Do Antidepressants Protect The Brain and Neurons From Damage Caused by Depression and Stress
I have mentioned in many of my articles that the newer antidepressants have been shown in studies to protect the brain from damage and loss of neurons. They have a positive effect of reducing the loss of volume in the area of the brain known as the hippocampus. In short the SSRIs have been shown to cause the stem cells in the hippocampus to mature into adult brain cells and replace the damaged cells. This study shows hope for the future in new and better antidepressants and maybe even reversing memory loss. Other medications are also being tested for use in treating depression and bipolar disorder that also have a mechanism that replaces the synapses in the brain that have been damaged by stress. One drug that is fast acting and accomplishes this is ketamine.
Intuitively we know that most bodily illnesses have a deleterious effect on our physiology if left untreated, and mental illness is no different since we are dealing with a physical illness (in many if not most cases). With mental illness, the physiological or genetic issues are an issue of the brain’s inability to produce the balance of neurotransmitters. This study about depression and the hippocampus concluded that certain antidepressants might assist in the reduction of neuron loss due to the destruction done by stress and depression through neuorgenesis or the process of transforming stem cells into adult hippocampal cells. Studies have shown that in many cases aging alone will cause the protective sheathing around the nerve to dissipate, and hippocampal volume loss which one of the reasons why our memories wane as we age.
A Study in 2003 on the Loss of Volume in the Hippocampal Region of the Brain and Antidepressants
following is an excerpt from one such study:
The purpose of this study was to investigate the effect of antidepressant treatment on hippocampus volumes in patients with major depression. For 38 female outpatients the total time each had been in a depressive episode was divided into days during which the patient was receiving antidepressant medication and days during which no antidepressant treatment was received. Hippocampal gray matter volumes were determined by high resolution magnetic resonance imaging and unbiased stereo-logical measurement. Longer durations during which depressive episodes went untreated with antidepressant medication were associated with reductions in hippocampal volume. There was no significant relationship between hippocampal volume loss and time depressed while taking antidepressant medication or with lifetime exposure to antidepressants. The conclusions were that antidepressants may have a neuro-protective effect during depression. Read the complete study regarding Depression and Hippocampal Volume Loss.
An Article in the Psychiatric News November 2011 and the Science Daily April 2011 cites a study that was conducted at King’s College in London which demonstrated that the presence of antidepressants in the brain activate the birth of new neurons in the hippocampus. In short the antidepressants exert their effects through the glucocoricoid receptors which stimulate nerve generation. The antidepressants activate the glucocorticoid receptors, and these receptors increase the synthesis of the genes that increase neurogenesis. The article also quoted an expert in this field from Columbia University Maura Bold-rini M.D., PhD as saying “Stress is known to reduce hippocampal neurogenesis throughout species…Antidepressants have shown a significant role in reversing the negative effects of stress on neurogenesis.” Therefore this study vindicates the original study conducted in 2003 by Yvette I. Sheline, M.D.; Mokhtar H. Gado, M.D.; Helena C. Kraemer, Ph.D.
Antidepressants May Assist in Restoring Memory and Replacing Damaged Brain Cells
What does all of this mean? If you are suffering from depression, or anxiety, if left on treated you may run the risk of brain damage, and possibly early onset memory loss. These studies also open the door for more investigation as to how the antidepressants affect the genes in the brain, will open the gate for new research, and maybe change the direction of treating or even curing depression in the future. These studies show promise because the show how the SSRIs turn the immature stem cells into adult brain cells and “might” replace all of the damaged memory loss caused by stress…in the future. Read the full article on this latest research of SSRIs and hippocampal neurogenesis