About two years ago a team of researchers took a closer look at all the studies done on anti-depressants. It required some serious digging because the drug companies had not published more than half the studies with negative results. Not surprisingly, they had published 37 out of the 38 studies with positive results while burying the negative studies.

This is a stunning finding since scientific research is based on an ethical code of objectivity. In order to insure that results are unbiased there are rigorous guidelines as to how a research study should be conducted. However it is not legally required that a drug company publish all their results. We might want to remember this the next time Big Pharma tries to convince us to buy their products.

So the drug companies didn’t publish the majority of their negative studies and guess what? Anti-depressants were presumed to be effective. What researchers found when they looked at all the studies, some of which they obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, is that antidepressants were only about 10 percent better than placebo, and mostly with severely depressed patients. These results were pretty much ignored by physicians as over the next year about 30 million prescriptions worth about 10 billion dollars were administered.

Last month the Journal of the American Medical Association published a follow up study and again confirmed that anti-depressants were no better than placebo for the greater majority of patients. They were effective for only the severely depressed. Many people have a hard time believing this research but it is not that surprising. On the clinical level it has been known for a long time that anti-depressants get about 50 percent of patients about 50 percent better.

Anti-depressants are presumed to increase neurotransmitter levels. However this is not true. They merely “recycle more efficiently” pre-existing neurotransmitter levels. This explains why a number of patients initially feel better, but then relapse. They may be switched to another anti-depressant which helps for a period of time, but then stops again. Often the patient tries to get off the antidepressant and feel worse than when they started. That is because their body has even less neurotransmitters now then at the onset of depression. The problem is that these drugs don’t feed the body what it needs to make more neurotransmitters, which leads to depletion.

Natural medicine is based on the premise that when the body is given the ingredients it needs, through food and natural supplements, it will produce health. In the case of depression the body needs the raw materials to produce neurotransmitter, which includes amino acids, vitamins, and mineral cofactors. This has been shown to be effective and seem to be a better approach for those who find their antidepressant is not working.

The other important part of this study is not to underestimate the power of the “placebo” effect. Placebo is Latin for “I please you”. It means that an inert substance was shown to treat depression. The placebo effect however is real. Patients weren’t depressed anymore, which is what they wanted, even though they weren’t given anything other than the information that they would get better. This might be shown to be one more corollary of natural healing. When people are fed positive expectations with positive, caring experiences, the body will also produce health. My suspicion is if the drug companies could patent love and caring that there would be a whole lot more research into the effectiveness of the “placebo” effect.

There are several caveats. Even by these rigorous studies it seems that antidepressants are appropriate for severe depression, which affects about 2 million people. This article does not mean everyone should stop their antidepressants. First is because the drug might actually be working for you and second is because suddenly stopping an antidepressant can leave you worse off than when you started the drug. Stopping an antidepressant should only be done under the supervision of the physician who prescribed it.