Are Anti-Depressants Just Sugar Pills?

health risks of anti-depressantsOne in ten Americans over the age of six take antidepressant medication. This is quite worrisome, given the side-effects and the substantial health risks associated with them. Even more scary is the fact that the Food and Drug Association (FDA) has low standards when it comes to approving the sale of new antidepressant drugs. In fact the guidelines for the approval of antidepressants have not been updated since 1977 and the FDA plays a passive role when it comes to enforcing them, states Paula J. Caplan, Ph.D., of Harvard University and Emily Cohen, B.A. of Yale University.

Worse still, the FDA guidelines allow drug companies to remove patients from their experimental studies, who either become worse or fail to improve on the drug being tested. The justification for this is that no one should be forced to continue taking drugs that are not helping them. Unfortunately, however, this practice allows companies to drop the patients who are not responding as they would like and some of the companies fail to report doing so. This practice can lead to inaccurate study results, results that make the drug appear more effective and less harmful, then it actually is. To make matters worse, some scientists are now saying that antidepressants don’t even work, and that sugar pills yield equally beneficial results, without the negative side-effects and health risks.

Side-Effects and Health Risks of Antidepressants


Treatment with antidepressant drugs can result in a bevy of side-effects, and some of the most common include: insomnia, headaches, anxiety, reduced libido, sexual dysfunction, dizziness, fatigue, dry mouth, muscle and joint pain, muscle spasms, skin rashes, nausea, diarrhea and upset stomach. Some more serious effects associated with antidepressant treatment may include: uterine or stomach bleeding and loss of motor control. In addition, antidepressants put a strain on your liver and can cause permanent liver damage. Finally, treatment with antidepressant drugs increases the risk for suicide in young adults. A statistic which shouldn’t be ignored.

Antidepressants and Sugar Pills – The Placebo Effect

If antidepressants actually contain active ingredients that can relieve depression, the slew of associated health effects might be worthwhile. In a recent interview, titled “Treating Depression” (aired on Feb. 19, 2012), associate director of the Placebo Studies Program at Harvard Medical School, Irving Kirsch, who has been studying placebos for over 36 years, stated that taking a sugar pill would have almost as large of an effect as taking an antidepressant and any difference would be so minute, that it would be clinically insignificant. “People get better when they take the drug. But it’s not the chemical ingredients of the drug that are making them better. It’s largely the placebo effect…The taking of a dummy pill without any medication in it that creates an expectation of healing that is so powerful, symptoms are actually alleviated.” These statements are quite controversial, and the majority of the medical community does not agree with Kirsch, however, it certainly gives us something to think about.

Natural Health Practices for the Treatment of Depression

Depression is a serious disorder and you should not attempt to self-medicate before seeking the council of a healthcare practitioner. That being said, there are some natural health practices that you can follow which may help to alleviate your depression without the need for antidepressants. Exercise, for instance has been found to be equally or more effective then antidepressants, when it comes to the alleviation of depressive symptoms.

Your diet is also important; too much junk food leads to a toxic internal environment, one that is not conducive to mental health. Be sure to eat a whole foods based diet, and to consume plenty of complex carbohydrates because your body needs carbohydrates in order to create the “happy” neurotransmitter—serotonin.

Also, if your depression is seasonal, consider light therapy, and get your vitamin D blood levels tested, because a deficiency in this vitamin can cause depression. Finally, if these natural health practices aren’t powerful enough to relieve your depression, you may also want to consider taking natural supplements, such as omega-3 fatty acids, which are required for healthy brain function.

Related Reading: The answer to depression and anxiety for seniors? Yoga