Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Paradigm shift: healing your neurons

We made it home safe and sound from our fifteen day, five state odyssey. Traveling always makes me think and I have a lot I want to blog about, but my brother forwarded this article to me and I'm not sure what to think.

For those of you who aren't going to read the whole article--although I think you should--I'll summarize it here. Basically, according to new research the effectiveness of Prozac, and other widely prescribed SSRIs, is not due to its effect on serotonin. Rather, SSRIs work because they "heal" neurons in the brain that prolonged stress has killed off. This means that depression isn't just a lack of something, but a systematic change in the brain. The article compares it to other degenerative brain illnesses like Alzheimer's. Researchers came to this conclusion by lowering the amount of serotonin in undepressed (also known as happy) people and discovered that it made no difference, which (sort of) disproved the whole "depression is a chemical imbalance" theory. Exactly how the SSRIs heal neurons the article doesn't say. But it does cite a study involving the active ingredient in Prozac and lazy eyes. Apparently taking a course of SSRIs can fix a lazy eye!

I think what was most compelling about this article was that the new theory explains a couple of weird things about depression medications. First off, it explains the lag time between the start of medication and feeling the effects of it. If the SSRI is healing a neuron, and not just supplementing the brain with a neurotransmitter, then it makes sense that it would take a few weeks for the process. Secondly, I think, it sheds some light on the "Prozac Poop-out". If the medicine is healing neurons it makes sense that afte awhile it would quit working because the neurons would be healed or they would need something else to help them finish the healing process. I guess in my mind it makes more sense that the brain would become immune to an SSRI if it was healing something and not just supplementing. This also explains why things like exercise, appropriate sleep, good nutrition and talk therapy help. They all reinforce the complex process that maintains the neurons in our brains.

This idea is exciting on another level too. If depression is a degenerative neurological disorder then we might start seeing more hard science on its treatment. There would be no more nonsense about it being a question of willpower--or we would at least be able to differentiate between temporary depressive episodes that may or may not be willpower related and the chronic illness. If people suffering from depression could get tailored treatments that would save a lot of headache.

Anyway, I think I've been suffering for the last couple months from a poop-out. It just feels like my medicine has been less and less effective so I'm going to find a psychiatrist and see if I can iron all this out. But this new research is one more piece to add to the depression puzzle. What do you all think? Does this ring true to any of your experiences?


Lacey said...

My life has been so crazy lately that I just barely found your comment on my blog. I'm so happy that you found me and to be able to blog with you now! I had no idea that you were dealing with so much in your life right now, but I admire so much your honesty and openness and willingness to share. You're just great, you always have been, and I'm excited to get to keep in touch with you again!

Charlotte said...

I read that article too. it was very interesting in regards to how we manage depression. I don't know what to tell you except that I think you are right about your meds hitting the doldrums. I'm interested to hear what a psych has to say about all this! Good luck girl and welcome home from your trip:)

Misty Lynne said...

I've always been fascinated with physiology, and I love learning about things like this. The body is so complex and intricately balanced that you never really know what you're going to get until you try it. Some medicines created for problem A don't work for A, but then they find out on the side that it fixes problem G that they weren't even testing for (Viagra was actually discovered that way). Other medicines, they simply know that they work, but they can't seem to explain why.

The article makes a lot of sense. I wonder how much and when it will effect the treatment of depression. Thanks for the link.