Posted by Deborah Pujoue on December 26, 2011
With the constant stream of research being conducted with intentions of either proving or disproving the risk-to-benefit ratio of common antidepressant medications, there is only one type that seems get my attention, and that is the research that shows that antidepressants like Zoloft and Prozac don’t work any better than placebos at relieving depression symptoms. Let me explain more fully.
In a new study, researchers decided to re-analyze results from a 2002 clinical trial that compared Zoloft to the herbal depression treatment St. John’s Wort. This study also compared the antidepressant to a placebo. The original study collected data from 340 people who were diagnosed with moderate depression, and found that neither the Zoloft nor the St. John’s Wort worked any better than the placebo at relieving depression symptoms. This was after each drug was taken for six months.
This new study collected data differently. For this one, researchers asked the patients who were under the impression that they were getting the real treatment if they were getting better, and they asked patients that thought they were taking placebos how they felt as well. For their study, the researchers kept the patients “in the dark” about whether or not if they were being given the antidepressant, the herb or the placebo. After eight weeks passed, the participants in the study were directly asked which “medication” they thought they were given. As it turns out, the people who thought they were given antidepressants or St. John’s Wort reported more instances of improvement than those who thought they were taking the placebo.
According to an article posted online by MSNBC.com, “of 71 patients who guessed they were using sertraline, a little more than half were treatment ‘responders’ at week eight — meaning they’d had at least a 50 percent reduction in their score on a standard measure of depression symptoms.”
The people who believed they were taking the St. John’s Wort did even better, in that 68 percent of those 90 patients were considered “treatment responders.” For those patients who guessed correctly that they were taking the herbal treatment, 80 percent of them responded to it. However, the placebo patients only responded with a 24 percent response to treatment.
While Dr. Justin Chen of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston doesn’t think that this proves beliefs alter patient’s responses to depression treatment, he did say that “In this study, patients’ beliefs regarding treatment appeared stronger than the actual treatment received.” Chen goes on to state, “I do not think the placebo effect is the whole story.”
Studies have shown that patients taking various antidepressants do not fare any better than patients taking placebos. Some doctors even suggest that it’s all a “mind over meds” reaction when it comes to treating depression. One thing that is known is that antidepressants like Zoloft and Prozac cause birth defects in babies whose mother take the drugs during pregnancy. Condition like cleft palate, PPHN and neural tube defects can certainly make these new studies on the placebo effect more important than ever. So one wonders, why take these meds when your healing may all take place in your mind, anyway?