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Do Antidepressants Affect Gut Health?

Written by Dr. Group, DC Founder
Individuals who take antidepressants suffer from gastrointestinal issues that affect their overall gut health.

Antidepressants are a controversial class of prescription medicine used to treat or prevent clinical depression. An estimated 30 million Americans are currently taking antidepressants. The use of these drugs has skyrocketed over the last 15 years, likely due to increased marketing and social acceptance of depression and psychoactive pharmaceuticals.[1]

Antidepressant use comes with severe side effects for about 40% of the people taking them.[2] These may include sexual side effects, weight gain, headaches, joint pain, muscle aches, nausea, skin rashes, diarrhea, sleep disturbance, daytime sleepiness, nightmares, or sleepwalking. The good news is that you don’t necessarily have to rely on pharmaceuticals to feel like yourself again. In terms of efficacy, aerobic exercise is comparable to both talk therapy and drug therapy for depression.[3] Surprisingly, antidepressants may actually be less effective for addressing mild depression than many people believe.

How Antidepressants Work

Antidepressants alter your brain chemistry. They increase the levels of some neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and noradrenaline, and affect mood and emotions.[3] While antidepressants may treat the symptoms of depression, they do not fully address the root cause of mental health issues. That’s why they’re usually used in conjunction with other therapies or types of treatment. We’re not at the point where you can just take a pill and be happy; brain chemistry is a complicated, nuanced tangle of reactions.[4]

What Does Mental Wellness Mean?

Often chalked up as just a “chemical imbalance in the brain”, clinical depression is a multifaceted disorder. Many factors influence the development, treatment, and severity. Genetics, season, environment, circadian rhythms, trauma, stress, and dozens of other factors can all contribute to clinical depression.[5]

In fact, some medications and medical conditions have been connected to mood disorders like depression. The list of associated medical conditions is long: thyroid hormone imbalances, heart disease, neurological conditions, stroke, nutritional deficiencies, endocrine disorders, lupus, hepatitis, HIV, cancer, and even erectile dysfunction. Two of the most infamous offenders are hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism. An overactive thyroid may trigger manic episodes, while an underactive thyroid may cause depressive symptoms.[4] Regardless, both can affect the body’s normal physiological processes in a way that may lead to depression.[5]

Curiously, recent research confirms the connection between the gut and brain chemistry. It turns out that some of the friendly microorganisms that live in the gut – the microbiota – affect serotonin, which directly affect mood.[6] What’s happening in the gut is directly tied to many aspects of behavioral health.

So, what does this have to do with antidepressants?

Uncovering the Missing Link

As said, antidepressants are designed to alter brain chemistry, but the brain follows very specific patterns and pathways, and pharmaceuticals can have unintended and unexpected results. Since the brain and gut work closely together, altering brain chemistry cannot help but affect gut health.[7] In fact, 95 percent of the body’s serotonin is found in the gut. Because antidepressant drugs (SSRIs) affect serotonin levels, these medications can cause significant chemical changes in the gastrointestinal tract.[8] The effect is so strong that antidepressants are often prescribed over very short durations to treat gastric conditions like irritable bowel syndrome,[9] although ineffectively.[10]

Promoting sustainable wellness doesn’t have to disturb the body’s natural physiological processes. Your body has a unique ability to take care of itself, you just have to give it the right tools. We believe that the best way to accomplish this is with proper nutrition and regular cleansing.

Natural Approaches to Mental Wellness

Aerobic exercise, such as walking or jogging, seems to have significant positive effects on mood.[11] According to a 2012 meta-analysis of depression and exercise studies, as little as three 30-45 minute sessions per week can be sufficient to reduce depression. And just 90 minutes per week could be enough to dramatically reduce the risk of depression relapse.[3]

In the long run, you should do your best to address the underlying causes of mental unrest and activate your body’s self-healing mechanisms. An integrated approach that encompasses lifestyle, nutritional support, exercise, environment, and cleansing can support complete wellness. Some nutrients offer nutritional support for the brain and I’ve formulated Stress Relief, a brain and mood supplement designed to support normal brain function, happiness, focus, and mental clarity.

References (11)
  1. Calderone, Julia. “The Rise of All-Purpose Antidepressants.” (2016): n.pag. Web. 14 Sept. 2016.
  2. Cascade, Elisa, Amir H. Kalali, and Sidney H. Kennedy. “Real-World Data on SSRI Antidepressant Side Effects.” 6.2 (2009): n.pag. Web. 14 Sept. 2016.
  3. James A. Blumenthal, Patrick J. Smith, Benson M. Hoffman. Is Exercise a Viable Treatment for Depression. ACSMs Health Fitness J. 2013 July 1.
  4. Antidepressants. NHS Choices.
  5. What Causes Depression. Harvard Health Publications.
  6. Evrensel, Alper, and Mehmet Emin Ceylan. “The Gut-Brain Axis: The Missing Link in Depression.” 13.3 (2015): n.pag. Web. 14 Sept. 2016.
  7. Dr. Siri Carpenter. That Gut Feeling. American Psychological Association. September 2012, Vol 43, No. 8.
  8. Anthony L. Komaroff. The Gut-Brain Connection. Harvard Health Letter. March 2012.
  9. Gorard DA, Libby GW, Farthing MI. Influence of antidepressants on whole gut and orocaecal transit times in health and irritable bowel syndrome. Ailment Pharmacol. Ther. 1994 Apr;8(2):159-66.
  10. Antonina A Mikocka-Walus, Deborah A Turnbull, Nicole T Moulding, Ian G Wilson, Jane M Andrews, Gerald J Holtmann. Antidepressants and inflammatory bowel disease: a systematic review. Clin Pract Epidemiol Ment Health. 2006; 2: 24.
  11. Cooney, Gary M, et al. “Exercise for Depression.” Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (1996): n.pag. Web.

†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.


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