Drugs to Treat Depression

Dr. David Perlmutter, author of Brain Maker: The Power of Gut Microbes to Heal and Protect Your Brain –for Life, warns of the dangers of using drugs to treat depression and not consuming omega-3 fatty acids from sources such as salmon and fish oil pills.

The next time you’re at a large-scale event with lots of people, whether you’re in an auditorium or a stadium, take a look around and consider this: one in ten of those people is taking a psychiatric drug to treat a mood disorder. For women in their forties and fifties, one in four take an antidepressant. That’s right, a quarter of middle-aged women today are taking powerful drugs to remedy symptoms that typically fall under a diagnosis of clinical depression: persistent distress, malaise, anxiety, inner agitation, fatigue, low libido, poor memory, irritability, insomnia, sense of hopelessness, and feeling emotionally flat, overwhelmed, and trapped. At last count, 14 percent of non-Hispanic white men take antidepressants, compared with just 4 percent of non-Hispanic blacks and 3 percent of Mexican Americans. Interestingly, antidepressant use does not vary by income status….

Ever since serotonin-specific reuptake inhibitor medications (SSRIs) were approved by the FDA nearly three decades ago, we as a society have come to believe that drugs can improve symptoms of or even “cure” mental illness, particularly depression, anxiety disorders, and panic attacks, which together are the top targets of medication in the U.S. Such drug use has increased a whopping 400 percent over the past two decades. By 2005, antidepressants had become the #1 prescribed drug class in the country.

But these medications do not treat depression. Whether it’s Prozac, Cymbalta, Zoloft, Elavil, Lexapro, Wellbutrin, or any of the other commonly prescribed antidepressants, these medicines simply treat symptoms, and only minimally so. Drugs for depression are aggressively marketed and prescribed in this country; look no further than the direct-to-consumer advertisements that dominate in broadcast media. The same is true of ADHD drugs: 85 percent of drugs to treat ADHD are used in the U.S. Although children are still the primary users of these drugs, the number of adults using them has been increasing at a much faster pace lately. The percentage of kids taking them increased 18 percent between 2008 and 2012, but during that same time period the percentage of privately insured adults who take them skyrocketed 53 percent. I am saddened by the fact that the billion-dollar psychotropic pharmaceutical industry is predicated on the idea that people will take a pill to treat symptoms, while the underlying disorder is ignored. So there’s never any real focus on actually curing or even improving the root cause of the illness, let alone getting people off the medication….

All of the antidepressant medications currently on the market are designed to artificially alter neurotransmitter activity in the brain. Yet, when we consider the fact that these same chemicals found in the brain are also produced in the gut, and that their availability to the brain is largely governed by the activity of gut bacteria, we are forced to realize that ground zero for all things mood-related is the gut….

When I think about our soaring rates of depression, I wonder about the impact of our sedentary lifestyles and diets that are loaded with pro-inflammatory sugars, too many pro-inflammatory omega-6 fats, and too few anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats. We know, for example, that the typical Western diet—high in refined carbs and factory fats—is associated with higher levels of C-reactive protein, a popular marker of inflammation. A diet filled with foods that are high on the glycemic index is also associated with higher levels of C-reactive protein. The glycemic index is a scale of 0 to 100, with higher values indicating foods that cause the fastest and most persistent elevations in blood sugar. Pure glucose, which has a GI of 100, provides the reference point. Foods high on the glycemic index notoriously increase inflammation.

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