Zoloft Side Effects:

Common Antidepressants May Affect Imune System

By Dr. Ben Kim
DrBenKim.com

According to scientists at Georgetown University Medical Center and at Robarts Research Institute in Canada, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants such as Prozac, Paxil, and Zoloft may have a significant effect on the immune system.

This contention is based on the recent discovery that serotonin is exchanged between important cells in the immune system, and is specifically used to trigger an immune reaction in response to various stimuli.

Serotonin is a chemical that is transmitted between cells in the brain. It is associated with feelings of pleasure, mood, and appetite.

SSRI drugs like Paxil and Prozac are antidepressants that are designed to keep serotonin within the stimulating regions between cells in the brain, which is intended to enhance serotonin's positive effects.

Since SSRI antidepressants have a direct impact on serotonin, it stands to reason that these drugs have some effect on the immune system.

As more is discovered about what serotonin does in the immune system, the specific impact that SSRI drugs have on immune function should become more clear.

Cells in the brain communicate mainly through chemicals, also known as neurotransmitters.

The immune system is different from the nervous system in that it communicates mainly through physical contact. Various cells in the immune system grab a hold of foreign invaders and present these invaders to white blood cells called T-cells. This enables T-cells to reproduce in large numbers and trigger an immune response that is aimed at ridding the body of the foreign invader(s) in question.

What scientists at Georgetown University Medical Center and Robarts Research Institute found is that the most prominent type of cell - called the dendritic cell - that presents invaders to T-cells can quickly release serotonin, which is thought to facilitate the T-cell response to foreign invaders.

In the words of one of the scientists involved with this contention,

"Drugs that block serotonin reuptake likely change some of the parameters of T-cell activation, but we don't know yet if it enhances or inhibits the total immune response. But it is something that should be explored because we really have no idea what SSRIs are doing to people's immune systems."

In other words, SSRI drugs, like all other drugs, are not smart enough to effect just one part of human physiology.

Some people would rephrase this to say that all drugs have side effects.

I would say that all drugs have multiple effects.

The term side effects is a crafty phrase that has entered our vernacular as a way of camouflaging the truth that all drugs have multiple effects on the body at all times.

It this light, it is inaccurate to say that Paxil's main effect is to decrease a tendency to feel depressed, while a possible side effect is immune dysfunction.

It is most accurate to say that Paxil and other SSRI drugs have multiple effects on human physiology, one being mood regulation, and another being altered immune function.

For me, the take home message from the study referenced above is that people should be acutely aware of all of the potential effects of antidepressants before using them for the short or long term.

Although my approach to addressing depression through natural means is beyond the scope of this article, here are a few of the essential recommendations that I share with people who ask me for help with depression:

  • Ensure daily intake of a reliable source of EPA and DHA (I use and recommend cod liver oil)
  • Whenever possible, get some exposure to sunlight without getting burned
  • Engage in some form of exercise each day
  • Discover a purpose for your life that goes beyond your own immediate wants and needs
  • Learn how to be a good friend, how to recognize a good friend, and how to keep a good friend (if you want guidance on how to do these three things, I know of no better resource than The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey)

(Editor's note: Discover how frequently these drugs are prescribed and why so many people pop them like candy in the article Chemical Imbalances and Drug Dealers.)

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