The “antidepressant avalanche” burying retirees (literally!)

Why these deadly drugs simply don’t work…and seven safe, natural solutions that do

We’ve all heard the saying: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.” So tell me… how is it possible that the great minds driving modern mental healthcare still haven’t gotten this memo?

Case in point: The number of seniors on antidepressant drugs has more than doubled over the last two decades. That’s according to a recent study from English researchers at the University of East Anglia.

But if you think that’s bad, listen to this: Despite this sharp increase, the number of older people diagnosed with depression hasn’t changed.

What’s wrong with this picture?! Well, let’s take a closer look…

Pointless prescriptions

These findings come from the Cognitive Function and Aging Studies—conducted between 1991 and 1993, and again between 2008 and 2011. Researchers from the University of Cambridge talked to more than 15,000 subjects over the age of 65 in England and Wales to analyze changes in depression and antidepressant use.

And here’s what they found: The proportion of older people on antidepressant drugs more than doubled from 4.2 percent in the early 1990s, to 10.7 percent two decades later.

But that’s not all. Prevalence of depression in the same group stayed relatively flat—dropping only modestly from 7.9 percent to 6.8 percent 20 years later.

The researchers weren’t sure how to account for the rise in prescriptions—citing higher rates of treatment, overprescribing, and off-label use as possible explanations.

But regardless of the reasons, one thing is crystal clear: All those extra antidepressant prescriptions haven’t done squat to reduce the prevalence of depression among older adults. So why in the world are doctors still writing them?

High risk, low reward

Admittedly, this is a British study. But I assure you the outlook isn’t any rosier on this side of the pond—and if anything, our own “pill problem” here in the U.S. is a whole lot worse. Especially now, as anxiety over the coronavirus pandemic continues to grip the country.

In fact, as I recently shared, prescriptions for anxiety and antidepressant medications have skyrocketed since COVID-19 emerged on the scene in early spring. And the way things are going, I see no end in sight for either crisis.

Which is a tragedy, as the consequences could be lethal in every direction.

It would be one thing if the worst you could say about antidepressants is that they don’t work. But the fact is, these prescriptions are much riskier than most people realize.

Sure, there are the standard side effects: suicidal thoughts, weight gain, libido loss, nausea, blurred vision, and headaches. But this is one case where the news gets much, much worse.

I would need a dozen newsletters to cover the full scope of these drugs’ dangers. But for the sake of this month’s discussion, I’ll stick to the basics.

A 2017 meta-analysis of 17 different studies found that, among the general population, antidepressant drugs increased overall death risk by 33 percent—and risk of heart-related events by 14 percent. This effect went across the board, striking along all the various classes of antidepressants.2

Plus, another recent review of 22 studies, including more than one million people, found that SSRIs—which include Prozac®, Zoloft®, Paxil®, Lexapro®, and Celexa®—can cause upper gastrointestinal bleeding.3

That’s not all, either. Research shows that taking an antidepressant also significantly increases the risk of bleeding in the brain. And it doesn’t matter which type of antidepressant you take… or how long you’ve been taking it… or how much.4

A safer plan to beat depression

I could go on about the tragic side effects of antidepressants. But allow me to revisit some of the top science-backed, risk-free supplements to help combat depression instead:

  • SAM-e. This amino acid helps boost levels of serotonin—the “happy” hormone that helps support proper moods. I recommend 400 to 800 mg each morning.
  • 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP). This is the direct precursor of serotonin. I recommend 50 mg taken three times daily, 20 minutes before a meal.
  • Vitamin D3. Studies show that 2,000-10,000 IU daily can improve your mental health and help alleviate depression. But overall, the goal is to keep your levels in the 80 to 100 ng/mL range, as I discuss on page 2.

Of course, there are other drug-free ways to combat depression, too. Exercise, for instance, can cut your depression risk by 50 percent. And all it takes is as little as 20 to 30 minutes of light-intensity activity per day.

A daily dose of probiotics is essential as well—since your gut is basically your second brain. (Believe it or not, your gut actually produces more serotonin than the brain does.)

And let’s not forget the solution I’ve been raving about for months now: cannabidiol (CBD)—which has all but eliminated any need for antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs, or sleep medications in my practice, as I discuss on page 3.

You should also consider rehabbing your diet top-to-bottom. The key is adopting a healthy, balanced diet full of fresh, whole foods—like my A-List Diet. (Order yourself a copy here.) Let me tell you why…

Real food, good mood

A group of Australian researchers recruited 76 students between 17 and 35 years old—all with moderate to severe depression, and all with diets heavy in processed food and sugar.

They split the subjects into two groups. One was given guidance on improving their diet, with a specific focus on fresh produce, olive oil, fish, and lean meat. (You might recognize this as the core of my own Mediterranean-style, A-List diet advice.)

The other group didn’t receive any dietary guidance. They were simply instructed to return after three weeks—at which point, researchers re-assessed participants’ depression, anxiety, and overall mood scores, as well as their cognitive performance.

Here’s what the researchers found: The subjects who changed their diet saw significant improvements in mood, depression, and anxiety scores—enough to bring them into the normal range, in fact. Meanwhile, those who made no dietary changes remained moderately to severely depressed.

Plus, follow-up analysis showed that the 20 percent of subjects who actually maintained their positive diet changes also maintained their mood improvements… illustrating yet another instance where consistency is key.

Putting out the fire

Admittedly, this trial looked at young adults, not seniors. But nevertheless, the findings make perfect sense when you consider the role that inflammation plays in depression—just as it does in many other chronic diseases, regardless of age.

After all, studies show that depressed patients have higher levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines and proteins. And it’s really no wonder: We now know that cytokines can interfere with a long list of key neurological processes—including neurotransmitter metabolism, brain hormone function, neuroplasticity, and behavior.

This helps explain why stress—which also contributes to inflammation in the nervous system—often leads directly to depression. And why rates of depression are so much higher in patients with chronic inflammatory conditions like heart disease and arthritis, too.

So it really shouldn’t surprise you that a Mediterranean-style diet may prove to be a powerful cure. But if you really want to maximize the benefit to your mood, I recommend following a ketogenic Mediterranean diet—much like my A-List Diet—specifically. Because when you do it right, it can be downright delicious, as you’ll eat a diet rich in lean proteins, fresh vegetables, and healthy fats.

Plus, as I explained back in the January 2018 issue, research shows that ketogenic diets pack a powerful punch against neuroinflammation in particular—with lab studies demonstrating that ketogenic states can bring brain inflammation down to nearly optimal levels.6

And the best news? It’s not nearly as hard to reach ketosis—and stay there—as you might think. In fact, there are two key, simple steps…

The first—and most important—step is to cut out carbohydrates. (Yes, even the so-called “healthy” ones.) This will ensure your body taps into fat stores for energy (ensuring a state of ketosis). Otherwise, it will “default” to using the glucose created when your body breaks down carbs. (Admittedly, the first few days will probably be a challenge, especially if you’re used to eating a lot of carbs.)

But by the end of the first week, you’ll start to notice a big difference in how you feel. And by the end of the second week, mental clarity—as well as your energy levels and weight loss—will all be kicked into high gear.

Of course, carb restriction isn’t the only strategy that will help you achieve ketosis. Intermittent fasting (IF)—where you restrict all calorie intake to specific eating windows, or use the 5:2 approach, where any two days in a single week are your fasting days—and alternate-day fasting (ADF)—where you fast every other day—can get you there, too. The key is finding what works best for you, as I explained in May’s issue. Because ultimately, fasting isn’t some fad diet—it’s a way to harness your body’s own natural rhythms to boost longevity, prevent disease, and help manage your mood… safely and naturally.

References:

  1. Arthur A, et al. “Changing Prevalence and Treatment of Depression Among Older People Over Two Decades.” Br J Psychiatry. 2020 Jan;216(1):49-54.
  2. Maslej M, et al. “The Mortality and Myocardial Effects of Antidepressants Are Moderated by Preexisting Cardiovascular Disease: A Meta-Analysis.” Psychother Psychosom. 2017;86(5):268-282.
  3. Jianga HY, et al. Use of Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors and Risk of Upper Gastrointestinal Bleeding: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology. January 2015, Volume 13, Issue 1, Pages 42–50.e3.
  4. Akoudad S, et al. “Antidepressant Use Is Associated With an Increased Risk of Developing Microbleeds.” Stroke. 2016 Jan;47(1):251-4.
  5. Francis H, et al. “A Brief Diet Intervention Can Reduce Symptoms of Depression in Young Adults – A Randomised Controlled Trial.” PLoS One. 2019 Oct 9;14(10):e0222768.
  6. Shen Y, et al. “Bioenergetic State Regulates Innate Inflammatory Responses Through the Transcriptional Co-Repressor CtBP.” Nat Commun. 2017 Sep 22;8(1):624

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