At age 12 or 13, before I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, I was silently struggling with emotional upheaval and an eating disorder. In response to my symptoms of emotional volatility, social withdrawal, and digestive complaints, I was prescribed anti-heartburn meds, laxatives, and an antidepressant.
Even in my emotional turmoil, I felt my intuition fiercely rebel each time I swallowed the antidepressant. On that medication, the world seemed at once distant and ominous. I fell into fits of rage that were worse than my previous emotional outbursts. I couldn’t bear being a foreigner in my own body, so after one week and without telling my doctor, I stopped the medication. (Disclaimer: that was a desperate and potentially very dangerous choice I made, always work with a healthcare provider when tapering off a medication.)
When I was 19, after my autoimmune disease was calling for surgical treatment, I empowered myself with nutrition to avoid surgery and eliminate all remaining pharmaceutical drugs from my life. I gained a powerful sense of freedom.
Now, the work of using food and lifestyle instead of medications isn’t “work” for me… it is living fully and freely.
Two Stories of Depression
Here’s the false story of depression, the one told by antidepressant commercials:
- Depression is pathological. Feeling deep emotional fatigue, pain, grief, and anxiety means you are not capable of a successful life.
- Depression is a chemical imbalance in your brain. You need medication to fix this problem.
- You can’t expect your depression to be “a phase” or go away naturally. As soon as you feel depressed, nip it in the bud with medication.
- You must make a mortal bond between your body and the medical system. Your body and mind requires medication to work right.
I’m going to share information that will give you a new story about depression:
- Depression is a normal part of the human emotional spectrum. When depression becomes chronic, however, it is an indication that our diet/lifestyle/culture is maladapted to the human body and psyche.
- Antidepressant medications do not work, and positive results are due to the placebo effect and the body combatting the stress of the medications.
- Antidepressants often flatline a woman’s emotional spectrum, crash her libido, and diminish her physical health. In that way, antidepressants can diminish a woman’s sense of herself.
- 1 in 4 American women take antidepressants, but this doesn’t have to be the case. We have the choice to support our health through nutrition and lifestyle, to reduce (or eliminate) dependence on pharmaceuticals.
Why Antidepressants don’t work
“It could be argued that antidepressants are the new tobacco, and, like the tobacco industry, Big Pharma can wield a lot of power through clever marketing to seduce and influence us.”
Kelly Brogan, MD in A Mind Of Your Own
In a siege of TV commercials, Big Pharma tells Americans that, due to a chemical imbalance in their brain, they are depressed and need medication. Big Pharma uses slick advertising to convince consumers that a dangerous substance is good for them, just like the tobacco industry did decades ago.
Put simply, antidepressants don’t work in the way the drug commercials purport. Here’s what you won’t learn in those commercials for Prozac and Wellbutrin…
The “Chemical Imbalance” Theory is false
Antidepressants increase serotonin levels in the brain. This approach rests on theory that depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain due to low serotonin.
Contrary to claims by the pharmaceutical industry, this theory has not been proven… even after a decade of trying to prove it. Consider a few of the following statements from some of the most prestigious psychiatric researchers:
- “A serotonin deficiency for depression has not been found” – Psychiatrist and Harvard Medical School instructor Joseph Glenmullen
- “Indeed, no abnormality of serotonin in depression has ever been demonstrated.” Psychiatrist David Healy
- “There is no direct evidence of serotonin or norepinephrine deficiency despite thousands of studies that have attempted to validate this notion.” – Study published in the Nature Review of Neuroscience
These are just a few of the take-downs of the Chemical Imbalance theory. For a staggering and irrefutable list, with full scientific references, see Kelly Brogan’s book here.
Antidepressant Studies Are Highly Rigged
“The medical profession is being bought by the pharmaceutical industry, not only in terms of the practice of medicine, but also in terms of teaching and research. The academic institutions of this country are allowing themselves to be the paid agents of the pharmaceutical industry. I think it’s disgraceful.” Arnold Seymour Relman, Harvard Professor of Medicine and Former Editor-in-Chief of the New England Medical Journal
In a Mind of Your Own, Brogan discusses the corrupt loopholes Big Pharma uses to drug rig studies in their favor. For example, they can remove people who are likely to respond to placebo, to strengthen the perceived benefit of the medication.
Additionally, since the FDA requires only 2 positive studies for drug approval, Big Pharma simply conducts unpublished study after unpublished study until they meet this requirement.
Antidepressant Effects Are Due to Placebo and/Or Brain STRESS
Harvard psychologist Dr. Irving Kitsch conducted a meta-analysis to study the effectiveness of placebo, antidepressants, and psychotherapy. As detailed in A Mind of Your Own, “Kirsch found that placebo duplicated 75% of the drug’s effect, than non-antidepressant medications had the same effects as antidepressants, and that the remaining 25 percent of the apparent drug effect was attributable to what’s called the active placebo effect.”
Active placebo effect occurs when a participant knows she is getting a drug, not a placebo, because she experiences side effects of the drug (dry mouth, nausea, headache, etc).
Countless women who take an antidepressant perceive a lessening in their symptoms. According the research of Brogan and other leading psychiatric researchers, this is due to the placebo effect and/or the brain initially working harder to combat the stress of the medication.
The meds interfere with the brain’s natural mechanisms of recovery damage. This may be why depression relapse in significantly higher in those who have taken antidepressants.
Antidepressants cause severe side effects, including withdrawal
More than 40,000 adverse reactions to Prozac were submitted to the FDA, a number vastly higher than any other drug in history. A high percentage of women on antidepressants gain weight, lose their libido, and lose their full emotional experience of life.
I find it deeply troubling that antidepressants flatline emotions. I’ve heard it from many women in my life: “I lost the ability to cry when I started taking antidepressants.” I believe feeling our emotions fully, rather than suppressing or numbing them, allows us to heal.
If we, as humans, were not resilient enough to experience our painful emotions fully, then we would not have evolved as a species.
Additionally, the perceived worsening of symptoms that occur when one stops antidepressants is actually withdrawal, as shown by numerous studies outlined in Brogan’s book. Brogan specializes in tapering women off antidepressants and says, “It can be hard to imagine another class of substances on earth so potentially complicated to discontinue.”
Action Steps For Addressing Depression Naturally
Neuroplasticity (explained in a nutshell here) and epigenetics mean your brain and body is capable of profound transformation. You have the ability to re-wire your brain, to change your gene expression, and establish a healthier immune system. The science of the 21st century says we can change how our brain and body work, by changing our thoughts, actions, lifestyle, and nutrition.
If you are currently taking an antidepressant, I recommend you read Kelly Brogan’s book yourself. She’ll equip you with a game plan to address depression holistically, and also provide guidance for the tough tapering process.
Address inflammation and leaky gut through nutrition. These are the two root causes chronic depression. Brogan’s book provides support, and you can start off with my simple steps in The Leaky Gut Guide.
Also, read the post I shared a few months ago: How Holly Quit Antidepressants and Re-Claimed Her life.
I believe a discussion about antidepressant use in the 21st century must also encompass our culture’s approach to grief and emotional distress. This side of the picture, I would argue, is as important as addressing our nutrition. One resource I suggest is to watch Marianne Williamson and Marie Forleo discuss the validation of depression in a culture intolerant of grief.
On the scale of public policy and culture, I also believe we need a dialogue about the social connectivity in a culture of screen-induced isolation. Connection to community is one of the most protective measures against depression. Social media, I would argue, is one of the most provoking cause of alienation. For further research on connection and physical health, read: Connection is the Opposite of Addiction (article) The Depression Cure (book).
I understand that a 1,500 word blog post merely scratches the surface of the antidepressant epidemic. I don’t have a formulaic prescription of the nutrition, lifestyle, mental, and social shifts to solve depression… and I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all formula. I don’t have all the answers, and I certainly don’t have easy answers. And even so, I’m here to participate in this important discussion.
The first time I was depressed was in the Air Force when I went overseas to Japan. The second time was upon starting college. Both of these episodes were manageable, and I came out of them without psychotropic help.
The third time was not so easy. The world had become a desert devoid of happiness, a vast landscape of emptiness without water, grass, trees or singing birds. Pain was the world, and the world was pain. I had acquired a painful tightness in the chest that caused me considerable discomfort. There was a solid, suffocating psychic pain that colored everything gray. My senses had died. Pleasure ceased to be a component of my universe. I could no longer function. It’s hard to say whether the anxiety came first or the depression, but as the doctor affirmed, it was an atypical depression that didn’t respond to the antidepressants I’d been prescribed.
This was before the Internet. In order to research my illness and try to find a solution for it, I checked out many books from the library. In spite of the sense of helplessness, I somehow managed to fight back, and in time asked the doctor if he could prescribe for me a medication called Nardil, a monoamine oxidase inhibitor or MAOI antidepressant. Nardil was prescribed for people with atypical depressions characterized by anxiety.
He didn’t like the idea. MAOI’s were the first antidepressants prescribed, beginning in the early 1960’s. It had possible dangerous side-effects, and you could not eat anything with tyramine, such as bananas, spinach, pickled meats, sauerkraut and more. Doing so could cause a hypertensive episode, leading to a heart attack or stroke. So we tried another medication, but not Nardil.
Weeks passed. The depression continued. A voice echoed as from the bottom of a well. It resounded from the darkest depths of my psyche. It resonated in the night like the vibrations of an enormous bell. It yammered in the day like a chatterbox. The voice spoke of a solution, the unmentionable solution to all men’s problems when they reach the end of their road and gape into the chasm of despair. Obviously I didn’t take the voice’s advice although I did have a plan and thought about it frequently.
Finally the doctor agreed to prescribe the Nardil. After about the fifth day, the clouds drifted away and the sun shone bright in the sky. The obsessions that had tormented me disappeared, and I felt a surge of joy flow through my being. Life was again worth living. In fact, life was wonderful!
Be careful of making blanket statements about things. If antidepressants didn’t work, I doubt that they would still be available. So there must be SOMETHING to them. The right antidepressant can save a person’s life, as it did mine. I know of others for whom psychotropic medications have worked.
Have a wonderful day, Lauren, and God bless.
I have to agree. I believe good nutrition, good sleep, and good exercise are SO helpful to disease of both body and mind, but I do think for some individuals with individual needs and ailments that holistic living will only take them so far. I’ve suffered from depression and migraines for years. Changing my sleep patterns and food choices have been amazingly good choices for me, and I know what my food triggers/inflamers are. I use essential oils and take woo-woo supplements and everything in between, but they’ve only taken me so far. I use amitriptyline for my migraines, and it is also classified as an antidepressant. It lets me sleep deeper and more restful than anything and makes it so I need way, way less OTC painkillers than ever. I think both good nutrition and the anti-depressant together have made my life better than either could alone.
I have to disagree, politely. Anti-depressants are not for everyone. People have too much on their plate and are not willing to swap it and make the necessary changes to their lifestyle, diet and daily regimen. It’s so much easier to just take a pill.