. He wrote an excellent book that details his experience in this area called The Omega-3 Connection.
- Evaluate your salt intake. Sodium deficiency actually creates symptoms that are very much like those of depression. Make sure you do NOT use processed salt (regular table salt), however. You'll want to use an all natural, unprocessed salt like Himalayan salt, which contains more than 80 different micronutrients.
- Get adequate daily exercise, which is one of the most effective strategies for preventing and overcoming depression. Studies on exercise as a treatment for depression have shown there is a strong correlation between improved mood and aerobic capacity. So there's a growing acceptance that the mind-body connection is very real, and that maintaining good physical health can significantly lower your risk of developing depression in the first place.
- Get adequate amounts of sleep. You can have the best diet and exercise program possible but if you aren't sleeping well you can easily become depressed. Sleep and depression are so intimately linked that a sleep disorder is actually part of the definition of the symptom complex that gives the label depression.
- I strongly believe that energy psychology is one of the most powerful tools for resolving emotional issues - specifically a technique called the Emotional Freedom Technique, or EFT. While anyone can learn to perform EFT on themselves, those who suffer from depression should see a qualified EFT therapist.
A number of studies now confirm clinical results. For example, one 2009 study12 of 16 institutionalized adolescent boys with histories of physical or psychological abuse showed substantially decreased intensity of traumatic memories after just ONE session of EFT. Another study involving 30 moderately to severely depressed college students showed significantly less depression than the control group when evaluated three weeks after receiving a total of four 90-minute EFT sessions.13
Important Concluding Thoughts - Please Read!
I want to make something abundantly clear before I leave you. I know firsthand that depression is devastating. It takes a toll on the healthiest of families and can destroy lifelong friendships. Few things are harder in life than watching someone you love lose their sense of joy, hope, and purpose in life, and wonder if they will ever find it again. And to not have anything within your power that can change things for them. You wonder if you will ever have your loved one "back" again.
It's impossible to impart the will to live to somebody who no longer possesses it. No amount of logic, reasoning, or reminders about all they have to live for will put a smile back on the face of a loved one masked by the black cloud of depression.
Oftentimes you cannot change your circumstances. You can, however, change your response to them. I encourage you to be balanced in your life. Don't ignore your body's warning signs that something needs to change. Sometimes people are so busy taking care of everybody else that they lose sight of themselves.
There are times when a prescription drug may help restore balance to your body. But it's unclear whether it is the drug providing benefits, or the unbelievable power of your mind that is convinced it is going to work.
If you have been personally affected by depression, my heart goes out to you.
A broken body can be easier to fix than a broken mind. Depression is real. It is my hope that you don't feel judged here, but that you are encouraged and inspired by those who have been there.