Although it has been known that antidepressants lead to changes in neural structures in the brain, a recent study has shown them to be much more potent in this regard. A new study on escitalopram, (also known as Lexapro), a commonly prescribed serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), found major changes in the brain in just three hours. SSRIs were previously believed to alter connectivity between various networks in the brain over the course of several months, shocking the researchers by creating lasting changes almost instantaneously with a single dose.
Published in the journal Current Biology, the members of the test group (who had never taken antidepressants before or any other prescription medications) were subjected to a brain scanner that measured the oxygen levels of blood flow to the brain for 15 minutes. The researchers analyzed the three dimensional images of each individual’s brain, measuring the number of connections between small blocks of information known as voxels (a three dimensional version of pixels) as well as the changes induced by the antidepressants themselves.
“We were not expecting the SSRI to have such a prominent effect on such a short timescale or for the resulting signal to encompass the entire brain,” said Julia Sacher, M.D., Ph.D., of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences.
The researchers found that the single dose of escitalopram reduced the level of connectivity in most regions of the brain, increasing them only in the cerebellum and thalamus, areas responsible for motor control and sensory perception, respectively. The results of this study have many applications for the future of depression treatment, with the researchers planning on comparing the connectivity between brains in recovery and those who fail to respond after weeks of antidepressant treatment in their next studies.
A small step in optimizing treatment
The results of this study shed some light on the differences between those that respond well to SSRIs and those that find them ineffective or inducing of suicidal thoughts. For many people, antidepressants are simply ineffective, being supported by studies that have shown antidepressants to be barely more efficacious than a placebo, according to the Hamilton depression scale (some tests showed as little as a two point change in results from the 51 point scale).
Considering that antidepressants’ mechanisms of action are currently unknown, there have been no studies as of yet to determine why exactly some people are more responsive to them than others. One possible reason could be due to differences in neuroplasticity and the person’s attitude. People who are more prone to negative thinking would seem to be more susceptible to depression, since the increased amounts of serotonin would be less likely to induce a positive mood. For people who are more positive in nature, the increased serotonin would be more likely to prompt an elevation in mood since they are not weighed down by habitual negative thought patterns. It is also possible that the negative people’s thoughts would alter the changes in neural structures caused by the antidepressants, overriding their effects and returning their mind to its default, negative state.
At Sovereign Health, we employ a host of brain scanning techniques and cognitive testing to determine changes in neural structure induced by substance abuse and their often accompanying mental disorders. We personally tailor our treatment plans by providing the most optimal forms of psychotherapy for each particular case, ensuring that we treat the patient and not the person.
In addition to holistic approaches to brain wellness such as NAD/NTR rapid detox (an all natural process using B vitamins to reduce withdrawal symptoms and the recovery process), we offer alternative therapeutic activities such as yoga, meditation and equine therapy as well. If you would like more information about brain health or antidepressants, feel free to browse the treatment programs section of our site.
Written by Sovereign Health Group writer, Chase Beckwith