When you take an SSRI or mood stabilizer, you encounter plenty of people who say they, too, think they could benefit from something like that but they never would because we don't yet know what the end results could be. What if, in old age, they ended up growing a third arm because of their decades of Prozac? (Okay, no one's ever said that to me, but there are so many ignorant people running around telling those who take such medications they are not sober that I wouldn't put it past them. Ahem. Different topic.) Point being: As someone who's taken various medications of this ilk over the years, I've wrestled with the notion of being part of the experimental generation. Because there's no way around the fact that we are the people these meds are being tested on. Ultimately, what I've concluded is that if these medications help me feel better today, I'll take what comes later.
But it was with great gratification that I read about a new study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research that showed the antidepressant Lexapro might actually provide protection against dementia.
Memory Helper? Come Again?
While I'd never heard that antidepressants hurt your memory, I am someone who, if she has trouble recalling the name of a restaurant she went to a month ago, convinces herself she has no memory at all and life's all downhill from here. This happens in about a fraction of a second. I'm that girl who, in the midst of one of those fractions of a second, signed up for Lumosity and got so discouraged by the initial memory test that she immediately deleted her membership. In trying to find the culprit for my perceived memory loss (God forbid I just consider it the result of aging), I've landed on any number of things, including my medication: Surely it was the reason my brain was curdling. Well, hallelujah, sounds like I was wrong.
Okay, so I don't and have never taken Lexapro and let's be clear: This was one small study. It only compared 30 depressed folks with 27 healthy people. All were given Lexapro and tracked for three months. Of the 20 who completed the study, 80 percent reported complete or partial relief from their depression.
Okay, So Here's The Science Part
The truth about science and me: All the skills and comprehension ability around stuff like this went to my brother. But here's what I can tell you: The study, according to a story in DNAIndia, showed that blood levels of two "neurotoxic compounds dropped significantly" post Lexapro. One neurotoxic compound level fell more than two-thirds between months two and three of the study and another was cut in half during the first two months.
In short (this from a girl who nearly failed freshman Biology, the lone science requirement, her senior year in high school): Depression can cause inflammation in the immune system because the immune system is trying to fight it off the way it would a cold and over time this inflammation can produce neurotoxic compounds that could cause memory loss. Treat the depression, see, and there's no need to fight it off, hence no inflammation, hence no memory loss.
More Good News for Those on the Med Train
So you know the thing I wrote up above about how we're a part of the experimental generations where they're just trying stuff out on us so future med takers can know who really needs what and how much? Anyone who's ever taken mood stabilizers or antidepressants knows this; it's hard not to feel like a one-(wo)man science experiment when you try a bunch of different meds to see which one works. Well, now comes news that a blood test could determine what antidepressant will work for each person.
Of course, let's not start a parade or begin lining up for these tests yet. According to a story in Pharmaceutical Journal, "psychiatrists could be on the way to developing" this test and if that's not don't-count-on-this language, I don't know what is. But hey, I'm still excited. Apparently, research "has shown that the antidepressant paroxetine triggers epigenetic processes that alter the levels of certain proteins in the blood. Epigenetic processes are the non-genetic processes that control what genes do; a patient might have a particular gene, but it might not work without the relevant epigenetic process." And that, my friends, is an actual explanation, in English. I pasted it there because I have to imagine that even those of you who aced freshman Biology might not believe people write things like that.
If you skipped the above paragraph (and you should have), here's the point: Down the road, people should be able to put their arm down for a blood test instead of playing let's-see-if-this-works with the shrink. That, my friends, is good news.
And who knows? If I'm around when this happens, I may even be able to remember it wasn't always that way.
This post originally appeared on AfterPartyMagazine.