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Antidepressant medications are the first line of defence used by most medical doctors and psychiatrists for treating depression. Newer medications are advertised as "improved," with "fewer risks and side effects.

Antidepressant medications are the first line of defence used by most medical doctors and psychiatrists for treating depression. Newer medications are advertised as "improved," with "fewer risks and side effects." The truth of such statements is questionable when considering the deficient long-term study of these drugs. Over 90 percent of all medications used for treating major depression are studied for a short six to eight weeks. Most people take these drugs for years. I haven't met anyone who has been taking Prozac or Zoloft for only one or two months. Overall, antidepressants have not improved since the 1950s.

In a large study of more than 9,000 clinical reports, the US Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (affiliated with the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institute of Health) found that during the last 20 years, patient responses to antidepressants have not changed with the Prozac- or Zoloft-type medications! Newer antidepressants produce the same results as older antidepressants. Anti-psychotic medications follow a similar pattern.

A recent article published in the British Medical Journal found newer antipsychotics (Zyprexa and Risperdal) no more effective than the older drugs (Haldol and Thorazine). During the last 50 years there have been significant advances in medicine, but no significant breakthroughs in mental health care.

Adverse side effects plague all antidepressant medications. Some of these include diabetes, heart disease, weight gain and sexual problems. In one study, 48 per cent of patients stopped taking their antidepressants because of increased body weight. Some patients can quickly gain as much as 15 to 20 kg within two to six months! An astounding 30 to 70 percent of patients taking Zoloft and Paxil acquire sexual problems. The new Prozac-type medications (known as SSRIs) produce higher rates of diarrhea, nausea, insomnia and headache. On the other hand, the older antidepressants are associated with higher rates of dry mouth, constipation, dizziness, blurred vision and tremors.

People do not need these additional stresses when they already feel vulnerable or insecure and natural supplements are important treatment options. For example, the standardized plant extract St John's wort and the amino acid L-tryptophan have documented antidepressant capabilities. They don't cause weight gain and sexual dysfunction. My own experiences in private practice support those natural supplements as effective against depression. The scope of effectiveness for natural medicines includes, but is not limited to, major depression, other mood disorders and schizophrenia.

Use Them Hand in Hand

Natural medicines, when combined together with antidepressant medications, produce dramatic results. Together they enhance the positive effects of treatment and dramatically reduce unwanted side effects a task that has been difficult to achieve for over 50 years with drugs alone. In people with major depression, folic acid increases the effects of Prozac and reduces unwanted side effects by over 50 percent! Several other important nutrients have shown benefits in this area. In general, psychiatrists and other health-care providers are not aware of this kind of research.

It's important for patients to be properly informed by their physician when considering antidepressant medications. The potential benefits versus the potential risks (including their limitations) need to be assessed on each individual's needs. The selection of any medication should reflect hard evidence and not advertising claims. People need to be aware of valid treatment options and the professionals who are experienced and successful in providing treatment in these areas. Complementary medicine demonstrates minimal risks and side effects. They should be implemented in all mental health care.

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