Antidepressants May Increase Diabetes Risk

Antidepressants May Increase Diabetes RiskAntidepressants are designed to diminish the effects of major depression or other diagnosed depressive illnesses. While these medications have a common goal, they vary considerably in their chemical actions and potential side effects. In a large-scale study review published in October 2013 in the American Diabetes Association journal Diabetes Care, a team of British researchers examined the potential for antidepressant use to increase an individual’s chances of developing a form of diabetes called type 2 diabetes. The members of this team found that antidepressants appear to pose an independent risk for the onset of type 2 diabetes, separate from all other established factors.

Antidepressant Basics

All antidepressants achieve their mood-related effects by altering one or more aspect of the brain’s chemical environment. The specific methods used to make these alterations depend upon the type or class of medication in question. In order of general popularity among physicians, commonly prescribed antidepressant classes include SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), SNRIs (serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors), atypical antidepressants, tricyclic antidepressants, tetracyclic antidepressants and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). Each of these broad classes contains multiple medications that differ from one another in their precise chemical actions, and also carries a certain level of risk for unwanted or dangerous side effects. Some people who take antidepressants respond well to the effects of the first medication prescribed by their doctors. Others don’t respond well to the first medication they use and must try additional options. Still other individuals don’t respond well to multiple antidepressants and must work with their doctors to find suitable treatment alternatives.

Type 2 Diabetes Basics

People affected by type 2 diabetes have muscle, liver and fat cells that don’t react properly to the presence of a hormone called insulin. Normally, insulin “tells” these cells to pull a simple sugar called glucose from the bloodstream and use that glucose as an energy source. When the cells don’t respond to insulin’s signals, glucose accumulates in the blood and eventually triggers damage in several critical body systems. Most people affected by type 2 diabetes are overweight or obese; however, the condition can also occur in normal weight or underweight individuals. Most type 2 diabetics can limit their health risks by making appropriate lifestyle changes and taking prescribed diabetes medications. Known potential long-term complications of improperly controlled cases of the disorder include nerve damage, severe foot infections, foot amputation, kidney damage, cardiovascular disease and partial or blindness.

Current Findings

In the study review published in Diabetes Care, researchers from Great Britain’s University of Southampton examined the potential connections between antidepressants and type 2 diabetes risks by assessing the findings of 22 previous studies, as well as three previously conducted large-scale reviews. After completing their assessment, they concluded that, as a whole, antidepressant use appears to increase the odds of developing type 2 diabetes, even when other known diabetes risk factors (such as excess body weight and a nutritionally poor diet) are taken into account.

However, the review’s authors note, the picture gets much more complicated when their findings are examined on a more detailed level. For instance, while antidepressant use generally increases type 2 diabetes risks, the researchers did not conclude that antidepressants actually cause type 2 diabetes. In addition, the specific chances of developing diabetes apparently vary greatly between classes of antidepressants, as well as between individual medications within any given class. In fact, the use of certain antidepressant medications may actually lower a person’s chances of developing type 2 diabetes. Generally speaking, the highest diabetes-related risks occur in people who take antidepressants for long periods of time or in relatively high daily dosages. However, in most cases, antidepressant use exerts only a moderate influence on the chances of developing the blood sugar disorder.

Additional Considerations

The authors of the review published in Diabetes Care note that the studies and reviews they examined varied considerably in terms of quality, as well as in their level of detail regarding the risks of using specific antidepressant medications. For these and other reasons, further research is needed before anyone can assess the diabetes-related dangers associated with these medications. Until such time as the needed work can be completed, the review’s authors urge all doctors who prescribe any type of antidepressant to keep the potential for the onset of type 2 diabetes in mind when treating their patients.

Posted on March 10th, 2014

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