While Big Pharma tries to instill the promise that they have patients’ best interests at heart, most people beg to differ. Missing data (remember Merck’s Gardasil, an HPV drug tested and approved for both men and women, when in actuality, there was information pertaining only to its impact on male subjects?), greed, a hodgepodge of toxic chemicals and suppression of symptoms rather than truly addressing (and ideally, ridding) them are often all part of the dance.
It’s not any surprise, then, that researchers have discovered that a popular class of psychiatric drugs designed to treat depression can alter the brain’s architecture in just a few short hours. Such alteration isn’t to the person’s advantage either; in addition to changes in the brain, experts found that most patients experience improvements in mood not in hours or days thereafter, but weeks.(2)
Findings show how brain connectivity is altered when exposed to antidepressants
Researchers from the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany, used a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine to compare the brain connectivity in people who take such drugs and those who don’t. To most accurately assess their observations, they specifically focused on changes in the brain when participants daydreamed, as experts have found that such a way of thinking is a strong indication of properly functioning brain connectivity.
The findings, published in the journal Current Biology, showed that serotonin decreased functional connectivity. Drugs referred to as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are used to help treat depression and are most commonly known by names such as Prozac, Zoloft, Lexapro, Paxil and Celexa.(2)
The study, titled “Serotonergic Modulation of Intrinsic Functional Connectivity,” notes the following:
Here, we show evidence that a single dose of a serotonin reuptake inhibitor dramatically alters functional connectivity throughout the whole brain in healthy subjects (n = 22). Our network-centrality analysis reveals a widespread decrease in connectivity in most cortical and subcortical areas.(3)
Interestingly, there was also the finding that some areas of the brain appeared to behave to the contrary, as was the case of the cerebellum and thalamus, which play a role in motor function and even performing higher-level cognitive tasks.
“It was interesting to see two patterns that seemed to go in the opposite direction,” said neuroscientist Dr. Julia Sacher, who also co-authored the study. “What was really surprising was that the entire brain would light up after only three hours. We didn’t expect that.”(2)
The overall disruptions in the brain are concerning, especially considering that people don’t typically feel improvements in mood for up to two weeks after taking depression drugs. This fluctuation in brain architecture that involves an ebb and flow of connectivity and alterations in synapses don’t necessarily translate to SSRI success — as much more needs to be studied in this area — and for many, may raise questions about the fact that it could be doing more harm than good.
Expert says that “in a perfect world” non-pharmacological methods would receive more attention
“In a perfect world, you would look not only at SSRIs, but all sorts of medications and non-pharmacological interventions,” said Sacher. “That would really help to tailor individual therapy for someone in the midst of a depressive episode.”(2)
Natural, non-pharmacological ways to help manage depression include maintaining a balanced diet that involves consumption of more protein (which helps produce serotonin) and vegetables, exercising and speaking with a therapist. Foods rich in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids are most beneficial; flax seeds, spinach, beets, walnuts and sunflower seeds have been found to be particularly beneficial. Lentils, beans and green tea also help the brain regulate mood, which is essential for those suffering from depression.(4,5)