An Extraordinary Discovery About Depression
A close friend of mine who has suffered from depression and anxiety for more than a decade recently decided to quit his medications because he became convinced they weren’t working. He had gone through a litany of different antidepressants, but each new one seemed not to work and often came with irksome side effects like dizziness.
He consulted with some knowledgeable friends and decided to see what would happen if he went off the medicines. His physician and his psychiatrist strongly disagreed with his decision. They were apparently fearful he would cascade into a deep depression and even might commit suicide. But he was determined. I agreed to act as a monitor of his moods, and if he appeared to be going downhill, I would sound the alarm.
I am pleased to report that he is far happier and in a much better mood most of the time since going off the medications — which was carefully guided by his physician, because one cannot just quit such prescriptions overnight. He says that when he does feel depressed now that it is different — milder and not as disturbing. Other friends have noted a positive difference in his day-to-day moods.
A study of one person is not scientific or meaningful, but I was struck by a line in a response to a recent study about the genetic basis for MDD, or major depressive disorder, that was published a few weeks ago in the journal Nature. Patrick F. Sullivan, a member of the faculty of the School of Medicine at the University of North Carolina, wrote that depression has proven itself difficult to understand: “Despite decades of research, there is little certainty about its biological basis, in part because genetic clues to its etiology have been hard to find.”
The implication in that statement to me is that although we know there is efficacy for some people when taking antidepressant drugs, they are not based on a biological understanding of depression, and therefore can be tricky. Among other things, researchers have long wondered exactly how much these drugs rewire the brain when taken for long periods of time.
The study published in Nature was of more than 10,000 women in China with MDD. The key findings were the discovery of two genes on chromosome 10 that when mutated are implicated in MDD. We know that MDD can run in families and that there is an obvious genetic basis to depression. But no one has ever found a biological connection like this as a possible cause of depression.
The findings do not mean that all depression is from genetic causes. But it means that there is a pathway to the brain for some people that can be exploited for medicines to block the enzymes that are signaled to be produced by these genes. Once, we did not know that all cancers involve genetic variations. The same could be true of depression. More studies are needed, but this is a big clue connecting biology to depression that we have never known about.
To your health and wealth,
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