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Originally published November 16 2010

Taking Antidepressants can Cause Weight Gain

by Fleur Hupston

(NaturalNews) Studies vary considerably when it comes to antidepressants, how they work and if they work. What is becoming clearer is the most likely reason why those who use antidepressants tend to put on weight.

SSRIs and SNRIs are routinely prescribed to millions of adults, adolescents and children for conditions as varied as depression, bed wetting, insomnia, alcohol addiction, back pain, premenstrual syndrome or simply as a "feel better" pill. There are side effects to taking antidepressant medication, including a tendency to gain weight.

Scientists, such as Dr. Carmine Pariante, a neuroendocrinologist based in London, are beginning to unravel the mystery of the role that cortisol plays in the brain when individuals take an antidepressant and how this, in turn, affects weight gain.

Antidepressants and Cortisol

When an antidepressant is ingested, the brain and body start to produce extra cortisol and adrenalin. These are stress hormones and it would seem that the brain releases more to combat what it recognizes as excessive serotonin levels. A single 30mg dose of SSRI or SNRI, given to someone who has never taken this medication before, will double his or her cortisol levels.

With raised levels of cortisol and adrenalin surging through the body, depressed individuals get a boost, giving them a feeling of euphoria. SSRI antidepressants produce a non-depressed state in patients, a state which does not last forever.

Continually raised cortisol levels can trigger health problems: such as fat gain, high blood sugar, memory loss and less bone density. Worse still, high cortisol levels are linked to brain damage and the possibility of developing a disease called Crushing's Syndrome, a hormone disorder that can cause an individual to develop insulin resistance and diabetes.

If one takes serotonin-boosting antidepressants over a long period of time, eventually the body's adrenal glands can lose their efficiency and burnout, a condition known as adrenal fatigue.

The amount of cortisol secreted in response to stress varies. Studies show that people who react to stress with high levels of cortisol secretion also tend to eat more, resulting in weight gain.

Studies published by Dr. Elissa Epel, University of California, San Francisco, show that stressed people have higher levels of cortisol, increased appetite and accumulation of fat in the stomach area.

There are many natural alternatives to taking antidepressants; perhaps the simplest is to exercise regularly. Studies show that 30 minutes of moderate to strenuous exercise per day is eight times more effective at lifting depression than taking antidepressants, with all the benefits to overall health that go with it.


Haitham S Nadeem, Mary-Jane Attenburrow and Phillip J Cowen. Comparison of the Effects of Citalopram and Escitalopram on 5Ht-Meditated Neuroendocrine Responses, Neuropsycholopharmacology (2004) 29, 1699-1703, May 2004

EpelEs. Stress and Boody Shape: Stress-induced cortosol secretion is consistently greater among women with central fat. Psychosom Med 2000;62(5):623-32

About the author

Fleur Hupston is a professional freelance writer. She is passionate about natural, healthy living and is currently studying to be a naturopath. She divides her time between writing for Natural News and various other sites, home schooling her children and studying part time.

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