Anti-depressants are being prescribed by psychiatrists in greater numbers, frequency and to younger patients than ever before. Today, for millions of people world-wide anti-depressants is the mainstay of their treatment.
Anti-depressants are designed to relieve the symptoms of depression by increasing the levels of serotonin in the brain, where it regulates mood.
The vast majority of serotonin that the body produces, though, is used for other purposes, including digestion, forming blood clots at wound sites, reproduction and development.
A new study has been published in the online journal Frontiers in Psychology and the researchers have found that anti-depressants have negative health effects on all processes normally regulated by serotonin.
The findings include elevated risks, which include developmental problems in infants, problems with sexual stimulation and function and sperm development in adults, digestive problems such as diarrhea, constipation, indigestion and bloating and abnormal bleeding and stroke in the elderly.
They reviewed three recent studies showing that elderly anti-depressant users are more likely to die than non-users, even after taking other important variables into account.
The higher death rates indicate that the overall effect of these drugs on the body is more harmful than beneficial.
“Serotonin is an ancient chemical. It’s intimately regulating many different processes, and when you interfere with these things you can expect, from an evolutionary perspective, that it’s going to cause some harm,” Andrews said.
Millions of people are prescribed anti-depressants every year, and while the conclusions may seem surprising, Andrews (lead researcher) asserted much of the evidence has long been apparent and available.
“The thing that’s been missing in the debates about anti-depressants is an overall assessment of all these negative effects relative to their potential beneficial effects,” he said.
“Most of this evidence has been out there for years and nobody has been looking at this basic issue.”
In previous research, Andrews and his colleagues had questioned the effectiveness of anti-depressants even for their prescribed function, finding that patients were more likely to suffer relapse after going off their medications as their brains worked to re-establish equilibrium.
With even the intended function of anti-depressants in question, Andrews said it is important to look critically at their continuing use.
“It could change the way we think about such major pharmaceutical drugs,” he said.
“You’ve got a minimal benefit, a laundry list of negative effects – some small, some rare and some not so rare. The issue is: does the list of negative effects outweigh the minimal benefit?” he added.
As with many interventions, the unintended consequences far outweigh the intended consequences.
In a critical area like mental health, before vacating the space for other therapeutic approaches and relying on a powerful chemical found in mind, a more vigorous approach should be followed. Furthermore, in case no other solution is available, the delivery of this powerful chemical should be highly controlled and monitored.