Depression study finds ‘chemical’ cause of illness ‘is not scientifically proven’

There is no clear evidence that depression is caused by low levels of serotonin, researchers said when questioning the widespread use of antidepressants.

The new review of existing studies found the condition is unlikely to be caused by a chemical imbalance and said people should be made aware of other options for treating depression.

However, other experts, including the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP), urged people not to stop their medication in light of the results, arguing that antidepressants were effective.

In the new study, researchers from University College London (UCL) said 85% to 90% of the public believe depression is caused by low levels of serotonin, or a chemical imbalance.

Most antidepressants are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and were originally intended to work by correcting abnormally low levels of serotonin.

Lead author Joanna Moncrieff – Professor of Psychiatry at UCL – said: “I think we can say with certainty that after a large body of research carried out over several decades, there is no convincing evidence that depression is caused by Serotonin abnormalities are caused, specifically by lower levels or reduced activity of serotonin.

“The popularity of the ‘chemical imbalance’ theory of depression has coincided with a tremendous increase in antidepressant use…

“Thousands of people suffer from the side effects of antidepressants, including the severe withdrawal symptoms that can occur when people try to stop taking them, yet prescription rates continue to rise.

“We believe this situation is partly due to the mistaken belief that depression is due to a chemical imbalance.

“It is high time the public was informed that this belief is not based on scientific knowledge.”

The review looked at studies involving tens of thousands of people. One of the findings was that research comparing levels of serotonin and its breakdown products in the blood or brain fluid found no difference between people diagnosed with depression and healthy people.

The authors also reviewed studies in which serotonin levels were artificially lowered in hundreds of people and concluded that lowering serotonin levels in this way did not induce depression in hundreds of healthy volunteers. Depression study finds ‘chemical’ cause of illness ‘is not scientifically proven’

Fry Electronics Team

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