Taking an SSRI for depression and anxiety can be life-saving, but anti-depressants aren’t always as helpful as we would hope. Some people don’t find any relief at all, or try multiple types of drugs before finding one that works for them. Science Daily recently reported:
More than half of the 41 million Americans who take antidepressants do not fully respond. Add-on therapies are often prescribed to enhance the effects of the drugs in these patients, but they typically offer limited additional benefits and come with side effects (Source).
I first began taking the anti-depressant Sertraline (Zoloft) in August of 2012. My journey managing life with this drug over the past few years has taught me a thing or two. One of my favorite things to do is to write about and share the things I learn. My hope is always that reading one of my posts will change someone’s life for the better. Here are four tips for improving life on an SSRI.
**As always, none of this should be considered medical advice. These are things that have helped me, but none of them should replace the advice or care of a qualified mental health professional.**
1) EPA has super powers.
There were several times when I felt like I might need a higher dose of my medication. I only take 50 mg of Sertraline which is supposedly the lowest “effective” dose. However, my research had guided me to learn about high-EPA omega-3 supplements and their ability to help SSRIs do their job better. So rather than boosting my dose of chemicals, I opted to try boosting my dose of omega-3s. Psychology Today reports: “Even for ‘normal’ individuals, high dose EPA seems to make them happier and better able to handle stress.” A 2008 double-blind study examined EPA’s benefit alongside Prozac (Fluoxetine):
EPA and fluoxetine had equal therapeutic effects in major depressive disorder. EPA + fluoxetine combination was superior to either of them alone (Source).
I have found that combining a high-EPA supplement with my 50 mg of Sertraline has been perfect for me. During pregnancy I needed to double my EPA dose (from 500 mg EPA to 1000 mg) since pregnancy hormones and increased blood volume seemed to affect how my body processed my medication. Fortunately, after boosting my fish oil, I felt great again. The supplement I have been taking is called “Omega-3 Mood,” but there are lots of brands that produce high-EPA fish oil options.
2) Meet my friends, manganese and maca root.
I had heard that loss of libido was a common side effect for SSRI meds, but it wasn’t a problem for me… at first. As time went on, however, I watched my formerly robust libido fade away into oblivion. Until this week I didn’t ever think much about trying to counter-act this negative SSRI side effect. I just figured it was an unfortunate sacrifice for the greater good of my mental health and there was nothing I could do about it.
Then, a few nights ago, we had pine nuts in our dinner. And the next morning I slept-in late, walked into the kitchen, saw my husband coming toward me from across the room, and suddenly… holy cow… I was feeling things I hadn’t felt in years. I thought, what in the world just happened?! So I did a little digging and found that, sure enough, pine nuts have been used to boost libido since ancient times. Ha. It seems that they are one of nature’s highest sources of manganese, and manganese aids in the production of sex hormones. Hirani Medical Wellness Center reports:
One practitioner, who treated primarily psychiatric patients, observed that supplementation with manganese frequently improved libido and sexual performance in women (Source).
Too bad pine nuts are too expensive to be a staple. Manganese is a trace mineral that the body does need, but too much of the mineral can be toxic. “Abnormal concentrations of manganese in the brain, especially in the basal ganglia, are associated with neurological disorders similar to Parkinson’s disease” (Source). So it is probably not advisable for most people to take manganese as a supplement, unless directed by a doctor. But there are lots of excellent sources of manganese, particularly in nuts and seeds.
It seems to be more widely known that maca root may enhance libido. I can’t give any personal experience with maca (yet), but there was a study conducted specifically with women experiencing SSRI-induced sexual dysfunction. From the study’s conclusion:
Maca root may alleviate SSRI-induced sexual dysfunction, and there may be a dose-related effect. Maca may also have a beneficial effect on libido (Source).
I have also read that supplementing with zinc can boost libido, but my research also turned up a possible drug interaction with SSRIs and zinc, so I haven’t felt it was the best option to try.
3) Eat pumpkin pie for breakfast.
Ha. Kidding. But kind of not.
Over the past year, I have noticed the number on my bathroom scale climbing much higher than I wanted it to. Weight and body image problems were foreign to me before taking an SSRI. In the past I had always been thin, no matter what I ate or how much I ate. After Zoloft, I had to get used to a new curvier figure, and after a pregnancy on Zoloft I am heavier than I have ever been. Just last night my 5-year-old said to me (for the second time in the past week), “You look like you have a baby in your tummy, Mom.” And… my baby is 13 months old. :-( Weight gain on anti-depressants has been a problem for many of my family members. The meds seem to alter our metabolisms, perhaps permanently.
So last Thanksgiving, I was dreading the pounds that I expected would stick to me following our turkey feast. But the pies tasted so delicious, so I had a piece of each. And apparently I had baked too much pumpkin pie, ’cause we had pumpkin pie every day for nearly a week. But instead of adding pounds, I started dropping them. What? I was less bloated, my stomach was flatter, the number on my scale was lower, and my appetite seemed suppressed. Apparently the spices typically used in pumpkin pie recipes (cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice) can be weight loss aids. Score. I’ll admit I did eat pumpkin pie for breakfast a time or two last November.
I have also started periodically making an adapted recipe of yogi tea, containing many of the same spices as pumpkin pie in addition to others that aid in weight loss and overall health. I should probably do it more often.
Also… my mom says that eating dried smyrna figs every day helped her shed excess bloat and weight. I just ordered my first bag, so I’ll post an update if they seem to make a difference.
4) Take your medi[t]ation.
Just a couple of months ago, a research study was published investigating yoga, meditation, and breathing as add-on therapies for those who haven’t responded to anti-depressant medications. For 8-weeks, the study’s yoga group participated in yoga postures, sitting meditation, and stress education. Science Daily reported:
In a randomized, controlled pilot study . . . researchers found significant improvement in symptoms of depression and anxiety in medicated patients with major depressive disorder (MDD) who participated in the [yoga group] compared to medicated patients who did not partake (Source).
Medication can only take us so far. It’s not a cure-all. And if we want to feel happier, sometimes we have to introduce new healthy habits. Meditation saved me. Learning how to breathe changed me. They were so effective that I decided to become a Kundalini Yoga and meditation instructor so I could share with others the tools that had helped me so much. I’m happy to direct you to my favorite breathing exercises and meditations, if you’re interested.
What have you found helpful in boosting your mental health or dealing with SSRI side effects?