Are Antidepressants Making You Old Before Your Time?

Last year I told you about a University of Pennsylvania (UPENN) research team that found that in the vast majority of cases…around 70%…those on an antidepressant drug were getting no more benefit than they would be if they were stirring an extra spoonful of sugar into their morning cup of Joe.

After analyzing the results of six large-scale placebo-controlled studies, the UPENN team concluded that in only the most severe cases…about 30%…are antidepressants any more effective than a placebo.

Considering the potentially severe side effects of these heavy-duty drugs—ranging from sexual dysfunction to suicide—those percentages not only seem not worth the risk but also raise the question of outright negligence on the part of the doctors who are handing them out like jelly beans to their patients.

Now a new study is giving us yet more one reason to consider ditching these drugs. Scientists at Emory University have found evidence that the drugs are causing arteries to thicken, effectively causing them to age faster than they should be and putting antidepressant-drug users at an elevated risk for heart disease and stroke.

According to Dr. Shah, a cardiology fellow at Emory University, arteries normally thicken at about 10 microns per year. But when his team looked at the arteries of 59 pairs of twins where only one brother was taking antidepressants, they found an average 40 microns thickening in the carotid arteries of the men on the antidepressants. In other words, their carotid arteries were in effect four years older than those of their brothers!

According to the Emory researchers, this accelerated thickening was seen in men taking SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) or other types of antidepressants.

More research is needed, of course, but, in light of these recent findings if you’re on an antidepressant and happen to be in the majority who are receiving no benefit from them anyway, it’s probably a good time to talk with your doctor about getting off of them.

The good news is that there are some natural approaches that have been shown to be effective in combating depression. The simplest and easiest to get started on is, of course, exercise.

Hey, was that an audible groan I heard from the peanut gallery? I know, the thought of getting up and moving when you’re feeling depressed can be daunting, but once you start feeling the proven results of this approach, you’ll never want to go back.

Even something as simple as taking the dog for a brisk walk or a lively game of catch with a grandchild can flood your brain with neurotransmitters called endorphins. These feel-good hormones can…well…make you feel good.

Next, don’t underestimate the power of sunshine to help ease your depression. You should be sure to get a daily dose of sunlight…at least 10 to 15 minutes per day… for a natural boost of vitamin D and the important neurotransmitter serotonin. An imbalance in serotonin can lead to mood problems and depression, but some time spent in the sun can help your body produce more of the mood-balancing chemical.

Make sure your bedroom is free of sleep-disturbing light at night. Research has shown that being exposed to too much light can literally cause changes in the brain that are linked to depression.

And, finally, you should take a look at your diet to be sure that you’re getting enough brain-friendly omega-3 fatty acids. Omega 3s—which can be found in organic walnuts, flaxseed and natural-caught cold-water fish—are important for promoting brain health and helping neurotransmitters like serotonin do their jobs. Serving fish for dinner a couple of nights a week and enjoying a small handful of walnuts for a daily snack should do the trick.

Or try a good-quality fish-oil supplement instead. Just be sure to combat the free radicals by taking an all-natural vitamin E…400 IUs…with mixed tocopherols as well.

References:

“Antidepressants linked to thicker arteries,” Emory University (2011, April 2). ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 3, 2011, sciencedaily.com

“Does outdoor work during the winter season protect against depression and mood difficulties?,” Scand J Work Environ Health. 2011 Mar 1. pii: 3155. doi: 10.5271/sjweh.3155. [Epub ahead of print]

“Vitamin D and depression: where is all the sunshine?,” Issues Ment Health Nurs. 2010 Jun;31(6):385-93.

“Extraskeletal effects of vitamin D in older adults: cardiovascular disease, mortality, mood, and cognition,” Am J Geriatr Pharmacother. 2010 Feb;8(1):4-33.

“When a season means depression,” Med Sci (Paris) . 2010 Jan;26(1):79-82.

About the author

author-picture

An enthusiastic believer in the power of natural healing, Alice has spent virtually her entire 15-year career in the natural-health publishing field helping to spread the word.

She is an advocate of self-education and is passionate about the power of group knowledge sharing, like the kind found right here on Healthier Talk. Alice loves to share her views on holistic and natural healing as well as her, sometimes contentious, thoughts on the profit-driven inner workings of traditional medicine.

“Erythrocyte polyunsaturated fatty acid status, memory, cognition and mood in older adults with mild cognitive impairment and healthy controls,” Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 2011 Mar 8. [Epub ahead of print]

“The effect of low-dose omega 3 fatty acids on the treatment of mild to moderate depression in the elderly: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study,” Eur Arch Psychiatry Clin Neurosci. 2011 Feb 12. [Epub ahead of print]

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