By Mila McManus MD
The CDC estimates that one in ten Americans has depression. Chances are, if you don’t take antidepressant medication, you know someone who does. There are many levels of depression and many causes of depression. The main causes of depression have never been, and never will be, deficiencies of Prozac, Effexor, Wellbutrin, Cymbalta, or Lexapro. Causes may, however, be related to diet, gut health, side effects of medications, nutritional deficiencies, negative thinking, emotional trauma, chronic pain, lack of exercise, and hormonal imbalances/ deficiencies. I do believe that sometimes antidepressants are necessary, at least temporarily, but they’ll never correct the underlying cause(s), and they have many potential side effects.
To name a few (or many):
- Your risk for type 2 diabetes is two to three times higher if you take antidepressants, according to one study.
- Problems with your immune system: SSRIs (e.g. Prozac, Celexa, Lexapro, Paxil, Zoloft) cause serotonin to remain in your nerve junctions longer, interfering with immune cell signaling and T cell growth. New research indicates that serotonin is also a signaling molecule between immune cells. Certain cells pick up serotonin at inflammation sites and pass it along to T cells (a type of immune cell). This affects T cell growth and division into new cells. One study showed that, when Prozac was introduced at inflammation sites, it blocked this type of serotonin uptake.
- Suicidal thoughts and feelings and violent behavior: Your risk for suicide may be twice as high if you take SSRIs; seven out of twelve school shootings were by children who were either on antidepressants or withdrawing from them.
- 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 higher risk of fractures
- Stroke: Your risk for stroke may be 45 percent higher if you are on antidepressants
- Death: Overall death rates have been found to be 32 percent higher in women on antidepressants.
- SSRIs have been shown to increase your risk of developing bipolar depression. Anywhere from 25 to 50 percent of children who take an antidepressant for five years convert to bipolar illness. In adults, about 25 percent of long term users convert from a diagnosis of unipolar depression to bipolar disorder.
- Weight gain- this is one of the most common reasons a person will discontinue or change an antidepressant medication
- Sexual dysfunction, including decreased sexual desire, delayed ejaculation in men, and the inability to have an orgasm in women.
- Sleep disorders, including insomnia, nightmares, and sleepwalking
- Sedation (daytime sleepiness)
- headache, joint pain, muscle aches, nausea, skin rashes, or diarrhea
In addition, here’s a list of common side effects for the most commonly prescribed classes of antidepressants:
- TCAs (e.g. Nortriptyline, Amitriptyline) – dry mouth, blurred vision, constipation, urinary retention, and increased pressure in the eye. They are also associated with hypertension, abnormal heart rhythms, anxiety, insomnia, seizures, headache, rash, nausea, and vomiting, abdominal cramps, weight loss, and sexual dysfunction.
- SSRIs (e.g. Prozac, Celexa, Lexapro, Paxil, Zoloft) and SNRIs (e.g. Cymbalta, Effexor) – abnormal thinking, agitation, anxiety, dizziness, headache, insomnia, sexual dysfunction, sedation, tremor, sweating, weight loss, diarrhea, constipation, dry mouth, rash, and nausea. SSRIs have also been associated with hyponatremia (low sodium), hypoglycemia (low blood glucose), and seizures.
Have you tried to wean your medication(s) before and failed? There are at least a couple of reasons why that might be.
1. You hadn’t addressed the underlying causes of why you needed the medication(s) in the first place and/or
2. Withdrawal symptoms were too miserable to continue weaning
I took antidepressants for years, and it wasn’t until I discovered holistic functional medicine that I was able to successfully wean off my medication. In our medical training, the name of the game is learning how to bandaid symptoms with drugs. In holistic and functional medical training, the name of the game is correcting the underlying causes of symptoms and disease. This explains why all my previous efforts to wean my medication had been miserable failures. I was an emotional wreck, was dizzy, and had constant ‘brain zaps’. Once I addressed the underlying issues (poor diet, nutritional bankruptcy, hidden food allergies, poor gut health, and hormonal imbalances that weren’t found on typical blood tests), it was only a short matter of time until I successfully weaned off my antidepressant (and 11 other prescription medications). While this has also been the case for countless numbers of my patients over the years, it’s important to note that some patients have more complex issues and may take years to improve their health, physically as well as emotionally. Addressing depression, and many other health issues, requires focusing on mind, body, AND spirit. Here is a list of several things you can do to work towards a successful wean from your antidepressant(s)*:
- Click here to read about a few supplements that can naturally alleviate depression and anxiety.
- Nutrients that are well known to play a role with mood include Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D**, magnesium, B-6, B12, and folate. These are all very common nutritional deficiencies that we find in my practice. If you suffer with depression, talk to a wellness specialist about proper doses to meet your individual needs.
- Exercise, again and again, has shown in studies to be important for warding off anxiety and depression. Too tired or too busy? You can start with a 5 minute walk every day.
- Address the mind, body, and spirit with therapy, EFT, meditation, and/or yoga.
- Get your hormones balanced by an experienced wellness specialist using nutrition, supplements, and/or bio-identical hormones. Imbalance or deficiency in any number of your hormones (e.g. thyroid, estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, DHEA, cortisol) can affect your mood, and these issues often won’t be found on typical blood tests. Are your lab results always ‘normal’? Test for hormonal imbalance a better way by completing free symptom questionnaires.
- I also recommend a book to many patients called The Healing Code by Dr. Alex Loyd. Read about it here.
*Never attempt to wean your medication(s) without medical supervision.
**One study found that people with the lowest levels of vitamin D were 11 times more prone to depression than those with adequate vitamin D levels.
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