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More Concerns with Prozac and Other SSRIs

A psychiatrist who headed at team of researchers at Columbia University in New York City has found that young mice given Prozac grow into adult mice who display emotional problems, chiefly depression.

The results add to the growing unrest concerning the effect of Prozac and other SSRI-type antidepressants on young children, adolescents, and the embryos of pregnant women.

SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) such as Prozac, Paxil and many other antidepressants in this family are coming under increasing scrutiny as their long term effects are not known.

In the Columbia University experiment, young mice were injected with Prozac and given a series of behavioral tests after they had become mature adults. These tests were designed to measure their levels of anxiety and depression. Jay Gingrich, the psychiatrist heading the research, found that the injected mice exhibited signs of emotional problems compared to the control group who did not receive Prozac.

The comparable effect of SSRIs on unborn babies, children and young adults is unknown. “If they really need these drugs, people should take them. They can be life savers,” says Jay Gingrich. “But it is a bit alarming to find they might carry risks that aren’t apparent until later in life.”

Tim Oberlander, a developmental pediatrician at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, states: “It’s fascinating. It suggests these chemicals can cause crucial changes in the developing brain.”

SSRI-type antidepressants are now the most commonly prescribed antidepressant in first world countries. They work by increasing the level of serotonin in the brain and can be quite effective in the short-term treatment of depression. However, these drugs have attracted controversy. The drug giant GlaxoSmithKline has been accused of withholding information collected in clinical trials of the SSRI Paxil, which concluded that depressed children taking the drug experienced more suicidal thoughts than depressed children who were not taking the medication.

As more research is undertaken, SSRIs have also become the focus of concern in regard to usage by pregnant women. Tests such as the one described above have concluded that these drugs may cause subtle neurological changes in the developing fetus. Tim Oberlander found that babies exposed to SSRIs in the womb were less sensitive to pain, indicating the presence of faulty neurological connections in the brain of these newborns. They were also found to have altered sleeping patterns and a higher incidence of tremors, both further indicators of the in-utero effects of these drugs.


The conclusion of Gingrich’s and Oberlander’s work is that, while SSRIs can be used as an aid for depression in adults, it seems to trigger symptoms of depression in the young. “It suggests that the immature nervous system responds very differently than a mature one to the same drug.” Gingrich admits that pregnant women in particular face a dilemma over whether to take SSRIs. “It’s important to assess for each patient whether there are non-pharmacological ways of addressing these emotional problems, while we try to get a handle on what the risks really are.”


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