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Primum non nocere: an evolutionary analysis of whether antidepressants do more harm than good

April 27, 2012 Comments off
Source:  Frontiers in Evolutionary Psychology
Antidepressant medications are the first-line treatment for people meeting current diagnostic criteria for major depressive disorder. Most antidepressants are designed to perturb the mechanisms that regulate the neurotransmitter serotonin – an evolutionarily ancient biochemical found in plants, animals, and fungi. Many adaptive processes evolved to be regulated by serotonin, including emotion, development, neuronal growth and death, platelet activation and the clotting process, attention, electrolyte balance, and reproduction. It is a principle of evolutionary medicine that the disruption of evolved adaptations will degrade biological functioning. Because serotonin regulates many adaptive processes, antidepressants could have many adverse health effects. For instance, while antidepressants are modestly effective in reducing depressive symptoms, they increase the brain’s susceptibility to future episodes after they have been discontinued. Contrary to a widely held belief in psychiatry, studies that purport to show that antidepressants promote neurogenesis are flawed because they all use a method that cannot, by itself, distinguish between neurogenesis and neuronal death. In fact, antidepressants cause neuronal damage and mature neurons to revert to an immature state, both of which may explain why antidepressants also cause neurons to undergo apoptosis (programmed death). Antidepressants can also cause developmental problems, they have adverse effects on sexual and romantic life, and they increase the risk of hyponatremia (low sodium in the blood plasma), bleeding, stroke, and death in the elderly. Our review supports the conclusion that antidepressants generally do more harm than good by disrupting a number of adaptive processes regulated by serotonin. However, there may be specific conditions for which their use is warranted (e.g., cancer, recovery from stroke). We conclude that altered informed consent practices and greater caution in the prescription of antidepressants are warranted.

See: Evidence shows that anti-depressants likely do more harm than good, researchers find (EurekAlert!)

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Blue again: perturbational effects of antidepressants suggest monoaminergic homeostasis in major depression

July 20, 2011 Comments off

Blue again: perturbational effects of antidepressants suggest monoaminergic homeostasis in major depression
Source: Frontiers in Evolutionary Psychology

Some evolutionary researchers have argued that current diagnostic criteria for major depressive disorder (MDD) may not accurately distinguish true instances of disorder from a normal, adaptive stress response. According to disorder advocates, neurochemicals like the monoamine neurotransmitters (serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine) are dysregulated in major depression. Monoamines are normally under homeostatic control, so the monoamine disorder hypothesis implies a breakdown in homeostatic mechanisms. In contrast, adaptationist hypotheses propose that homeostatic mechanisms are properly functioning in most patients meeting current criteria for MDD. If the homeostatic mechanisms regulating monoamines are functioning properly in these patients, then oppositional tolerance should develop with prolonged antidepressant medication (ADM) therapy. Oppositional tolerance refers to the forces that develop when a homeostatic mechanism has been subject to prolonged pharmacological perturbation that attempt to bring the system back to equilibrium. When pharmacological intervention is discontinued, the oppositional forces cause monoamine levels to overshoot their equilibrium levels. Since depressive symptoms are under monoaminergic control, this overshoot should cause a resurgence of depressive symptoms that is proportional to the perturbational effect of the ADM. We test this prediction by conducting a meta-analysis of ADM discontinuation studies. We find that the risk of relapse after ADM discontinuation is positively associated with the degree to which ADMs enhance serotonin and norepinephrine in prefrontal cortex, after controlling for covariates. The results are consistent with oppositional tolerance, and provide no evidence of malfunction in the monoaminergic regulatory mechanisms in patients meeting current diagnostic criteria for MDD. We discuss the evolutionary and clinical implications of our findings.

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