- The Facts:
- A new review of existing studies found that depression is not likely to be caused by a chemical imbalance and said people should be made aware of other options for treating it.
- Scientists found research that compared levels of serotonin and its breakdown products in the blood or brain fluids were no different between people diagnosed with depression and healthy people.
- Reflect On:
- How come the information presented in this article is not really known by most people?
- Why do so many people believe that antidepressants are completely harmless and useful?
- Do we really understand exactly how they change our brain chemistry?
- Are those who have had positive experiences with antidepressants experiencing the placebo effect?Researchers and scientists have long questioned the widespread use of antidepressants. Not only for lack of efficacy, but for the harms associated with them as well. They’ve also questioned the premise for the prescription of these drugs, mainly the theory that depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. For decades this theory has permeated the world of health and been accepted as truth despite very little evidence. As a result, antidepressant drugs have become a multibillion dollar industry.
A new study published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry looked at studies examining serotonin and depression involving tens of thousands of people. Scientists found that research that compared levels of serotonin and its breakdown products in the blood or brain fluids were no different between people diagnosed with depression and healthy people. This comes despite the fact that up to 90% of the public believe that depression is caused by low serotonin or a chemical imbalance.
The idea that serotonin might be involved in depression was first proposed in the 1960s, and became known as the serotonin theory of depression. The public messaging started in the 1990s when the pharmaceutical industry was marketing its new range of antidepressant drugs, the SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) such as Prozac.
The study’s lead author, Joanna Moncrieff, a professor of psychiatry at University College London and consultant psychiatrist at North East London NHS foundation trust explains,
“Many people take antidepressants because they have been led to believe their depression has a biochemical cause, but this new research suggests this belief is not grounded in evidence….It is high time to inform the public that this belief is not grounded in science.”
Joanna Moncrieff, a professor of psychiatry at University College London
The authors also looked at studies where serotonin levels were artificially lowered in hundreds of people and concluded that lowering serotonin in this way did not produce depression in hundreds of healthy volunteers.
This is quite concerning given the fact that drugs like antidepressants change normal brain chemistry. They blunt both negative and positive emotions, and multiple studies have shown that that they may only act through inducing hope (the placebo effect). These concerns have been permeating medical literature for years.