A new study is raising more concerns about the safety of commonly used antidepressants, including selective serotonin reuptake (SSRI) inhibitor antidepressants. Investigators who conducted the study, which is published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, posit that increased knowledge of the negative effects of SSRIs and other antidepressants could reduce their use.
“It is widely believed that antidepressant medications are both safe and effective; however, this belief was formed in the absence of adequate scientific verification,” the researchers wrote. “The weight of current evidence suggests that, in general, antidepressants are neither safe nor effective; they appear to do more harm than good.”
In reaching their conclusions, researchers at McMaster University in Canada reviewed previous patient studies into the effects of antidepressants. According to a press release issued by McMaster, they discovered that antidepressants that impact levels of serotonin in the brain can cause side effects related to any bodily process normally regulated by serotonin. Possible antidepressant side effects cited by the study include:
- Birth defects in infants
- Sexual dysfunction and problems with sperm developments in adults
- Diarrhea, constipation, indigestion, bloating and other digestive problems
- Abnormal bleeding and stroke in the elderly
The study authors also reviewed three recent studies showing that elderly antidepressant users are more likely to die than non-users, even after taking other important variables into account.
“Serotonin is an ancient chemical,” lead research and evolutionary biologist, Paul Andrews, said in the press release. “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.”
SSRI antidepressants, which include drugs sold under the names Paxil, Prozac, Celexa, Lexapro, and Zoloft, block the reabsorption (reuptake) of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain. It appears that altering the balance of serotonin helps brain cells send and receive chemical messages, which in turn boosts mood. Other antidepressants that impact serotonin levels include norepinephrine serotonin reuptake inhibitors such as Effexor and Strattera.
According to a report from the International Business Times, statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, antidepressants were the most frequently used prescription drug by people aged 18 to 44 between 2005 and 2008. From 1988 to 2008, antidepressant use increased by almost 400 percent.
In the McMaster press release, Andrews said his study’s findings indicate it’s time to look critically at the continuing use of antidepressants.
“It could change the way we think about such major pharmaceutical drugs,” he said. “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?”