In A Better You

Understanding the Real Purpose of Antidepressants


Antidepressants are a type of medication that is generally used to treat depression, though it’s sometimes prescribed for other reasons. The use of this type of medication as well as the different medicines on the antidepressants list has increased dramatically in just the last few years. The following information discusses what antidepressant medications do, the history of these medications, why they are sometimes prescribed, lists of different types of antidepressants, and possible side effects associated with these medications.

Antidepressant Medications

Specific chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters are often associated with depression. Antidepressants work in the brain by affecting particular neurotransmitters. There has been an overall increase in recent years in the use of these types of medications. states three general reasons why the increase has occurred. The reasons cited include an increased awareness and a broadening concept regarding the need for mental health treatment, the increase in public campaigns and awareness concerning mental health issues, and that mental health treatment has become more accepted by the public.

According to Harvard Medical School, 23 percent of women in their 40s and 50s take antidepressants. This is the largest group by age or sex taking this type of medication. The same report put out by Harvard stated that the use of antidepressants doesn’t vary by income status. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that 11 percent of Americans that are age 12 and older take antidepressant medication.

History of Antidepressants

Prior to the 1950s, opioids, which included amphetamines and methamphetamines, were used to treat depression. The first modern antidepressant was discovered primarily by chance in the 1950s. Scientists in Switzerland were seeking treatment for schizophrenia when they discovered a drug that helped tweak the neurotransmitters in the brain. This particular drug didn’t help those suffering from schizophrenia, but it was soon known that this pill would work for patients with depression. This particular medication was called Imipramine and was marketed with the brand name Tofranil in the year 1958. Competition for similar medications brought forth tricyclic drugs in the following years.

These drugs brought relief for more than 60 percent of those suffering from depression, but there were serious side effects involved. Feeling sluggish, gaining weight, and even overdosing were some of the side effects. By 1987 Prozac was marketed in the United States and had become extremely popular. In 1990 Prozac became the country’s most widely prescribed antidepressant. By 2010 Zoloft and Celexa had surpassed Prozac as the bestselling medication used to treat depression in the United States. The US isn’t the only country with a high rate of antidepressant use. Australia, Iceland, and Canada are three top consumers of antidepressant drugs.

Why Antidepressants Are Prescribed

While antidepressant medication is primarily prescribed for depression, there are other conditions that it may be used for. These types of medications can also be used for treating anxiety, panic disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), certain types of phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and even bulimia. They are also occasionally prescribed for individuals suffering from chronic nerve pain. Some of the specific conditions in which these drugs may ease pain include, arthritis, fibromyalgia, migraines, pelvic pain, low back pain, and nerve damage that results from diabetes, shingles, stroke, and spinal cord injury.

There are several things to take into consideration when finding the right antidepressant for each individual. A few of the considerations a doctor will keep in mind include each individual’s specific symptoms, other medications the person is on, potential side effects, and if the individual is pregnant or nursing. Different countries have various factors and standards that are taken into consideration when prescribing these types of drugs.

List of Antidepressants

There are several types of medications used to treat depression. According to The Royal College of Psychiatrists they are primarily divided into five general categories with include SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors), SNRIs (Serotonin and Noradrenaline Reuptake Inhibitors), NASSAs (Noradrenaline and Specific Serotoninergic Antidepressants), MAOIs (Monoamine oxidase inhibitors), and Tricyclics.

SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) These are prescribed more often than most other types of medications. It’s generally thought that these cause fewer side effects than other types of antidepressants. The following are SSRIs with their generic name, followed by their brand name. Fluoxetine (Prozac), Fluvoxamine (Luvox), Sertraline (Zoloft), Paroxetine (Paxil), Citalopram (Celexa), Escitalopram (Lexapro).

SNRIs (Serotonin and Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors) These include Duloxetine (Cymbalta), Levomilnacipran (Fetzima), Desvenlafaxine (Pristiq, Khedezla), Venlafaxine (Effexor XR).

MAOIs (Monoamine oxidase inhibitors) These medications include Tranylcypromine (Parnate), Isocarboxazid (Marplan), and Phenelzine (Nardil).

NASSAs (Noradrenaline and Specific Serotoninergic Antidepressants) Included in this list are Mirtazapine (Avanza) and (Remeron).

Tricyclic Antidepressants These include Nortriptyline (Pamelor), Imipramine (Tofranil), Desipramine (Norpramin), and Protriptyline (Vivactil).

Atypical Medications These don’t easily fit into any of the other categories. Some of these are Trazodone (Oleptro), Vortioxetine (Brintellix), and Mirtazapine (Remeron).

Natural Antidepressants

While many natural remedies for depression may work, they are often untested and unregulated. Individuals should thoroughly research these remedies and discuss their use with a medical professional before taking them. There are several dietary and herbal remedies that may work naturally as antidepressants.

St. John’s Wort St John’s Wort is an herb that is also known as Hypericum perforatum. Some studies have shown that St. John’s Wort may be helpful in treating mild to moderate depression, but not depression that is considered severe. It may take a month or more for the effects of the herb to take effect. This herb may decrease the effectiveness of other medications such as drugs to treat HIV and AIDS, drugs for organ transplant patients, and some types of oral contraceptives. It is not recommended for women who are pregnant or nursing.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids These fats, which are found in certain types of food, are believed to help with normal brain functioning. These fatty acids must be obtained through our diet. Rich sources of Omega-3 fatty acids include cold water fish, fish oil, and cod oil. Fatty acids are generally considered safe with few side effects. In high doses, however, it might interact with other medications.

Folate and Folic Acid These are both types of B vitamins. Folate is found naturally in foods while folic acid is a synthetic form of the vitamin. B vitamins are found in leafy green vegetables, beans, fruit, and certain types of fortified grains.

Probiotics This type of bacteria throughout the intestinal tract does a lot more than just fight off harmful invaders. According to the Institute for Natural Healing (INH), gut bacteria makes about 95 percent of our body’s serotonin. That’s one reason the gut is sometimes called the second brain. Foods that are high in probiotics include yogurt, miso soup, soy milk, sauerkraut, pickles, and dark chocolate.

SAMe This is a chemical that is found in the body naturally. It can also be made in a laboratory. Since 1999 SAMe has been available on the market as a dietary supplement. According to the website MedlinePlus, taking SAMe by either mouth or injection is likely to be effective for depression. Some side effects of SAMe may include insomnia, agitation, and nausea.

Antidepressant Side Effects

Because there are sometimes side effects when using these types of drugs it may take trying several different kinds of medications before an individual finds one that works best. The best antidepressant will be one that treats the person’s medical problems with few if any side effects. Some of the side effects of taking SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) include nausea, insomnia, dizziness, headaches, diarrhea or constipation, weight loss or weight gain, tremors, sweating, decreased sex drive, dry mouth, anxiety, or fatigue. SSRIs can cause thoughts of suicide or suicidal behavior. Individuals taking these medications are at an increased risk of agitation, anxiety, and hostility. In older adults these medications can increase the risk for bone loss, falls, and fractures. SSRIs are also known to cause serious withdrawal symptoms if a person stops taking them suddenly.

Tricyclics and MAOIs are sometimes prescribed after other medications have not worked. These drugs can have serious side effects. MAOIs can especially have side effects regarding interactions with various foods. MAOIs can have serious, even fatal, interactions with some kinds of pickles, cheeses, and wines. They can also interact with decongestants, birth control pills, and some herbal supplements. MAOIs that are in patch form may cause fewer side effects than the other types of MAOIs. These types of medications are not to be used in combination with SSRIs. Finally, teens and young adults seem to be at greatest risk for suicide when taking medications for depression.

When considering taking an antidepressant to treat depression an individual should thoroughly discuss all the options with his or her doctor. Each individual’s symptoms, family history, and medical history are just a few factors that should be taken into consideration before deciding on a certain type of medication or an overall course of treatment to take.

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