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Do Antidepressants Work For You? Brain Waves May Predict

Do Antidepressants Work For You? Brain Waves May Predict

For almost half a century, patients suffering from severe depressive and anxiety disorders have relied on antidepressants for relief. But to any depression sufferer, finding the right medication is the hardest part of drug therapy. Not every drug works the same and figuring out what prescription interacts correctly with the body can take months to years.

The study

Luckily, we’re in 2016, a year in which psychopharmacology has advanced dramatically – and this notion echoes with antidepressants. A new study published in the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA aimed to predict whether or not an antidepressant would work in the long term.

According to Dr. Andrew Leuchter, the lead author of the study, researchers were able to predict the outcome of the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressant drug Lexapro, using brain wave recordings. Additionally, researchers were able to analyze electroencephalogram recordings to foresee if recovery or relapse from depressive episodes were to occur.

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“Knowing whether a medication is going to work could eliminate weeks of waiting for the patient, and get them on effective treatment more quickly,” Dr. Leuchter said.

Lexapro, like other antidepressants, works by increasing the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is responsible for mood, energy, and behavior. However, serotonin is also able to stabilize slow and fast brain waves caused by a chemical reaction.

In the study, researchers gathered data from 194 clinically depressed patients, aged 18 to 70 years old. Participants were broken down into three groups: two comprised of 70 and 76 patients, each treated with Lexapro for seven weeks, and the third group of 48 patients treated with a placebo.

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“The researchers tested whether brain wave recordings in the first week of treatment would show that the antidepressant (as compared with a placebo) corrected the frequency imbalance – and predict a beneficial effect of medication on an individual’s depression after seven weeks of treatment,” UCLA researchers stated.

Before taking any drugs, all patients received an electroencephalogram and a second one after they completed one full week of treatment or placebo. It was immediately obvious that after only one week of therapy with Lexapro, brain wave recordings began having a distinct pattern compared to patients who took a placebo.

The findings

After reviewing numerous brain wave recordings, Dr. Leuchter became convinced that something important was discovered.

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“Our biomarker selectively predicted remission with medication, but not placebo. This confirmed that we can differentiate a true, specific response to a drug from a non-specific placebo response. To our knowledge, this is the first time that a biomarker that differentiates placebo remission from drug remission has been reported,” researchers concluded.

Although researchers struck gold by testing Lexapro, more antidepressant drugs are expected to receive new clinical trials, but this time, utilizing brain wave recordings. Researchers hope to improve wait time and save money for patients receiving drug therapy. The testing continues.

10 Fast Facts About Antidepressants

Before taking antidepressants, there are important facts you should know. According to clinical psychologists, if patients would’ve been notified about these deadly risks, the death toll associated with antidepressants would be significantly lower.

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1. Do NOT take antidepressants if you’ve taken MAOIs (another class of antidepressants). You MUST wait at least 14 days.
2. Antidepressants may increase the risk of suicidal thoughts.
3. Some antidepressant drugs may cause significant weight gain.
4. The full therapeutic benefit of antidepressants can take up to 6 weeks.
5. Do NOT abruptly discontinue antidepressants without advising your doctor.
6. NEVER mix antidepressant drugs with the opioid painkiller Tramadol.
7. Although few antidepressants can treat sexual disorders, others can cause sexual dysfunction.
8. If you have a sudden high fever and see hallucinations, get medical attention right away – you may have Serotonin Syndrome.
9. You should NEVER mix your antidepressant medication with other antidepressants.
10. If one drug does not work for you, don’t stress, there are plenty others to try.

Featured photo credit: Lea Suzuki via sfgate.com

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Jose Florez

Mental Health Writer

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Last Updated on September 10, 2018

Overcoming The Pain Of A Breakup: 3 Suggestions Based On Science

Overcoming The Pain Of A Breakup: 3 Suggestions Based On Science

We thought that the expression ‘broken heart’ was just a metaphor, but science is telling us that it is not: breakups and rejections do cause physical pain. When a group of psychologists asked research participants to look at images of their ex-partners who broke up with them, researchers found that the same brain areas that are activated by physical pain are also activated by looking at images of ex-partners. Looking at images of our ex is a painful experience, literally.[1].

Given that the effect of rejections and breakups is the same as the effect of physical pain, scientists have speculated on whether the practices that reduce physical pain could be used to reduce the emotional pain that follows from breakups and rejections. In a study on whether painkillers reduce the emotional pain caused by a breakup, researchers found that painkillers did help. Individuals who took painkillers were better able to deal with their breakup. Tamar Cohen wrote that “A simple dose of paracetamol could help ease the pain of a broken heart.”[2]

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Just like painkillers can be used to ease the pain of a broken heart, other practices that ease physical pain can also be used to ease the pain of rejections and breakups. Three of these scientifically validated practices are presented in this article.

Looking at images of loved ones

While images of ex-partners stimulate the pain neuro-circuitry in our brain, images of loved ones activate a different circuitry. Looking at images of people who care about us increases the release of oxytocin in our body. Oxytocin, or the “cuddle hormone,” is the hormone that our body relies on to induce in us a soothing feeling of tranquility, even when we are under high stress and pain.

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In fact, oxytocin was found to have a crucial role as a mother is giving birth to her baby. Despite the extreme pain that a mother has to endure during delivery, the high level of oxytocin secreted by her body transforms pain into pleasure. Mariem Melainine notes that, “Oxytocin levels are usually at their peak during delivery, which promotes a sense of euphoria in the mother and helps her develop a stronger bond with her baby.”[3]

Whenever you feel tempted to look at images of your ex-partner, log into your Facebook page and start browsing images of your loved ones. As Eva Ritvo, M.D. notes, “Facebook fools our brain into believing that loved ones surround us, which historically was essential to our survival. The human brain, because it evolved thousands of years before photography, fails on many levels to recognize the difference between pictures and people”[4]

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Exercise

Endorphins are neurotransmitters that reduce our perception of pain. When our body is high on endorphins, painful sensations are kept outside of conscious awareness. It was found that exercise causes endorphins to be secreted in the brain and as a result produce a feeling of power, as psychologist Alex Korb noted in his book: “Exercise causes your brain to release endorphins, neurotransmitters that act on your neurons like opiates (such as morphine or Vicodin) by sending a neural signal to reduce pain and provide anxiety relief.”[5] By inhibiting pain from being transmitted to our brain, exercise acts as a powerful antidote to the pain caused by rejections and breakups.

Meditation

Jon Kabat Zinn, a doctor who pioneered the use of mindfulness meditation therapy for patients with chronic pain, has argued that it is not pain itself that is harmful to our mental health, rather, it is the way we react to pain. When we react to pain with irritation, frustration, and self-pity, more pain is generated, and we enter a never ending spiral of painful thoughts and sensations.

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In order to disrupt the domino effect caused by reacting to pain with pain, Kabat Zinn and other proponents of mindfulness meditation therapy have suggested reacting to pain through nonjudgmental contemplation and acceptance. By practicing meditation on a daily basis and getting used to the habit of paying attention to the sensations generated by our body (including the painful ones and by observing these sensations nonjudgmentally and with compassion) our brain develops the habit of reacting to pain with grace and patience.

When you find yourself thinking about a recent breakup or a recent rejection, close your eyes and pay attention to the sensations produced by your body. Take deep breaths and as you are feeling the sensations produced by your body, distance yourself from them, and observe them without judgment and with compassion. If your brain starts wandering and gets distracted, gently bring back your compassionate nonjudgmental attention to your body. Try to do this exercise for one minute and gradually increase its duration.

With consistent practice, nonjudgmental acceptance will become our default reaction to breakups, rejections, and other disappointments that we experience in life. Every rejection and every breakup teaches us great lessons about relationships and about ourselves.

Featured photo credit: condesign via pixabay.com

Reference

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