Psychiatrists have known for years that low levels of serotonin may not cause depression, despite continuing to prescribe the pills, a psychology chair has said.
Dr Jonathan Raskin, who is also a psychotherapist at the State University of New York, told DailyMail.com he fears the theory that depression is caused by low serotonin levels is “incomplete” during “some time”.
But he said many doctors continued to prescribe the drugs, despite not knowing if they were effective, because it was “easier” than offering more time-consuming care.
The pills could still help some patients, he added, but they are not a “cure point” for those suffering from depression.
This week, a landmark British study questioned society’s growing reliance on antidepressants like Prozac.
The $15 billion a year industry – which is expected to grow to $21 billion over the next decade – sees patients being prescribed pills like Prozac on the promise that they will cure people’s depression by increasing levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain.
But after reviewing 17 major studies, scientists at University College London said they found no convincing evidence that a lack of the chemical triggered the disease.
Dr Jonathan Raskin, chair of psychology at the State University of New York at New Paltz, said many experts feared the theory was “incomplete”.
Researchers at University College London said a review of the evidence found no link between low serotonin levels and depression, casting doubt on antidepressants designed to increase levels of the chemical “feeling good”. But other experts have questioned the findings
About 13% of American adults take antidepressants each year, the figures show.
But rates are much higher among women, with up to 18% prescribing the drugs each year.
When asked if low levels of serotonin cause depression, Raskin said, “I think most mental health professionals familiar with research have known for some time that the depression theory about serotonin is incomplete and has mixed research support.
“Depression is a complicated problem, and the idea that we could reduce it simply to serotonin is not right.
“When we give antidepressants, we don’t do it on the basis of biological tests showing that they don’t have enough serotonin – but if we think it might help them.”
When asked if people should keep taking the pills, he replied: “I think that’s a conversation worth having.
“I’m not going to say that people should or shouldn’t take it, but I think there’s been a lot of popular airing of the idea that we’ve reduced depression at low serotonin levels.
“Antidepressants sometimes have an effect on some people, but I don’t think they are a panacea.”
WHAT IS DEPRESSION? SYMPTOMS AND CAUSES
Although it’s normal to feel down once in a while, people with depression can feel unhappy constantly for weeks or months.
Depression can affect anyone at any age and is quite common – around one in ten people are likely to experience it at some point in their life.
Depression is a real health problem that people can’t just ignore or “get out of it”.
Symptoms and effects vary, but may include feeling constantly upset or hopeless, or losing interest in things you used to enjoy.
It can also cause physical symptoms such as sleep problems, fatigue, poor appetite or low libido, and even physical pain.
In extreme cases, this can lead to suicidal thoughts.
Traumatic events can trigger it, and people with a family history may be more at risk.
It’s important to see a doctor if you think you or someone you know has depression, as it can be managed with lifestyle changes, therapy, or medication.
Source: NHS Choice
He added: “They are easier to prescribe and give to people than to provide more time-consuming things like psychotherapy.
“So they can be offered to people when other solutions are just as effective, or even more so.”
An academic involved in the UK study described the results as ‘revealing’ and that ‘everything I thought I knew was turned upside down’.
Lead author Professor Joanna Moncrieff, a psychiatrist, said: ‘The popularity of the ‘chemical imbalance’ theory has coincided with a dramatic increase in the use of antidepressants.
“Thousands of people suffer from the side effects of antidepressants, including severe withdrawal effects that can occur when people try to stop them, but prescription rates continue to rise.
Serotonin helps carry signals in the brain and is thought to have a positive influence on mood, emotions and sleep.
They are preferred over other types of antidepressants because they cause fewer side effects. Yet they can still cause patients taking them to experience anxiety, diarrhea, dizziness, and blurred vision.
Depressed patients can also be hit with crippling withdrawal symptoms when trying to come off the pills.
At the same time, a series of studies have suggested that they work no better than a placebo.
The UCL study, published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, analyzed 17 previous reviews dating back to 2010 and consisting of dozens of individual trials.
This does not prove that SSRIs do not work. However, this suggests that drugs do not treat depression by fixing abnormally low levels of serotonin.
SSRIs have no other proven way to work, said Professor Moncrieff and colleagues.
She added: “We can say with certainty that after much research over several decades, there is no convincing evidence that depression is caused by abnormalities of serotonin, in particular lower levels or reduced activity. serotonin.”
“We don’t understand exactly what antidepressants do to the brain.
“Giving people this kind of misinformation prevents them from making an informed decision about whether or not to take antidepressants.”
The studies used in the review involved hundreds of thousands of people from various countries.
They found there was no difference in serotonin levels between people diagnosed with depression and healthy people, despite polls suggesting up to 95% of the public believe this is the case. .
Artificially lowering serotonin levels in healthy volunteers also did not lead to them developing depression.