Antidepressants from work, top doctors oppose bomb study
Prominent psychiatrists have slammed the authors of a bombshell study that cast doubt on the effectiveness of antidepressants, calling the results “absurd” and “grossly exaggerated.”
Last week, researchers at University College London said they had debunked the theory that depression in the 1960s was caused by low levels of serotonin, a mood-regulating chemical, in the brain.
The study, led by respected consultant Professor Joanna Moncrief, analyzed decades of research involving tens of thousands of patients and found no “convincing evidence” of a link between mental illness and serotonin levels.
Pictured is Professor Joanna Moncrief, a consultant psychiatrist at University College London, who led a team of researchers who overturned the long-held belief that there is a link between low serotonin levels and depression.
The findings are considered significant as the majority of antidepressants taken by more than eight million Britons are aimed at boosting serotonin levels.
“Thousands of people suffer from the side effects of antidepressants, including severe withdrawal effects when they try to stop taking them, but prescription prices continue to rise,” Professor Moncrief said. “We believe that this depression is caused by a false belief that it is due to a chemical imbalance. It is time to let the public know that this belief is not based on science.”
However, leading brain experts have criticized Professor Moncrief, who has written best-selling books disparaging antidepressants. Scientists say that depression is caused by a lack of serotonin, which is not true. Instead, they argue that the prevailing theory is that depression is caused by many factors and that antidepressants have been clinically shown to help.
Dr Michael Bloomfield, a consultant psychiatrist and colleague of Professor Moncrief at University College London, said the findings were “not significant”.
“There are many different symptoms of depression, and I don’t think I’ve ever met any serious scientists or psychiatrists who think that all causes of depression are related to a simple chemical imbalance in serotonin.”
He added: ‘[This paper] He lumped depression together as if it were a single disease that had no meaning from a biological point of view.
David Curtis, emeritus professor at UCL’s Institute of Genetics, said: “The concept of depression as a chemical imbalance is outdated and the Royal College of Psychiatrists wrote in a 2019 statement that it was too simplistic.” Phil Cowan, professor of psychopharmacology at Oxford University, appeared to accuse Professor Moncrief of gathering data to support his hypothesis.
In the 1960s, medics first discovered the link between low levels of serotonin and depression, later providing doctors with tools to target the disease.
He said the review missed a key study showing that depressed patients had lower blood levels of the compound to produce serotonin.
The possible role of serotonin in depression is a separate question from its antidepressant effects [antidepressants],’ he said.
Other experts point to several studies that show that antidepressants can improve depression despite their effects on serotonin levels.
“Through years of research, we know that antidepressants work and save lives,” says Professor David Nutt, head of the Center for Neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London.
“The conclusions of this paper are absurd. The authors have greatly exaggerated the importance of serotonin levels. No one has suggested that serotonin imbalance is the sole cause of depression.”
He added that new research using more precise testing methods, not covered by Professor Moncrief, found a “reduced ability to release serotonin” in depressed people. “It is premature to rule out the serotonin hypothesis of depression at this time,” he said.
Psychiatrists say the exact reason antidepressants work is unclear, but it’s not unusual. “It’s hard to say exactly what causes a drug to work in the brain,” says Professor Nutt. “In the case of antidepressants, it can affect things other than serotonin receptors.”
Most importantly, they argue that even though depression is not caused by an imbalance of serotonin, that doesn’t mean it can’t be effectively treated by increasing levels of the brain chemical.
Responding to the criticism, Professor Moncrief said the aim of the study was not to argue that antidepressants don’t work, but to question whether the pills should be prescribed in the first place.
“People are told that the reason they’re depressed is because there’s something wrong with their brain chemistry and that antidepressants can fix it. However, in the absence of any evidence that there is anything wrong with brain chemistry, this does not seem like a reasonable solution. “The profession has long misled people about the need for antidepressants, and now doctors don’t want to admit they were wrong.”