One of the pitfalls of prescription medications for depression can be the side effects. You may have heard that antidepressants cause weight gain and type 2 diabetes.
Is it true?
We’ll explore the risks of weight gain and diabetes on antidepressants and your options for avoiding them.
Depression Medications and Obesity
It’s estimated that about 25% of patients taking antidepressants gain weight as a side effect. Depending on your health when you start antidepressants, this weight gain may lead to obesity over time.
Note: It can be difficult to tell whether weight gain is due to medication or the depression itself. Fatigue and lethargy are two symptoms of depression that can also cause weight gain.
Researchers don’t fully understand the link between antidepressant drugs and weight gain, but many theorize that antidepressants affect your production of serotonin. Serotonin occurs naturally in your body and regulates your mood and appetite. Since antidepressants affect your serotonin levels, you might feel hungry and want to eat when you otherwise wouldn’t. You may even begin to crave foods rich in carbs.
Certain mental health medications are more likely to affect weight than others. Tricyclics (TCAs) like amitriptyline cause many people to seek alternative treatments because of weight gain. Atypical antidepressants like mirtazapine can also cause weight gain and increased appetite.
Depression Medications and Diabetes
Studies have found evidence of a link between many antidepressants and the onset of type 2 diabetes. In some cases, this link may occur as a natural consequence of the weight gain described above. The connection between diabetes and depression can go both ways as well. Those who have diabetes are more likely to be depressed and to take antidepressants.
Some patients on antidepressant medication contracted diabetes without weight gain. A study reported on by Prevention suggests all types of antidepressants may change insulin resistance. This affects how the body processes sugars, and it’s what can lead to diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes can occur fairly quickly. A study published in JAMA Pediatrics of 119,608 young adults was done over a 5-year period. Researchers found that the risk of type 2 diabetes increased significantly among young people taking selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) for at least 150 days. The higher the dosage of antidepressant, the greater the risk.
Minimizing the Risks of Antidepressant Drugs
Can you lessen these side effects of antidepressants? There are a few options! Talk to your doctor about each to make sure it’s done safely and effectively:
- Track your weight and appetite during antidepressant treatment – Consider enlisting the help of a nutritionist to maintain a balanced, low-calorie diet.
- Test your insulin levels before and during medication – Look for warning signs of the onset of diabetes. Keep your doctor informed, and be ready to switch medications if you need to.
- Explore alternative types of treatment – If weight gain becomes a problem for you, you may want to try a non-medication option.
What Are Other Options for Treating Depression?
Antidepressants aren’t the only evidence-based treatment for depression. There are many effective treatments for depression that pose no risk of weight gain. Take a look at a few of them, and consider whether one—or a combination of them—may be right for you.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT is a type of talk therapy that can be effective for the treatment of major depressive disorder. It’s based on the connection between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. A licensed therapist will teach you skills to help you manage your negative thoughts. This reduces painful emotions and improves your life. Examples of skills taught include meditation and thought-stopping techniques.
CBT doesn’t always work in cases of severe depression. It’s more suited to situational depression or milder forms of the disorder. In addition, it can be costly and requires considerable effort on the part of the client. Clients are given homework after each session to complete before the next one.
Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)
Electroconvulsive therapy works by passing quick electric currents through the brain. These currents trigger brief seizures. The seizures cause changes in brain chemistry that can relieve depression symptoms. Clients are under general anesthesia, so little pain is felt. Generally, the only pain experienced comes from muscle aches afterward. ECT is most often used for severe or hard-to-treat depression.
The risks of ECT include confusion, nausea, and changes in blood pressure. Adverse reactions and medical complications from being under anesthesia can also happen. Cognitive dysfunction and memory loss can occur, though they are rare.
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)
TMS works by stimulating the prefrontal cortex of your brain. This is thought to be underactive when you have depression. An electromagnetic coil is placed gently against your scalp. It delivers short electromagnetic pulses. This procedure restores your prefrontal cortex to its normal activity level.
TMS is non-invasive, drug-free, and FDA-approved. It’s also associated with virtually no side effects. During treatments, you stay awake and sit comfortably. A full course of treatment for depression consists of five sessions per week for up to six weeks. A three-week period of less frequent sessions follows. A session is 18-19 minutes.
HPR Treatment Centers makes TMS available across the U.S. If you’re concerned about the risks of depression medication and want to learn about TMS as an alternative, we’d love to talk to you. Call HPR Treatment Centers at 877-931-2395. We’re happy to work with you to reduce your depression and give you restored hope in a happy, healthy future.