In a new report, Canadian researchers suggest antidepressants may be doing more harm than good. In the study, researchers examined previous patient studies and the impact of medications on the body.
According to an Apr. 24 press release, researchers believe the benefits of anti-depressants "compare poorly to the risks."
"We need to be much more cautious about the widespread use of these drugs," says Paul Andrews, an evolutionary biologist at McMaster University in Canada. Andrews is the lead author of the article. "It's important because millions of people are prescribed antidepressants each year, and the conventional wisdom about these drugs is that they're safe and effective."
Both Health Canada and the U.S. National Institutes of Health indicate that side effects with antidepressants are possible and different medications may have varying effects depending on the individual.
Doctors and patients may often need to try a variety of antidepressants before finding one that works.
Researchers working on the McMaster University study noted how antidepressants "relieve the symptoms of depression by increasing the levels of serotonin in the brain, where it regulates mood." They say, however, being the body uses serotonin for other purposes, taking antidepressants have a negative effect on other body processes.
According to the study's authors, elevated risks include issues such as increased digestive problems, abnormal bleeding and stroke in the elderly, developmental problems in infants, problems with sexual stimulation, and abnormal sperm development. An additional risk highlighted was premature death in elderly adults that take antidepressants.
"Serotonin is an ancient chemical. 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," Andrews says. "The thing that's been missing in the debates about anti-depressants is an overall assessment of all these negative effects relative to their potential beneficial effects."
Depression affects an estimated eight percent of Canadians at some point in their lives, Statistics Canada and Health Canada reports.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control noted last fall that 11 percent of Americans aged 12 and over were using antidepressant medication (years studied 2005 - 2008), citing antidepressants as the third most common medication prescribed and for adults aged 18-44, the most commonly given prescription -- an increase of 400 percent since 1994.
Canada Drugs Online says its sales statistics back up the increased use of antidepressant medications.
Regarding these findings, Andrews said, "It could change the way we think about such major pharmaceutical drugs. 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?"
The study was published yesterday in the online journal Frontiers in Psychology.