Antidepressant drugs have become so common that it’s easy to forget that they are potent medications that can have serious and disturbing side effects.
About 13% of Americans over age 12 take them regularly. That’s a 65% increase since 1999.
These medications include Prozac (fluoxetine), Zoloft (sertraline), Celexa (citalopram), and Lexapro (escitalpram). A major review from Canada’s McMaster University found that they may be more dangerous than you think.
Researchers there examined the results of 17 previous studies that included nearly 380,000 participants. Their analysis found that antidepressant users had a 33% higher risk of death from any cause than non-users. It also showed that antidepressant users had a 14% higher risk of cardiovascular events, such as heart attacks and strokes. 
Dr. Paul Andrews is an associate professor at McMaster University. He led the research team. “We are very concerned by these results,” he said.
“They suggest that we shouldn’t be taking antidepressant drugs without understanding precisely how they interact with the body.”
The most popular antidepressants are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). They treat depression by increasing brain levels of the feel-good chemical serotonin. But these drugs also block the absorption of serotonin by the body’s other major organs. These include the heart, kidneys, lungs, and liver.
The researchers warn that this could increase the risk of death by preventing multiple organs from functioning properly.
The Big Antidepressant Problem
Antidepressants are often prescribed by family doctors without a formal diagnosis of depression. They assume the drugs are safe. And since depression itself can be deadly, many physicians believe antidepressants are a sensible treatment.
“Our findings are important because they undermine this assumption,” says McMaster researcher and study co-author Marta Maslej.
“I think people would be much less willing to take these drugs if they were aware how little is known about their impact outside of the brain. What we do know points to an increased risk of death.”
The study was published in the journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics.
In people with severe depression, antidepressants can be life-saving. But for most people with mild-to-moderate depression, there’s little evidence that these drugs are effective.
Groundbreaking research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that people with moderate depressive symptoms did no better with SSRIs or older-generation tricyclic antidepressants than they did with placebo pills.
5 Natural Ways to Beat Depression
Antidepressants aren’t the only way to treat depression. Talk to your doctor about trying a natural remedy:
- Researchers at the University of New Mexico found that medical marijuana improves depression symptoms just moments after consumption.
The study tested cannabis in 1,819 depression patients. Sixty-four percent reported immediate positive benefits. Professor Jacob M. Vigil led the research. “Our study definitively shows that the cannabis plant effectively and quickly reduces feelings of depression in the vast majority of people,” he said.
- John’s wort.This herb is proven to treat depression. It naturally balances the brain’s levels of the neurotransmitters norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine. Take it twice a day for a total dosage of 900-1,800 mg a day.
- Saffron extract.Studies have found extracts of this cooking spice work better than the drugs Prozac and Tofranil. It is high in carotenoids and B vitamins. These nutrients enhance mood. Take 15 mg twice a day.
- 5-hydroxytrptophan (5-HTP).This amino acid works well with depression that is combined with anxiety. It boosts the body’s natural production of serotonin. It has also been found effective against insomnia. Suggested dosages are 100-200 mg taken twice a day.
- This naturally occurring amino acid-based chemical facilitates healthy nerve connections and boosts neurotransmitters. Some holistic doctors recommend it for older patients. This is because it has beneficial effects on arthritis and joint pain as well. Dosages typically start at 200 mg twice daily.
Before you start taking antidepressants, explore other options. You may find natural solutions that work effectively and safely.
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