Antidepressants are one of the most prescribed medications out there.
One in six Americans takes antidepressants or other psychiatric medications, most of them (84.3%) on a long-term basis. (1) This is especially concerning when using addictive drugs like Valium and Xanax. (2)
That number is more than double what it was in 1999.
Many who take prescription drugs take more than one. In fact, 20% are on five or more. (3) That’s because sometimes one antidepressant doesn’t work as expected. Hence, “polypharmacy” is the recent trend in Psychiatry. (4, 5) These trends are occurring everywhere in the industrialized world. (6, 7)
Doctors are handing out prescriptions like candy on Halloween.
The Side Effects of Antidepressants
Your doctor probably didn’t tell you about a potentially serious side effect of antidepressant use that’s not written on the drug pamphlet.
As with any pharmaceutical, antidepressants don’t cure the problem—they only mask the symptoms by synthetically altering brain chemical balances. Many drugs are “new-to-nature” molecules, meaning that they don’t exist in nature but were created in a laboratory. (8) In the process of manipulating bodily processes, they affect other (natural) chemical processes.
Every prescription drug comes with a list of possible side effects. Excluded from the list is the nutrient deficiencies they cause. Losing nutrients to the point of deficiency can lead to other problems. Ironically, some of them contribute to anxiety and depression. This is why some people feel worse after starting an antidepressant prescription, for which their doctor may prescribe more than one kind of antidepressant drug at a time.
Antidepressant-Induced Nutrient Depletion
Drug-induced nutrient depletion can result when taking antidepressants.
Symptoms of nutrient deficiency may go misdiagnosed while taking medication as either a side effect of the drug or a different physical problem (for which you may be prescribed another drug, worsening the whole situation).
Additionally, deficiency may take a while to occur, so its symptoms aren’t immediately associated with the drug. Knowing what to watch out for will help you to prevent or address any possible nutrient deficiency.
3 Nutrients Depleted by Antidepressants
It’s time to rethink your prescription.
Coenzyme Q10 (abbreviated to CoQ10, also known as ubiquinone) is a vital enzyme that mitochondria use to convert oxygen and nutrients into energy. In addition, CoQ10 acts as an antioxidant in cell membranes and lipoproteins—so important for reducing oxidative stress and consequential inflammation in the body. (9)
Tricyclic antidepressants can cause a deficiency of this enzyme and vitamin B2. (10) Symptoms include muscular fatigue, problems with mucous membranes of the eyes and nose, impeded nervous system (including brain) function, involuntary muscle contractions, vision loss, hearing loss, seizures, decreased muscle tone, and kidney and heart dysfunction. (11, 12) The supreme irony of CoQ10 deficiency resulting from antidepressant drugs is that CoQ10 itself is an antidepressant. (13, 14)
Foods with significant CoQ10 include meat and fish, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables (especially cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, bok choy, and Brussels sprouts).
This mineral is used in virtually every metabolic function in the body. It is the conductor by which cells communicate with one other. Magnesium deficiency can cause anxiety and depression. (15) Magnesium supplementation alleviates symptoms of depression. (16, 17, 18) Many antidepressants cause magnesium depletion, such as the ever-popular Prozac. (19)
So here we have the chicken and the egg: did a magnesium deficiency cause depression? By taking an antidepressant drug that further depletes this crucial mineral, was depression made worse? Was simply adding more magnesium to your diet the right solution to begin with?
Signs of magnesium deficiency include:
Confusion, memory loss
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
Potassium deficiency: may cause extreme thirst, fluid retention, and irritability
Liver and kidney disease
Type II diabetes/ hypoglycemia
Fertility/childbearing issues: getting or staying pregnant, preeclampsia, preterm labor
Raynaud’s syndrome: may cause cold fingers or toes, color changes in skin due to temperature changes, and numbness in extremities
Personality changes: often similar to symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders.
You can find a list of magnesium-rich foods here.
3. B-Complex Vitamins
As with the other nutrients previously mentioned, deficiency in B-complex vitamins can result in symptoms of depression. (20) Rather than looking at a patient’s nutrient profile, many doctors prescribe antidepressants, “treating” the symptoms rather than looking for the cause.
The eight essential B vitamins are factors in the production of the body’s energy. When we’re deficient in one or more, we can feel fatigued and depressed. In many studies, patients presenting with depression or psychiatric disorders have been found with low levels of B-vitamins. (21, 22)
Psychiatric antidepressant, anticonvulsant, and antipsychotic medications are known to inhibit the absorption of B-complex vitamins. They make a bad situation worse.
Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) has been implicated in the proper functioning of mitochondria, the body’s energy producers. Low B2=low energy=feelings of depression.
Food sources of vitamin B2 include:
Of its many activities, vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) helps the body to make hormones serotonin and norepinephrine, which contribute to mood. A deficiency can result in irritability, nervousness, difficulty with cognition and memory, and muscle weakness. (23) Psychiatric drugs work to stimulate mood hormones as well but not through the same channels, so they may work at cross-purposes to the natural process.
Two other members of the vitamin B family are B9 (folate) and B12 (cobalamin). Deficiencies in these nutrients have been commonly found in people suffering from depression and other psychiatric disorders. (24, 25)
Good sources of these vitamins are:
dark leafy greens, asparagus, broccoli, citrus, avocado, okra, legumes, lentils, seeds, nuts, Brussels sprouts (folate)
meat, fish, eggs, nutritional yeast, seaweed, algae (B12)
Prescription Aren’t the Answer
The primary mode of treatment for depression is medication.
Every pharmaceutical comes with warnings, counterindications, and potential side effects. In the case of antidepressants, the paradox is that they may treat the symptoms of nutrient deficiency and in so doing, exacerbate the deficiencies.
“The most common mental disorders that are currently prevalent in numerous countries are depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). The dietary intake pattern of the general population in many Asian and American countries reflects that they are often deficient in many nutrients, especially essential vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids. A notable feature of the diets of patients suffering from mental disorders is the severity of deficiency in these nutrients.” (26)
Before you pop another pill, take a look at your diet. Cut out the bad stuff and add more of the truly nutrient-dense foods your body craves. Your mental health will likely improve too!