Prozac pill, screengrab
A review by University College London has concluded that depression is not a chemical imbalance in the brain, and scientists have no idea how antidepressants work.
According to the British study, one in six adults in England are currently prescribed antidepressants. Most of the prescribed medications act by maintaining serotonin levels. However, the new study suggests low serotonin levels do not cause depression.
Instead, the study suggests depression may be more strongly correlated with adverse life events, which lower mood.
Wow…turns out depression has nothing to do with “chemical imbalances” to the best of our knowledge. Antidepressants? We don’t really know why they work.https://t.co/HRztRjvANa
— Angelica 🌐⚛️🇹🇼 (@AngelicaOung) July 20, 2022
Since the 1990s, antidepressant use has grown alongside the theory that drugs establish correct levels of chemicals in the brain. However, researchers say that is unfounded.
“I think we can safely say that after a vast amount of research conducted over several decades, there is no convincing evidence that depression is caused by serotonin abnormalities, particularly by lower levels or reduced activity of serotonin,” said Joanna Moncrieff, a professor of psychiatry at UCL who authored the study.
“Many people take antidepressants because they have been led to believe their depression has a biochemical cause, but this research suggests this belief is not grounded in evidence,” she noted
“The popularity of the ‘chemical imbalance theory of depression has coincided with a huge increase in the use of antidepressants,” she continued.
Moncrieff also pointed out that “thousands of people suffer from side-effects of antidepressants, including the severe withdrawal effects that can occur when people try to stop them, yet prescription rates continue to rise.”
“We believe this situation has been driven partly by the false belief that depression is due to a chemical imbalance.”
Moncreiff then said, “It is high time to inform the public that this belief is not grounded in science.”
Researchers in the report reviewed studies regarding serotonin and depression and found no difference in levels between thousands of people diagnosed with the condition and healthy control participants.
They also looked at studies where serotonin levels were artificially lowered in hundreds of people by depriving their diets of the amino acid required to make serotonin. The study surprisingly found that it did not make them depressed.
The researchers say that patients should not be told a chemical imbalance causes depression. They also noted that patients should not be informed that SSRIs can correct the problem. However, antidepressants can work but must do so through a different route.
It is worth noting that experts have warned people against stopping their medication.