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New Study Debunks The ‘Chemical Imbalance’ Myth of Depression

At 247Health, our goal is simple: to feel better every single day. We know that personal health requires practice, care, and deliberate attention. No single remedy works for everyone, and often the pursuit of strong body and mind becomes a lifelong labor of love. Truly healthy, vibrant people do not scoff at the modalities and practices of other cultures. Rather, they approach life with an open mind, and live with a knowing that optimal health (and the good feelings that come from it) is a holistic endeavor.

To simply dismiss the multifaceted nature of illness, especially mental illness, in favor of an institutional protocol is a risky decision. Modern medicine can certainly treat symptoms of disease better than ever before; but often it fails to address the root causes of the issues because those issues cannot be proven for everyone. Remember, though, it’s not a doctor’s job to encourage your wellness, just to treat your sickness. There’s no point in lamenting the inefficiencies of modern medicine. Truly healthy people take control of their own wellbeing each and every day through any means necessary, even if the world calls us crazy.

Therefore, it’s no surprise to independent thinkers that long-accepted medical opinions (like depression stemming primarily from a chemical imbalance) sometimes turn out to be weaker than originally believed. Even if you truly are experiencing a chemical imbalance, there are always multiple ways to approach healing. After all, societies have been finely-tuning strategies for optimal wellness for generations. Prescription pills can work for treating depression, but so can a wide range of choices. The willingness to discern shades of truth in life is what determines our overall success.

Doctors never actually linked depression with serotonin levels, but crafty marketing camouflaged that fact

Back in 2005, just as daily internet usage was becoming a reality (social media was in its infancy, too), SSRI antidepressant advertising flooded American airwaves and magazines. According to Psychology Today, “the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had approved the marketing of SSRIs with two phrases still heavily in the subjunctive—that depression ‘may be due to a serotonin deficiency’ and that SSRI efficacy, ‘modestly’ outcompeting placebo, was ‘presumed to be linked to potentiation of serotonergic activity.’ However, the research itself could not identify the precise mechanism.”

Follow-up studies researching the notion of serotonin “balancing” continuously came up short. The entire house of cards rested on a simple, yet deceitful premise: depression could be linked with a chemical imbalance in the brain.

The accepted mainstream opinion had billions of marketing dollars behind it; and therefore it also had millions of useful believers who thought SSRIs were the key to lifting their brain fog and malaise. In other words, the issue was always out of their control — a birth defect that needed modern science to “fix” it.

Daniel Carlat, the editor of The Carlat Psychiatry Report, explained on National Public Radio when asked what we know about psychiatric medication:

We don’t know how the medications actually work in the brain…. I’ll often say something like the way Zoloft works, is, it increases the level of serotonin in your brain (or synapses, neurons) and, presumably, the reason you’re depressed or anxious is that you have some sort of a deficiency. And I say that [chuckles] not because I really believe it, because I know the evidence really isn’t there for us to understand the mechanism—I think I say that because patients want to know something. And they want to know that we as physicians have some basic understanding of what we’re doing when we’re prescribing medications. They certainly don’t want to know that a psychiatrist essentially has no idea how these medications work.

Antidepressant use has reached epidemic proportions across the world and is still rising

Earlier this week, a groundbreaking new peer-reviewed study in Molecular Psychiatry reached a similar conclusion. “There is no evidence of a connection between reduced serotonin levels or activity and depression,” researchers concluded. European researchers extrapolated data from meta-analyses and systematic reviews on depression and serotonin levels, receptors, and transporters involving tens of thousands of participants.

More importantly, they noted that between 85-90 percent of the adult population believes the myth propagated by marketing dollars less than 20 years ago. All this despite finding no correlation between lower serotonin levels and elevated depression, nor any gene variation between patients with depression versus control groups. What’s worse: the mainstream acceptance of SSRIs as the best medical treatment for depression had led to a prescription rate of nearly 1 in every 6 adults nationwide.

All of this without any real knowledge about what SSRIs actually do to the brain short or longterm.

“Antidepressant use has reached epidemic proportions across the world and is still rising, especially among young people,” University College London Psychiatry Professor and study author Joanna Moncrieff said. “Many people who take them suffer side effects and withdrawal problems that can be really severe and debilitating. A major driver of this situation is the false belief that depression is due to a chemical imbalance. It is high time to inform the public that this belief is not grounded in science.”

For all of the health nuts out there who opted to feel a little bit better every day through new habits, choices, and modalities, cheers to your resourcefulness. Keep making your health your own responsibility, and keep sharing your experiences on the road less traveled with those who are willing to listen.

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