A new study getting underway at UCLA reveals that a whopping 60 to 70% of older adults do not respond to common antidepressant drugs like Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, Celexa, and Lexapro.
Well, surprise, surprise.
For years, I’ve been reporting about how ineffective antidepressant drugs really are. In fact, research shows that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like the drugs I mentioned above only work in as few as one in seven adults. That’s right—only 14% of adults who take these drugs actually stop being depressed.
This is particularly troubling when you consider how common—and how dangerous—depression can be…especially as you get older.
Why you need to know about depression if you’re 50 or older
Depression in older adults is linked to greater risk of declining mental health, accelerated aging, and even suicide. (Although antidepressant drugs are also linked to an increased risk of suicide.)
And the UCLA researchers note that depression in later life adversely impacts quality of life more than any other single illness
So what do they plan to do about it in their new study? Give older people even more antidepressant drugs.
They don’t plan to explore the many natural approaches found to be effective against depression. But I will. In a moment, I will reveal my scientifically backed, 8-step plan to fight depression and improve your overall mood.
But first, let’s take a closer look at the misguided UCLA study, and how it piggybacks on half a century of failed depression-drug therapies.
Mainstream medicine says when one antidepressant doesn’t work, try two
A nonprofit organization has awarded a $14 million grant to UCLA’s Late-Life Depression, Stress and Wellness Research Program, together with four other centers around the country and in Canada, to evaluate treatment strategies for adults age 60 and older who have not responded to mainstream antidepressant drugs.
As I mentioned above, researchers are going to look at switching people to a new drug, or augmenting the failed drug with a second drug—either Abilify (aripiprazole) or Wellbutrin (buproprion).
Of course, that’s the modern, mainstream solution. When a drug doesn’t work, it doesn’t mean that the drug is a failure; it must mean there is something wrong with the patient. So what’s the solution? Add another drug. But the only one that wins at that game is big pharma.
A UCLA press release also notes that the study will “explore how aging-related factors affect the benefits and risks of different antidepressant strategies.”1
Translation: Let’s figure out how to make older Americans into better drug takers—as if they aren’t taking enough drugs already.
Ironically, the researchers say they plan to monitor participants carefully during the study, since antidepressants have serious safety concerns in older people—including cognitive decline, falls, cardiovascular events, and even death. All the problems that older people are already particularly concerned about, even without taking the antidepressant drugs that increase all of these risks.
But wait, there’s more…dangerous drugs, that is
UCLA researchers say the study participants who do not respond to Abilify or Wellbutrin during the first few months will be given either lithium (an effective standby since the 1970s that is also used for bipolar disorder) or nortriptyline (an old-line tricyclic antidepressant drug from the 1960s).
Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) can be effective for depression when the newer SSRI drugs fail, as they typically do. However, TCAs are well known to cause cardiac toxicity and sudden cardiac death.
As a Florida state medical examiner in the mid-1980s, I performed a postmortem investigation on a former airline pilot who appeared at the Miami airport in an agitated state, attempting to hijack an airplane.
He was placed into protective custody by the police, probably in the manic state of bipolar disorder, and brought to the ER at the city hospital. He was thought to have been off his medication, and was given a TCA.
Although they debuted in the 1960s, TCA drugs were still considered state of the art for treating depression, including bipolar disorder, in the ‘80s. (And back then, the biggest concern with hijacking airplanes in Miami was taking them to Cuba, not Islamic fundamentalist terrorism.)
But shortly after the pilot was given a TCA, he went into cardiac arrest and died, right in the ER. My autopsy revealed sudden death due to cardiac arrhythmia (abnormal heartbeat, as typically caused by TCAs), as well as long-term myocytolysis (destruction of the heart muscle) also caused by these drugs.
So, UCLA’s new $14 million research strategy for treating depression when modern drugs don’t work? Go back to the TCA and lithium drugs of the 1960s and ’70s. Maybe the psychiatrists will be going back to sporting beards (like Sigmund Freud) and wearing bellbottom jeans too?
The 140-year-old depression therapy that still works today
I remember the excitement during my medical training in the 1970s when pseudo-scientists became convinced that mental health was just a matter of rearranging brain chemicals. They thought we could give up talk therapy, group therapy, inpatient treatments, and human interaction of all kinds, in favor of brain chemical-altering drugs. And turn people loose who needed professional help by the simple stroke of a prescription pad.
Of course, we all know how that has worked out.
So instead of just going back to the drug-happy 1970s, the UCLA psychiatrists might consider going all the way back to the 1870s. That’s when “moral therapy” became the way to more effectively and humanely treat depressed patients who had been incarcerated in mental “hospitals” (portrayed in Igor Stravinsky’s opera, “The Rake’s Progress,” with libretto by poet W.H. Auden).
Shortly before that time, doctors looked for pathologic lesions in the brains of patients with mental illness. But, of course, in most instances, there were none. (Lesions are only observable in patients with mental conditions that are due to damage to or destruction of brain tissue.)
Sigmund Freud started out as one of those neuropathologists, but gave up that approach to develop psychoanalytic psychotherapy—which emphasizes talk therapy and development of insight. The basic premise is that to work on a solution, the patient had to first develop an understanding of the problem.
In the 1870s, moral therapy simply involved exposing the mentally ill to normal circumstances by placing them out in society—living in boarding houses, working in jobs they could perform, and talking to other people in the community. That way, they were able to develop a fund of “normal,” positive experiences, contrary to the “crazy” circumstances in early mental health facilities.
My 8-step program for treating depression
Today, the 19th century moral therapy approach could be called cognitive behavioral therapy. After all, it’s all about behavior, because in the end, who can really know what thoughts may “lurk in the hearts of men?”
That’s why talk therapy with a qualified mental-health professional is my number one recommendation for anyone suffering from depression.
In my medical textbook, Fundamentals of Complementary and Alternative Medicine, which is now going into a 6th edition, I present in detail an infamous study on depression and therapy that was performed at Harvard University 15 years ago.
The study showed that SSRI drugs or St. John’s wort (the standard herbal remedy), weren’t any more effective for depression than a placebo pill. Of course, the headlines were about the lack of effectiveness of the herbal remedy, while downplaying the equally bad failure of the drug.
But the real news was the placebo. For ethical reasons, all of the people in the study received at least 14 hours of talk therapy with a trained Harvard mental health professional. So all the study really showed was that talking to a therapist was far more effective for depression than any pill, whether it was a drug or an herbal remedy.
While I believe that both individual talk therapy and participation in professionally facilitated group therapies may have the greatest benefits for people with clinical depression, there are also simple lifestyle practices that can help reduce depression.
Mind-body therapies like meditation and yoga have been shown in many studies to improve depression and mood. To find out which mind-body therapy will work best for you, take the Emotional Type Quiz at www.drmicozzi.com, and check out my book with Mike Jawer, Your Emotional Type. You can order a copy by clicking here or calling 800-682-7319 and asking for order code EOV2T1AA.
Classical homeopathy consists of minute doses of natural substances that have been regulated under the U.S. Pharmacopeia since 1937 and classified as safe. And it is tailored specifically to an individual patient’s symptoms. Consequently, a homeopath will spend one or two hours thoroughly documenting a patient’s physical and mental characteristics, including personality—which, of course, involves talking with and listening to the patient. In that regard, homeopathy is also a mind-body therapy.
Going out into nature and walking or sitting among plants or near bodies of water has been shown to be highly beneficial in some studies.
Getting moderate exercise, preferably outdoors, has scientifically demonstrated benefits for body and mind.
The brain also needs to be well-nourished with B vitamins, which are so effective for mental health that they’re called “neurovitamins” in Europe. I recommend everyone take a high-quality vitamin B complex daily. And many foods are good sources of B vitamins, including some fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, poultry, fish, meat, and dairy.
Vitamin D has been demonstrated to improve mood, especially for seasonal depression. I recommend 10,000 IU a day of D, along with high vitamin-D foods like dairy, eggs, and fatty fish such as tuna and salmon.
Magnesium (400 mg per day) is also important for brain and mental health. Foods rich in magnesium include green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains, dairy, eggs, and meat.
Ring in the new year without dangerous drugs
While the government continues to spend our tax dollars researching failed drugs, the natural solutions for depression are literally all around us—in nature and our communities.
So as you turn the calendar to 2017, consider making a resolution to naturally improve your mental health. Even if you’re not depressed, you can start the new year with a better mood…and a healthier brain and body.