Do antidepressants take more lives than they save?

Antidepressants may increase the risk of death, according to a Canadian study.

The study, published in Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, found that the effect of antidepressant use on all-cause mortality depends on cardiovascular health.

A McMaster University-led team of researchers reviewed studies involving hundreds of thousands of patients in a meta-analysis. These studies estimated the risk of death from any cause associated with using antidepressants, and usually followed large cohorts of participants taking antidepressants over time and compared them to people not taking antidepressants, while controlling for other important demographic and health-related variables. When researchers statistically pooled these estimates together, they were able to determine the overall net effect of using antidepressants on mortality.

The study was completed because the researchers suspected that the way antidepressants work could have adverse long-term effects on health, based on some previous theoretical work, says author Paul Andrews, an associate professor at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, who led the research team.

“Antidepressants disrupt the functioning of monoamines—biochemicals such as serotonin and dopamine—and these monoamines have important functions not only in the brain, but all over the body,” he says.

“For example, serotonin affects growth, reproduction, digestion, immune function, and many other processes, and it is found in almost every major organ,” Andrews says. “Disrupting the functioning of serotonin can therefore have different adverse effects, which can contribute to a risk of death in many different ways. We completed the study to test the hypothesis that interfering with the functioning of monoamines by using antidepressants can increase the risk of death from any cause.”

Study findings

The study found that antidepressant users had a 33% higher chance of death than non-users. Antidepressant users…

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