Antidepressant Side Effects Can Cause Dementia

by Dr. Julia Lewis on June 5, 2012

Memory loss, cognitive decline and dementia can result from the side effects of antidepressants to the brain, according to some research studies. These drugs have been shown to shrink a part of the brain that controls cognition and memory. This area is called the hippocampus.

The hippocampus is vital for long-term and short-term memory. It also plays an important role in learning, remembering, recognizing where you are and language. In Alzheimer’s disease the hippocampus is damaged. This damage causes disorientation and memory loss. Doesn’t it make sense to avoid anything that is shown to harm the hippocampus?

Neuroimaging Studies of the Hippocampus in Humans

In Drug Induced Dementia: A Perfect Crime, researcher Dr. Grace Jackson interpreted studies that used MRI technology to measure the brains of individuals on antidepressants. Each of the studies reported that individuals studied were taking antidepressants at the time of the study, but the original researchers did not address the role of drugs in their findings. Even though no neuroimaging studies have intentionally explored the role of antidepressants as inducers of hippocampus pathology, the data clearly points to a cause and effect relationship.

Study #1Hippocampal atrophy in recurrent major depression” (by Sheline et al 1996) used MRI to measure the hippocampus in 10 depressed females compared to 10 who were not depressed. The hippocampus was measured to be smaller in the depressed patients.

Study #2Depression Duration But Not Age Predicts Hippocampal Volume Loss in Medically Healthy Women with Recurrent Major Depression” (by Sheline et all 1999) used MRI to measure 24 females with a history of major depression. They were compared to 24 females with no history of depression. The depressed females had a 10% smaller hippocampus and 13% smaller amygdala than the non-drugged controls.

Study #3Hippocampal Volume Reduction in Major Depression” (by Bremmer et all 2000) also used MRI to compare 16 outpatients who were in remission from non-psychotic depression. All of the outpatients were taking antidepressants at the time of the study and had extensive histories of taking the drugs prior. The formerly depressed patients had 12 to 19% smaller hippocampus compared to the 16 controls with no history of major depression or taking antidepressants.

Study #4Course of illness, hippocampal function, and hippocampal volume in major depression” (by MacQueen et al 2003) published the results of their study of 17 recurrently depressed patients with 20 individuals who were experiencing a first episode of unipolar depression. All were matched to non-depressed controls. The 17 recurrently depressed patients had extensive histories of taking antidepressant drugs. The group of 20 had only recently started antidepressants. The MRI studies showed the hippocampus in the group of 20 was normal compared to the controls. In comparison, the hippocampus of the 17 formerly and extensively medicated subjects was 12% smaller than their respective controls.

The important point of all these studies is that people with a history of taking antidepressants have a smaller hippocampus than depressed people with no history of taking antidepressants. Since the hippocampus plays such a large role in dementia shouldn’t people on antidepressants be warned? Perhaps there is a way to help the brain to be healthier by helping it to detoxify the side effects of the antidepressant medicines. If you are wondering if you are experiencing antidepressant side effects then I invite you to schedule a free toxin evaluation in my office and find out. You can contact me on the form on the side or give me a call at 408.526.9423.

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