Antidepressants Reduce Cancer, Alzheimer’s but Increase Obesity, Diabetes Risk

FIRST PERSON | Antidepressants are making headlines in several ways. Tricyclic drugs have been shown to cut the risk of bowel and brain cancer. Antidepressants may also combat Alzheimer’s disease. Antidepressants are linked to weight gain, liver problems and Type 2 diabetes, however.

Patients taking SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) antidepressants were found to have less of the brain plaque that causes Alzheimer’s disease. SSRIs also proved effective against Alzheimer’s in tests on mice.

In other news, researchers in Great Britain found that patients taking TCAs (tricyclic antidepressants) had 16-21 percent less chance of developing colorectal (bowel) cancer. Common tricyclic trade names include Tofranil and Norpramine.

Tricyclic antidepressants have also been shown to reduce the chance of developing glioma, a tumorous brain cancer. Results in brain tumor research were even more startling. TCAs reduced the risk of brain cancer by 41-64 percent. Other forms of cancer were not affected by antidepressant use. Researchers cautioned that due to their side effects, patients should be screened for risk before prescribing TCAs just for cancer prevention.

What are the side effects of antidepressants? Weight gain and weight loss are common concerns. Antidepressants differ greatly on their impact on weight. The SSRI Paxil (paroxetine) is the worst offender for weight gain. I can attest to that. I took Paxil for seven years and gained almost 90 pounds. Since coming off Paxil, I lost about 30 pounds. With a large number of children on antidepressants, it’s no wonder that juvenile obesity is also on the rise.

At the other end of the scale, the SSRI Zoloft is the least likely to cause weight gain. Efexor and Serzone also don’t cause weight gain. Wellbutrin, a non-tricyclic aminoketone, has been shown to cause weight loss. However all these antidpressants differ, both in their effects and their other side effects. Switching prescriptions may help with some problems and cause others.

When I started Paxil in 2003, my physician didn’t warn me about weight gain. When we discussed my increasing weight in 2010, he didn’t make the connection even then. He also didn’t discuss thyroid and cholesterol problems, liver damage or miscarriage due to Paxil. Although I have never had any of those health issues in forty years, I experienced all of them while on Paxil. Reading the Paxil forums, it’s not just adults that are experiencing this health concerns. Since weaning myself off from the Paxil, my cholesterol, thyroid and liver issues have all improved.

With the rise of antidepressants prescribed for children , they are subject to these health problems, also.
Type 2 diabetes and juvenile diabetes are the second most common chronic health condition among children and teens. Antidepressants have also been linked to increased incidence of Type 2 diabetes.

I don’t have diabetes and never have, even in pregnancy. I did develop diabetes-related Metabolic Syndrome (insulin resistance) while on the Paxil. I am now taking Metformin and working a weight loss regimen. Along with Type 2 diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome is being diagnosed with alarming frequently in children and teens.

Despite the positive effects of antidepressants, researchers agree that they should be prescribed only when indicated and with proper diagnostic testing. Users need to inform themselves of the potential side effects. This is especially important for parents to consider before allowing their children to be placed on antidepressants.

Marilisa Kinney Sachteleben writes from 22 years parenting four children and 25 teaching K-8, special needs, adult education, health and homeschool.

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