Did you know that antidepressants might cause weight gain?You can protect yourself from these harmful side effects by understanding the important connection between your digestive and mental health.
A recently published article by Dr. Judith Wurtman underscored this fact, and readers' responses were overwhelming: weight gain is not typically addressed as a side effect of antidepressant medication, and most patients feel frustrated and confused. (1)
According to pharmaceutical sales in 2009, six of the top fifteen medications were either antidepressants or antipsychotics. (2)
For perspective, the top five selling pharmaceuticals were:
These top-selling medications all have something in common. Besides the fact that they all inhibit critical biochemical pathways and are over-prescribed, they all imply a diet that does more harm than good. High levels of "bad" cholesterol, heartburn, heart attack, inflammation, and even psychosis or depression are all conditions that at the very least are made worse by eating the Standard American Diet (SAD).
Dr. Wurtman, co-author of a book offering a weight loss program for those who have gained weight while taking antidepressants, tells her readers that it is difficult for people to understand the connection between brain chemistry and weight. Her article, which in itself received hundreds of comments responding to the connection she draws, makes an important point: medications that affect brain chemistry might also affect weight, which Donna Gates has taught for years through the importance of the inner ecosystem.
Did you know that 80%-95% of the body's total serotonin is produced and found in the gut?
That's right. The enteric nervous system (ENS) controls the gastrointestinal tract and has over 100 million neurons. The rest of the neurons in the human body are located mostly in the central nervous system (CNS), which is the brain and spinal cord. Dr. Michael Gershon is known for bringing these details to light in his book, The Second Brain. The gut, essentially, has a mind of its own and is in constant dialogue with the central nervous system. This cross-talk between the gut and the brain is known as the gut-brain axis. Donna Gates refers to all of the communication in this area as the abdominal brain. That is why it is imperative to establish a healthy inner ecosystem with beneficial microflora.
Antidepressants and antipsychotic medications affect neurotransmission and chemicals in the brain. With some medications this effect is not understood at all. For example, the mechanism behind Zyprexa, which ranks number fifteen in sales for 2009, is openly not understood by doctors. Most other antidepressants and antipsychotics directly block serotonin receptors in the brain. If up to 95% of the body's serotonin is produced and located in the gut, do you think that this kind of medication would also affect gastrointestinal health? As it turns out, small doses of select serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), like Lexapro, are used therapeutically in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). (3)
The gastrointestinal immune system, the intestinal mucosal barrier, and the microflora of the gut are all in constant dialogue.
Not only does the gut house over 100 million neurons, it also possesses the largest mass of lymphoid tissue in the human body. This mass, known as gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT), is the digestive tract's immune system and sits just below the mucosal barrier of the intestines. The mucosal barrier keeps the gut microflora and other contents of the intestine in place. Inflammation makes the intestinal tract permeable, and beneficial microflora actually help to repair the lining of the gut.
The friendly bacteria found in the gut are involved in intestinal development, immune modulation, gastrointestinal motility, and drug metabolism. They break down toxins and carcinogens, create micronutrients, and prevent pathogenic bacteria from taking up residence. They also alleviate depression. The Body Ecology Diet has a foundation that includes probiotic beverages and cultured vegetables, which preserve these friendly bacteria and ensure optimal health.
An inflamed, leaky gut can lead to what is known as a "leaky" brain. When the gut becomes permeable and inflamed, this activates pro-inflammatory cytokines (regulatory proteins released by the immune system). This can lead to a kind of mental depression and lethargy that is induced by cytokines.
Again, the gut-brain axis plays a pivotal role. This is because these pro-inflammatory cytokines from the gut can actually cross the blood-brain barrier and stimulate certain enzymes, which leads to a peripheral depletion of tryptophan. (4) Tryptophan is an amino acid precursor to serotonin.
This is one possible reason why patients taking SSRIs and other medications to treat depression do not go into complete remission: rather than treating systemic inflammation, the treatment principle involves disrupting serotonin metabolism.
In 1932, the New England Journal of Medicine published a paper with the title, "Colon Irrigation in the Treatment of Mental Disease." (5) Later, the American Medical Association (AMA) dismissed this as quackery. However, in recent decades scientists are seeing the physical link between the gut and mental-emotional states. This is why currently a great deal of attention is being paid to not only the gut-brain axis, but also the tenants of the gut, the friendly microflora.
Those who struggle with obesity actually have different microflora in their gastrointestinal tract than those who are comparatively lean.
Recent studies have found that certain microbes extract more energy from foods than other microbes. This means that if these microbes are present in your gut, you could eat less than the average person and still carry excess weight.
Dietary factors and chemicals you ingest can lead to long-term changes that determine which microbes inhabit your gastrointestinal tract. According to research, regulating the microbes in the gut and balancing the inner ecosystem with probiotics is one very important component of maintaining a healthy weight. (6)