Diagnoses of depression and chronic anxiety are ever-increasing. And yet, natural remedies for depression still have a much too limited audience. Along with anxiety and depression comes the conventional solution to those who seek professional medical help. These include antidepressant medications, most often in the form of SSRI and SSNI -selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and selective serotonin & norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, respectively. Prescriptions for these types of drugs have risen exponentially in developed countries since the 1980s.
People of all socioeconomic groups take antidepressants, including children. (1) In the U.S., the number of people taking antidepressants has risen 400% since 1988. (2) In Canada and Australia, these numbers doubled in the same period. (3)
How Antidepressants Drugs Work
The theory behind antidepressant medications is the stimulation of hormone production in the brain (serotonin, melatonin, epinephrine, norepinephrine, dopamine, and others). In the case of SSRI/SSNI, chemicals in the drugs prevent neuroreceptors from re-absorbing them so the hormones stay longer in the brain.
A common experience when taking an SSRI or SSNI is an initial increase in serotonin in the brain but no immediate relief from feelings of depression until weeks later. There are many troubling pieces of this complicated puzzle, the greatest of which is that researchers don’t really understand how SSRI work.
A 2015 study published by Neurological & Behavioral Reviews delved into this problem. Scientists developed a very interesting answer to how and why SSRI work:
- “serotonin transmission is elevated in multiple depressive phenotypes, including melancholia
- the serotonergic system [nerve endings that release and are stimulated by serotonin] evolved to regulate energy
- by increasing extracellular serotonin, SSRIs disrupt energy homeostasis and often worsen symptoms during acute treatment
- symptom reduction is not achieved by the direct pharmacological properties of SSRIs, but by the brain’s compensatory responses that attempt to restore energy homeostasis.” (4)
In other words, SSRI are effective because the body rejects them and re-adjusts to compensate for what they do. The disrupted energy processes between neurons that SSRI cause makes the brain work harder to restore stability.
What Causes Depression?
The development of SSRI and SSNI was based on the idea that depression is the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain. By changing the neurochemicals—poof!—a pill cures depression. We know now that’s not entirely true.
A variety of factors cause depression, and many are still unknown. It is true that people with clinical depression have reduced serotonin at work in their brains but that’s a symptom, not a cause. We’ll focus now on what may very well be the primary physical cause of depression—and it may surprise you: gastrointestinal health.
Ninety percent of the serotonin in the body isn’t produced in the brain but in the intestines. (5) A truly effective treatment for depression, therefore, lies not in taking pills that futz with neurochemicals in the brain.