Evidence shows that anti-depressants likely do more harm than good, researchers find

April 24, 2012

Commonly prescribed anti-depressants appear to be doing patients more harm than good, say researchers who have published a paper examining the impact of the medications on the entire body.

"We need to be much more cautious about the widespread use of these drugs," says Paul Andrews, an evolutionary biologist at McMaster University and lead author of the article, published today in the online journal Frontiers in Psychology.

"It's important because millions of people are prescribed anti-depressants each year, and the about these drugs is that they're safe and effective."

Andrews and his colleagues examined previous patient studies into the effects of anti-depressants and determined that the benefits of most anti-depressants, even taken at their best, compare poorly to the risks, which include in .

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Anti-depressants are designed to relieve the 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 at wound sites, reproduction and development.

What the researchers found is that anti-depressants have on all processes normally regulated by serotonin.

The findings include these elevated risks:

  • developmental problems in infants
  • problems with sexual stimulation and function and sperm development in adults
  • such as diarrhea, constipation, indigestion and bloating
  • abnormal bleeding and stroke in the elderly
The authors 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 indicate that the overall effect of these drugs on the body is more harmful than beneficial.

" 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 says.

Millions of people are prescribed anti-depressants every year, and while the conclusions may seem surprising, Andrews says 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 says. "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 says it is important to look critically at their continuing use.

"It could change the way we think about such major pharmaceutical drugs," he says. "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?"

Explore further: Patients who use anti-depressants are more likely to suffer relapse, researcher finds

More information: The journal article: www.frontiersin.org/Evolutionary_Psychology/10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00117/full

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1 / 5 (2) Apr 24, 2012
Going off antidepressants suddenly is a bad idea but it seams that the people doing this research may have overlooked the fact that depression can, in some people, be fatal and lead to many other health complications.
1 / 5 (2) Apr 25, 2012
Exactly. I don't see many working medical alternatives to treating depression either. Although therapy can help, I think that medication is more effective, speaking from personal experience.
not rated yet Apr 25, 2012
Antidepressants do some real work. I was in a tight spot once due to continous stress from overworking and while those drugs do have some side-effects (like gaining weight, lessened sexual drive etc.) they are indispensable.

And like Sean_W said, depression can be fatal. In fact, fatality in depression cases is as high as 10% (suicides also count). And when I think back about mine, I understand why - my life was a real hell for over half a year. This is very, very psychically taxing. Side effects seem rather to me a minor nuisance in comparison.
1 / 5 (1) Apr 25, 2012
Anti-depressants may not be the problem. They are prescribed when they shouldn't be. My nephew had acne and they prescribed an anti-depressant. That isn't depression, it's a skin disease. You don't prescribe an anti-depressant for a real disease, you treat the disease. Doctors are idiots.
1 / 5 (2) Apr 25, 2012
@Moebius Really? That's strange. That's just like those idiot doctors who prescribe antibiotics for influenza and the common cold.
not rated yet Apr 25, 2012
college females should not be proscribed heavy antidepressants -- it clouds judgements and makes them feel 'okay' about anything - there mood literally does not change. Where the moral implications of your actions would be activated upon self assessment this feeling - of nothing at all - prevents social growth unless actions are pointed out by others and then only if they are forced to see real consequences of not caring as antidepressants keep real emotion from surfacing.

I know my experience is limited, but I have seen 10 women exhibit these same tendencies and the only common factor was the antidepressant.
not rated yet Apr 27, 2012
makes them feel 'okay' about anything

Better than feeling crappy about *everything.

What's your point? Retardation of 'social growth'? Yeah, so does not being able to leave your bedroom.
not rated yet Apr 27, 2012
Casual prescription, without checking risk factors, is always poor practice.

p.s. proscribed =/= prescribed...
not rated yet Apr 28, 2012
Anti-depressants are a mixed bag, thats for sure. Its is better to take them than feel bad all the time as skultch points out. And anyway our lives are short and who wants to live a long and miserable life anyway.

I wonder about natural anti-depresents like st. john wort - which is what I take.
not rated yet Apr 29, 2012
A lot of man made drug is seriously flawed. My daughter did her honors college thesis on Housewives of the 1940's and '50's and how they were prescribed anti depressants and other crap like ritalin and uppers and downers in the same pill.

Depression happens to us all, so does the Bi-polar b.s. that the Big pharma is now pushing drugs on people to correct. Have you never woken up happy or stressed, but within a few minutes feel much better?? Or sad and then have that wave continue. That is life!!

Most of the drugs now being prescribed for things are repacked psychotropic drugs that failed at what they were created to fix, IE depression or bi polar... Think about it?!! Why all the disclaimers for side effects??

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