Taking antidepressants to relieve the symptoms of depression has become commonplace in American society. These drugs have been used for almost sixty years to treat depression. In modern times, these marvels of medical science are not only used to target the symptoms of depression, they’re also prescribed for conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and neuropathies. They’re even used “off-label” to treat such conditions are fibromyalgia, pre-menstrual symptoms, and hot flashes – among others.
Despite their widespread use, the side effects of taking antidepressants for depression is a problem for many – and these medications increase the risk of heart attack and stroke – according to some studies.
Now, there’s more bad news about taking antidepressants for depression – they don’t work. Or at least they don’t work as well as the pharmaceutical companies would have you believe.
Are Antidepressants Ineffective?
A series of meta-analyses looking at the effectiveness of taking antidepressants for depression was recently sent to the FDA. A meta-analysis analyzes a number of research studies in a particular area to get a better idea of the benefits, or lack of benefits, of whatever is being studied. According to the results of these meta-analyses, antidepressants only had long-term benefits in 2.7% of people who used them. This is a pretty startling number considering how commonly these drugs are prescribed.
Researchers also found that the number of people who discontinued antidepressants due to side effects was higher than the number of people who had improvements while on them. Even more disturbing? They found that antidepressant studies were more likely to be published if they showed benefits. Studies that didn’t support the effectiveness of antidepressants were less likely to reach the eyes of doctors or the public taking them.
On the plus side, the researchers in this study suggested that there may be sub-groups of people who do respond to taking antidepressants for depression, but it’s difficult to tell who will benefit and who won’t. They stressed that it’s important to look for alternatives to antidepressants since they’re likely not as effective as most doctors believe.
Alternatives to Antidepressants
Depression can be caused by low levels of some vitamins such as B-complex vitamins, particularly B12 and folate – and inadequate vitamin D levels. Anyone suffering from depression should get a vitamin D level checked to see if this could be contributing to the problem. Supplementing with essential fatty acids, particularly omega-3’s, may improve the symptoms of depression in some people. An herbal remedy that has shown some promise for treating depression is St. John’s wort. As with medications, it’s usually best to take supplements like this under the care of a doctor. A regular exercise program, light therapy, and massage are other alternative treatments for depression that may work.
Taking Antidepressants for Depression: The Bottom Line?
Antidepressants not only have side effects, but they may not be the answer to treating depression. Talk to your doctor about other alternatives before taking one of these medications.
Medscape.com website. “Broad Review of FDA Trials Suggests Antidepressants Only Marginally Better than Placebo”