Why you’re better off passing on the SSRIs—and using natural solutions instead
If you’re suffering from depression, the promise of relief in the form of a little pill can feel like a lifeline. So the fact that antidepressants have few—if any—real benefits is, well…depressing.
That’s the conclusion published last month in the British Medical Journal. And it’s consistent with views I have presented before in Insiders’ Cures. My practice in forensic medicine backs it up too. I’ve seen case after case of depressed patients committing suicide…after they start taking “antidepressant” drugs.
Making matters worse
It’s not that antidepressants don’t do anything—it’s just that they do the wrong thing. The newer antidepressant drugs act as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). They artificially raise levels of serotonin in the brain by preventing its normal re-uptake into nerve cells after it’s released into nerve pathways.
This is believed to help depression symptoms. And it does…but not the symptoms that need to be improved.
In my forensic medicine practice, I saw case after case of chronically depressed patients with suicidal thoughts. But they were too depressed to take action and do anything about it. Until they got their dose of SSRIs, that is. Once the drugs kicked in, the patients still had their suicidal thoughts, and now they had the energy to act on them. The results were tragic.
Even more tragic is that some mentally troubled, depressed patients have thoughts about harming others as well. Disturbing new analysis indicates many of the recent violent tragedies grabbing the headlines may be the result of antidepressants.
That’s because depression has a built-in self-protection. It causes people to turn inward, close themselves off, and they lack the energy to carry out actions. Instead they just endlessly think these thoughts, many of them negative. Psychiatrists call this thought substitution. So even if people have thought of hurting themselves or others, they often don’t have the energy or ability to do it.
Now give the depressed person Prozac. You haven’t changed anything about the real causes of the depression. But, suddenly, the depressed person’s brain is flooded with serotonin. And now they finally have the energy to act.
I’ll leave it to statisticians to debate whether SSRIs cause suicide in depressed patients. But as a physician, the evidence in real cases of suffering human beings is all too obvious.
Still, serotonin is not just a loaded gun waiting to go off. And while I don’t recommend artificially manipulating your serotonin levels as a treatment for any disease, I can tell you that there are natural approaches that really work. They help the body naturally restore its own proper levels of serotonin, acetylcholine, and other neurotransmitters. And that makes for a healthy mind and body.
I’ll tell you more about these natural depression helpers in a minute. But first…
Antidepressants on the rise
Why are prescriptions for antidepressants going up and up, while the people taking them continue slipping down into their depression?
Some psychiatrists claim it’s because of a small, but appropriate, increase in the length of treatment— not the number of patients being treated. That is, patients are being kept on the drug longer.
But why keep people on the same tired medication if it’s not working?
The real issue is that too many people are being treated for something that’s just a normal part of life—not a disease in need of a pharmaceutical cure. The current definition of clinical depression is two weeks of “low mood.” I can think of a number of people whose moods were low for a couple weeks after the last election. But I wouldn’t call it a disease—and I certainly wouldn’t want to medicate it away!
A more serious mental illness is being so delusional that you can’t recognize when bad and sad things are happening in reality—and that’s much worse than two weeks of “low mood.”
But some parties have reason to be in a good mood about the overuse of antidepressants. Three-quarters of psychiatrists who write the definitions of depression used in the psychiatric manual have links to drug companies.1 So they have good motivation to put people on prescriptions and abandon more time-intensive—but effective— mental health treatments! (Think psychoanalysis, talk therapy, and even spiritual approaches.)
Depression may be the perfect condition for the drug industry: Incurable, common, long-term (even with these so-called “treatments”), and involving multiple medications. Some experts say contemporary psychiatry’s relationship with the drug industry has created a pharmaceutical mindset to treat mental illness.
But the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence does not even support the use of antidepressants for mild depression. Instead it favors psychological talk-based therapies.
Of course, the government- industrial-insurance complex doesn’t want to pay health professionals for the time it takes to really help patients. Instead they push the quick treatment—the few seconds it takes to scribble on a prescription pad(often with the name of the drug also advertised at the top).
Perhaps that’s why antidepressant prescriptions increased by almost 10 percent in 2011.
The upside of being down
Occasional “low mood” may simply be a fact of life. In fact, research shows that mildly depressed people are actually better at assessing and dealing with life’s circumstances. Sometimes low mood is just our way of seeing that all is not well, and that we need to protect ourselves.
Shakespeare was no stranger to low mood when he wrote the character of Hamlet. When Hamlet perceives that “something is rotten in the state of Denmark,” it leads to his famous soliloquy: “To be, or not to be—that is the question…whether to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing them, end them.”
Sounds like an appropriate response to a dangerous situation, doesn’t it? To most of us anyway… But not to some ever-alert psychiatrists, who have used that soliloquy to diagnose Hamlet as depressed.
Nature’s answer to depression
While antidepressant drugs may be worse than worthless for many or most people, many natural approaches can enhance brain, mind, and mood. And of course all of those work together, especially when talking about neurochemicals like serotonin. Here are just a few natural ways to get serotonin levels to their natural, optimal levels.
Omega 3s. Omega 3–rich foods (salmon, sardines, walnuts, flaxseeds, and olive oil for example) may help depression. And we already know they’re powerhouses in other areas of health. Researchers think omega 3–rich foods affect structural fats in brain membranes, making it easier for nutrients to enter cells.
Folic acid (and other B vitamins). Low levels of folic acid and high levels of an amino acid–like chemical called homocysteine are associated with depression. Folic acid, as well as vitamins B2, B6, and B12, have all been shown to decrease levels of homocysteine and protect against heart disease, as we document in The Insider’s Secret to Conquering High Blood Pressure and Protecting Your Heart, which you received as a new subscriber. Find B vitamins in fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and legumes. If you’re taking a supplement, look for 800 mcg folic acid, 2.5 mg thiamine, 5 mg B6, and 20 mcg B12.
Amino acids. Tryptophan is an amino acid needed to make serotonin. For many years higher tryptophan has been found to be associated with lower depression rates. Tryptophan is high in foods containing proteins (which are chains of amino acids), such as meat, fish, beans, and eggs.
Nucleic acids. Research at McLean Hospital in Belmont, MA, has shown foods high in uridine improves mood. Uridine is a nucleic acid found at high levels in beets and molasses. Beets are also a rich source of betaine, which is critical in maintaining proper antioxidant balance in cells.
Carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are broken down into sugar your brain needs to function properly. However, simple sugar or too much carbohydrate can cause or aggravate depression. Avoid this problem by eating a diet low in refined carbohydrates and sugar and high in fruits and vegetables.
St. John’s wort. This European folk remedy has been used for centuries as natural treatment for depression and anxiety. In Germany, for example, St. John’s wort has long been approved for its effectiveness in treating mild depression. General dosage is 300 mg three times per day (at 0.3% standardized hypericin extract).
Antioxidants. A new study in the Journal of the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that foods high in antioxidants (but not dietary supplements themselves) help stem depression in older adults. This is not surprising since foods contain a biological matrix that is important for proper absorption and metabolism. Plus most antioxidant supplements are of poor quality and not based on real science.
Proper hydration. What and how much you drink can influence mood as well. A small study of 25 women suggests dehydration can cause headaches, loss of focus, fatigue, and low mood. Now here’s the really interesting thing. Even minor dehydration (about 1 percent lower than optimal) was enough to cause serious effects.
South African Red Bush (Rooibos). Of course, water alone is not enough to prevent dehydration. You need fluid and electrolytes—but not from so-called sports “hydration” beverages. Instead, I recommend the little-known South African Red Bush (rooibos). You’ve heard me sing this herb’s praises before for all sorts of conditions. But it also packs a one-two punch for depression. It keeps you hydrated while also providing antidepressant effects and benefits for brain, mind, and mood. As a true adaptogen (helping the body adapt to stress), red bush will refresh you during the day and relax you at bedtime. I generally recommend replacing your 8-glasses-a day with 4-6 glasses of rooibos tea—hot or iced.
A truly depressing drink
You know from reading my Daily Dispatch emails that diet drinks are chock-full of nasty stuff. A new French study shows that diet drinks pose a higher diabetes risk than even regular soda! And now we’re finding out they can affect your mood as well.
A just-off-the-press study links artificially sweetened beverages—especially diet drinks—with higher depression risk in adults. (Coffee, on the other hand, slightly lowered risk).2
Researchers studied 263,925 people for about 10 years. Those who drank more than four cans of soda per day were nearly one-third more likely to develop depression than those who drank no soda. The same amount of fruit punch caused an almost 40 percent increased risk. The same amount of coffee, on the other hand, came with a 10 percent risk reduction.
Think it’s just the sugar? Think again. As with the French study on diabetes, this study showed an even greater risk for people who drank diet versions of these drinks.
So, do your mood a favor. Pass on the sweet drinks and go for a cup of Joe or rooibos tea instedad.
1. Cosgrove, L., Bursztajn, H. J., Erlich, D. R., Wheeler, E. E. and Shaughnessy, A. F. (2012), Conflicts of interest and the quality of recommendations in clinical guidelines. Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice. doi: 10.1111/jep.12016
2. Presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 65th Annual Meeting in San Diego, March 16 to 23, 2013