The Problem of Postpartum Depression
Dangers of SSRIs
The dangers of SSRIs go beyond their dangers to the baby. One potential side effect of these drugs is a feeling of numbness, of separateness from others. Feeling numb does tend to blunt depression, but it may do so at the expense of a new mother's feelings of intimacy with her baby and her partner at this crucial time. The most common side effects of SSRIs include nausea, sleepiness, insomnia, sexual dysfunction, headaches, trembling, indigestion, abdominal pain, and nervousness. SSRI drugs also seem to lift normal inhibitions against violence and suicide in some people. Prozac has been linked with violence toward others, suicide, and self-mutilation, and thus may even play a part in enabling an overwrought woman to commit one of the worst crimes imaginable causing serious harm to her child. Many experts, including Harvard University psychiatrist and author Joseph Glenmullen, M.D., and Peter R. Breggin, M.D., psychiatrist, author, and director of the nonprofit International Center for the Study of Psychiatry and Psychology (ICSPP), warn that SSRIs are overprescribed and that their dangers are drastically underplayed.
Dr. Glenmullen's most recent book, Prozac Backlash (Simon & Schuster, 2000), warns that SSRIs can cause symptoms similar to those of Parkinson's disease including facial and body tics and muscle spasms that may persist even after the drug is discontinued in at least 10 percent of those who use them. This finding implies that SSRIs may create dangerously low levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine in some people. Moreover, the long-term effects of Prozac and similar drugs are not known, but some studies indicate that permanent brain damage could occur because the constant artificial elevation of the neurotransmitter serotonin eventually burns out the serotonin receptor sites in the brain and makes them unable to respond.
The manufacturer of Prozac insists that no link between the drug and suicide has been proven. Interestingly, however, they will be marketing a newer version of the antidepressant, which, according to published reports, they will advertise as less likely to cause suicide and violent behavior in those who use it raising the question of why they would use this issue as a selling point. The "new Prozac," R-fluoxetine, is set to hit the market just as the patent for the current version, which has had sales in excess of $2 billion a year, runs out. Incidentally, Sarafem, an antidepressant that is being marketed heavily for a form of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), is chemically identical to Prozac with a different, female consumer-savvy name.
Serotonin does seem to play a role in depression, and that is why SSRIs can provide relief. Keep in mind, however, that no one has shown that a chemical imbalance in this case, low serotonin levels is the sole cause of depression. Boosting serotonin will improve most people's moods, but this symptomatic relief at best because the nutritional precursors the brain needs to produce its own serotonin remain depleted unless deliberately replenished. As Dr. Breggin says in his book Talking Back to Prozac (St. Martin's Press, 1994), depression is not caused by a Prozac deficiency any more than a headache is caused by an aspirin deficiency.
Fortunately for those who wish to avoid SSRIs, there are ways to elevate serotonin levels naturally with foods and supplements. We believe that taking SSRIs can make things worse for many women who suffer from PPD, and we do not recommend using them, especially over the long term, unless you have one of the more serious forms of depression. If you do need them for the short term, you should enlist your doctor's assistance to help you wean yourself off them as soon as possible. Never stop using SSRIs abruptly, however, as this can cause serious withdrawal symptoms. Taper off gradually with the guidance of a knowledgeable physician, preferably one who is experienced in prescribing increasing amounts of the nutritional precursors you need as you wean off the drugs.
Many women suffer from a kind of depression that results not at all from low brain serotonin levels but from low levels of another brain neurotransmitter, norepinephrine. Increasing serotonin levels with drugs does not help this kind of depression. On the contrary, it often makes people even more tired and depressed. Women with low serotonin levels tend to have a great deal of anxiety, while women with low norepinephrine levels feel like they fell into a deep, dark hole and just cannot muster the energy to get out of it, or elicit more than one positive thought in a row. People with low norepinephrine levels are often dramatically helped by restoring normal thyroid and adrenal gland function. The amino acid tyrosine, along with P5P, copper, iron, and vitamin C, is necessary to make norepinephrine. Tyrosine, along with the mineral iodine, is also the main nutritional precursor for all the thyroid hormones.
As you will discover, we believe that the vast majority of cases of PPD can be prevented and/or treated very successfully without resorting to drugs that may harm you and your baby. The natural strategies presented can help to restore serotonin levels and replenish key nutrients and other biochemicals that are likely to be depleted as a result of bringing a child into the world. We will see how a woman's nutritional status is affected by pregnancy and birth, how this can determine her overall state of health, and, most important, what she can do to regain a state of balance and well-being.
More on: Postpartum
From A Natural Guide to Pregnancy and Postpartum Health by Dean Raffelock, Robert Rountree, and Virginia Hopkins with Melissa Block. Copyright © 2002 by Dr. Dean Raffelock. Used by arrangement with Avery, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
To order this book visit www.penguin.com. Get a 15% discount with the coupon code FENPARENT.