Prenatal exposure to SSRI antidepressants changes brain wiring, causes anxiety and depression in adults
by: Jonathan Benson
The dangers of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like Prozac and Lexapro are once again highlighted in a new study, which found that the use of these brain-altering drugs during pregnancy can have lasting and sometimes permanent effects on offspring, with mothers basically passing the drugs on to their unborn children.
Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), studied the effects of SSRIs on pregnant women, of whom about 15 percent in the U.S. are said to suffer from anxiety disorders and/or depression during their pregnancies. As a result, as many as 5 percent of all babies born in the U.S. annually, or about 200,000 babies, are exposed to antidepressants while in the womb.
The effects of this, as demonstrated by a mouse model that simulated antidepressant exposure during the third trimester of human pregnancy, were found to include permanent changes to a child's brain wiring. Many of the effects of this manifest as a child grows into adulthood, and often include anxiety and depression.
Based on the research, mice exposed to the SSRI Lexapro experienced "permanent changes" in serotonin neurotransmission, a process that regulates mood and cognition. Children exposed to this drug while in the womb basically grew into adults with altered brain states, a form of drug poisoning brought about by the mother's use of the drug during pregnancy.
Compared to mice that were given Prozac, another popular SSRI, those in the Lexapro group experienced changes that were more likely to result in reduced anxiety. But both drugs artificially block the actions of a protein known as the serotonin transporter, which alters serotonin levels in the spaces between neurons. The effects of this can vary depending on a person's unique chemical makeup.
"The mice exposed to Lexapro had permanent changes in serotonin neurotransmission and were less anxious as adults than the mice exposed to Prozac," explained Anne M. Andrews, a professor of psychiatry and chemistry and biochemistry at the Richard Metzner Endowed Chair in Clinical Neuropharmacology at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience & Human Behavior and California NanoSystems Institute.
While this might seem positive, it actually illustrates how the damaging effects of pharmaceuticals are passed on to future generations. Researchers can claim a possible reduction in anxiety later in life when a child's mother takes Lexapro during pregnancy as opposed to Prozac, but the takeaway is that both drugs induce permanent brain changes -- changes that could forever damage a child's ability to function normally.
"Current antidepressant therapies are ineffective in treating anxiety and depression in large numbers of patients, and advances in predicting individual responses are hindered by difficulties associated with characterizing complex influences of genetic and environmental factors on serotonergic transmission in humans," admits the study.
In other words, a one-size-fits-all drug approach to depression and anxiety, which is the current standard, fails to help most people for whom a more tailored approach based on their individual chemical compositions is required. And the consequences of this during pregnancy are directly passed on to future generations, which are chemically disadvantaged from the minute they exit the womb.
"Serotonin is the first neurotransmitter expressed in the developing embryo and it plays a crucial role in human brain formation," explains RxISK, highlighting numerous studies demonstrating neurodevelopmental damage, including autism, from SSRI use during pregnancy. "Serotonin has been shown to be essential for the growth and development of certain areas of the brain. It is involved in such basic processes as cell division, differentiation, migration, and synaptogenesis."
"In short, proper functioning of the serotonin system is essential for the brain to form and function normally."
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