Why Some “Gold Standard” Medications Scare Me

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People are often surprised that despite my 25 years’ experience as a licensed pharmacist and health researcher, I am not always a huge fan of prescription drugs – even some that are considered  “gold standards”!  Today I want to talk to you about the “gold standard” antidepressants. Listen carefully to me, because your life might depend on you being educated about natural remedies as well as pharmaceuticals.

Depression affects millions of people in our country and around the world.  There are scores of widely prescribed antidepressant drugs, often considered the only treatment available.  However, I’m here to tell you that there are more things to consider when faced with clinical depression.  Oftentimes, your doctor won’t see beyond her prescription pad to offer alternatives.  For instance, you can’t lift low levels of folic acid -a common cause of depression- with any of our so-called gold standard drugs.  You also can’t fix a deficiency of vitamin C, B12 or thyroid hormone with those drugs!  (Those are other possible causes of depression.)

Let me teach you something “outside the pill”. Magnesium, vitamin C, B6, folic acid and 5-HTP can enhance mood by sparking production of feel-good hormones such as GABA, serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine. When taken in natural, physiological dosages these nutrients are well-tolerated. There are a few possible side effects, including gas, diarrhea or minor stomach upset.

But keep in mind, our gold standard antidepressants also have side effects! Depending on the drug, your age and medical history, these may include: agitation, anxiety, blurred vision, red or purple spots on the skin, breast enlargement, anorexia, abdominal cramps, gas, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, loose stools or constipation, unusual secretion of milk in women, yawning, trouble walking, dizziness, decreased sexual ability, low libido, impotence, inability to orgasm, abnormal bleeding, nose bleeds, inability to sit still, headaches, increased sweating, insomnia, vertigo, muscle weakness, breast tenderness, unusual or sudden facial movements, strange involuntary postures, fever, flu-like syndrome, flushing of the skin, confusion, drowsiness, dry mouth, fatigue, seizures, hyponatremia, tremors, mania, heart palpitations, fast talking or feeling out of control, skin rash, hives, and itching.  There is also a risk of a dangerous condition called “serotonin syndrome” which may include such symptoms as serious blood pressure swings, fever, mood/behavior changes, diarrhea, racing heartbeat, shivering, shaking, racing heartbeat, overactive reflexes, sweating, intravascular coagulation, renal failure, seizures, respiratory failure or coma. Antidepressants also come with a black box warning regarding a higher incidence of suicide among children and adolescents who take these drugs.

Despite all those risks, some people feel safer with our gold standard drugs, simply because they are FDA approved.  So if you or someone you love is diagnosed with clinical depression, make sure to ask the physician if testing for levels of the nutrients I listed above is a possibility, and also if supplementation of any of these things is appropriate, either in lieu of or in conjunction with antidepressant medications.

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