Nutritional Immunology

Recognizing the dangers of anti-depressant drugs

By Danielle Frascone.
Do you or someone you love take SSRI drugs? If so, then perhaps you have been informed of the possible side effects. Most people have heard that SSRI drugs may affect their sex drive or cause weight gain but what they may not have heard is that these drugs can do far more damage to the body than the effects of the initial depression alone. The truth is SSRI drugs are not as safe as the pharmaceutical company would like you to think.  

Since the 1980’s SSRIs drug production has been in full force. The drugs which are selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors were initially created to treat depression. However, SSRIs are now also being used to treat the following symptoms: sleep disorders, hair pulling, school phobias, anorexia, bulimia, and certain forms of addiction, such as alcohol or gambling, to even a simple case of nail biting (Groenendijk, 2006). The sole purpose of SSRI drugs is to prevent serotonin from being reabsorbed back into the pre-synaptic terminal; therefore, leaving the chemicals available to continue working within the brain (Weiten, 2008).

Serotonin, also known as the happy drug, is thought to be contrived of chemicals that our
body creates to keep our spirits up. Unfortunately, the production of serotonin is not always steady, which may result in depression. This often times results in a visit to a psychiatrist who then prescribes an SSRI drug. The problem is that many doctors do not know the potential risk factors associated with the drugs. After all, the pharmaceutical company portrays SSRI drugs as safe and effective, which is not the case.

Groenendijk (2006) states that the general public, including doctors think SSRI drugs have gone through tedious testing under the care of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA); however, the testing of new drugs is not done by the Food and Drug Administration. It is actually the pharmaceutical company that supports, funds, and carries out the drugs testing. The FDA relies on the pharmaceutical company’s validity of research, which then results in an approval by the FDA (Waichman & Parker, 2000). However, the results presented to the FDA are often times far from accurate, or in some cases even withheld. Pringle (2007) reports that the lists of adverse side effects from SSRIs continue to lengthen; unfortunately, these effects are not uncovered until the pharmaceutical company faces litigation.

The typical standard of drug testing proposed by the FDA is that pharmaceutical companies perform at least 6 to 8 weeks of testing; however, many of these drugs are put on the market after just 4 weeks of testing. By 1993 there were nearly 30,000 reports of adverse side effects from Prozac, including over 1,000 suicides, nearly 2,000 suicide attempts, and almost 2,000 deaths. At that point in time, Prozac was only on the market for 5 years. (Groenendijk, 2006). To think that just 6 to 8 weeks of research is considered acceptable is appalling. After all, it’s a known fact that many side effects of drugs do not show up till after prolonged use.

Eli Lilly, one of the pharmaceutical companies responsible for creating certain SSRI drugs had previously been under fire with litigation due to withholding evidence of Prozac test results from the FDA and the medical field. These results revealed numerous amounts of Prozac initiated aggression, stimulation, and suicidal attempts during testing (Breggins, 2005). The evidence also revealed that the use of Prozac by some children can render a stunt in growth in as little as five months of use (http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3689/is_200 311/ai_n9324408). The withholding of the testings adverse effects by the pharmaceutical company allots doctors to prescribe SSRI drugs without fully understanding the danger of those drugs.

One of the major problems with the use of SSRI drugs is that they can result in serotonin syndrome. This syndrome is caused by over stimulation of the neurons associated with serotonin, which are responsible for maintaining many of the body’s physical functions. Serotonin syndrome usually results from the use of at least two SSRI drugs at the same time, an overconsumption of one SSRI; or in some cases SSRIs interaction with certain enzymes, such as “isoenzymes”, which are inhibited by serotonin and result in large amounts of serotonin within the body (Huska, Catalano, G & Catalano, M, 2007). Nevertheless, some people experience adverse effects while taking only one SSRI drug, which can happen after a single dose, or may not surface until discontinuation of the drug.

The major effects of Serotonin syndrome are changes in mental status, restlessness, abnormal body movement disorders (of the mouth, jaw, and tongue), tremors, high fevers, and agitation which may lead to suicide (Huska et al., 2007). Delong reports that a breakdown in the serotonin neurons can also lead to Parkinsonism, which involves muscle stiffness and body tics (as cited in Weiten, 2008). While the purpose of SSRIs is to inhibit serotonin from being reabsorbed by blocking the pre-synaptic neuron, they also negatively affect positive mechanisms within the body.

It is no surprise that doctors are seeing more and more cases of serotonin syndrome. Doctor Sheldon Preskorn (1997) reports that 30 to 80 percent of people who are taking antidepressants are taking more than one of them; this is one of the major causes of the rise in the syndrome. Especially since many doctors are not aware of the effects of compounding SSRIs. In 2000, Mason, Morris, & Balcezak informed us that less than 5 % of serotonin is located within the brain, 90 % within the stomach, with the rest located in the blood (as cited in Wren, Frizzell, Keltner, & Wright, 2003). With these statistics it is no wonder there are so many adverse effects to SSRIs.

Jefferson Scientists (2004) report that SSRIs are being compared to ecstasy in reference to the negative changes they have on brain cells. The brains cells actually shrink and change shape when presented with large doses of serotonin, resulting in irreversible conditions. Sure SSRIs may make an individual feel better but so do illegal drugs; in either case, the end product is a deterioration of the body’s normal function.

So why do SSRIs remain on the market? The fact that pharmaceutical companies and doctors make more money keeping SSRI drugs on the market might give rise as to why they have not been removed or further studied for that matter. Mr. Elliot Valenstein, a neuropsychologist, reports that it’s the pharmaceutical companies that inherit greatly from these drugs, which is why they heavily entice doctors to use them (Rolnick).

The pharmaceutical company actually provides substantial gifts to some doctors for filling out so many prescriptions. The gift list ranges from meals, to electronic devices, to all expense paid trips (Dr. Boaz, personal communication, July 2007). A behavioral pediatrician, Dr. Lawrence H. Diller, states that when a psychiatrist has four medicine checks in one hour, he or she earns almost 2 times the amount they would have if they were to counsel and individual for 45 minutes (as cited in Parenting, 2007). With such enticement from the pharmaceutical company, it is no wonder that some doctors forsake their objectivity when it comes to the welfare of their patients.

It’s normal for an individual to go through stages of weariness with the loss of a loved one or when facing change but often times doctors promote that hopelessness by prescribing drugs that mask it rather than instilling a new hope, or enticing a new social outlook in life. Neuropsychologist Valenstein states that mental factors are as important as biological ones and that psychotherapy can often times be just as efficient as drugs (Rolnick). The problem is that many doctors push SSRI drugs as a quick alternative without first delving into whether an individual’s issues are just below the surface, or short-lived. The body is clever and many times all it takes is a change in thought patterns in order to overcome many forms of depression.

As you can see, SSRIs are far more detrimental than their portrayal. It is a shame that the pharmaceutical industry values the dollar more than life. With so many adverse effects, it’s apparent that more time and money should be invested into researching alternative solutions to the ever failing SSRIs. An individual should think long and hard about the consequences before starting any anti-depressant regimen. While certain conditions may require immediate use of anti-depressants, psychotherapy can be just as beneficial, though the process may take some time. If you or someone you love is taking SSRI drugs, do not stop cold turkey, as this can be detrimental to the body. Talk with a doctor about being weaned off the drug. In the long run, your body will thank you for allowing it to return to it’s natural balance of function over time.

Learn more about this author, Danielle Frascone.

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