Several researchers are challenging the prevailing idea that a cause of depression are low levels of the serotonin in the brain, and argue that commonly prescribed antidepressant medications designed to keep levels of the neurotransmitter high may actually do more harm than good.
Paul Andrews, PhD, of McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada, and colleagues say that serotonin-boosting medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) actually make it more difficult for depressed patients to improve.
The researchers argue that SSRI antidepressants end up interfering with the brain’s own ability to recover. And when depressed people on medication do show improvement, it’s because their brains are overcoming the effects of antidepressants, they write in the journal Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews.
The researchers say that it’s impossible to know exactly how the brain releases and uses serotonin. But they say available evidence indicates that more serotonin is released during depressive episodes, not less.
Their paper contends that serotonin helps the brain with depression by reallocating its resources, focusing more on conscious thought and less to areas including growth, reproduction, immune functions and stress response.
“We are taking people who are suffering from the most common forms of depression, and instead of helping them, it appears we are putting an obstacle in their path to recovery,” Andrews said in a statement.
The science behind many antidepressant medications appears to be backwards, say the authors of a paper that challenges the prevailing ideas about the nature of depression and some of the world’s most commonly prescribed medications.
The authors of the paper, posted by the journal Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, combed existing research for evidence to support the theory that has dominated nearly 50 years of depression research: that depression is related to low levels of serotonin in the gaps between cells in the brain.