Jianhua Guo, a professor at The University of Queensland's Australian Centre for Water and Environmental Biotechnology and the study's lead author, told Nature magazine that despite being a completely different class of drugs than antibiotics, antidepressants trigger the formation of superbugs that evade pharmaceutical treatments.
Published on January 23 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the paper outlines Guo and his colleagues' experiments on the bacteria Escherichia coli, more commonly known as E. coli. They exposed the bacteria to five common antidepressants: sertraline (Zoloft), duloxetine (Cymbalta), bupropion (Wellbutrin), escitalopram (Lexapro) and agomelatine (Valdoxan).
For two months, Guo and his colleagues tested the bacteria's susceptibility to 13 different antibiotics representing six different classes of drugs. All of them pushed E. coli to develop antibiotic resistance within that exposure window.
The worst offenders were sertraline and duloxetine, which generated the highest ratio of resistant bacterial cells to normal cells. (Related: Last year, research out of Saudi Arabia found that people who take antidepressants do not find happiness.)
Antidepressants have the ability to kill or slow the growth of certain bacteria – something Guo's lab discovered in earlier research – which just like with antibiotics can cause bacteria to adapt and evade. This is how superbugs are formed.
Guo also found that the higher the dose of an antidepressant, the faster superbugs form. This was demonstrated in petri dishes containing E. coli that were subjected to various doses of antidepressant drugs.
Interestingly, bacteria raised in well-oxygenated lab dishes developed resistance faster to those raised in poorly oxygenated dishes. The only good news with this is that the human intestine likely leans towards being a poorly oxygenated environment, which could slow the rate of superbug growth.
Resistant cells produce a class of toxic molecules called "reactive oxygen species," which are pumps that help to push antibiotics out of their membranes. When these are present, bacteria like E. coli mutate faster than normal, increasing the chance that they acquire drug-resistant gene variants.
Sertraline in particular was also found to prompt bacterial cells to swap genes with one another, which is another factor that contributes to the spread of antibiotic resistance.
Since the tests were conducted in vitro, meaning in a lab rather than in actual humans, more research is needed to confirm a definitive link between antidepressants and superbugs in real life. Still, this is what the paper has to say about the findings:
"Strikingly, the antidepressants sertraline and duloxetine at clinically relevant concentrations in colon (e.g., 50 mg/L) caused an effect after only 1 d of exposure."
Put another way, it is highly likely that typical concentrations of antidepressants in the human gut at commonly prescribed levels are pushing bacteria to develop resistance, and to eventually become superbugs.
There are also concerns that antidepressants excreted in wastewater might spur the formation of superbugs in sewers, further heightening the risk of a serious public health hazard.
"There is a correlation of psych drug use and runaway record disability," wrote a commenter about the antidepressant scam. "Better off doing nothing than those quack fake treatments from the feudal system."
"The purpose of antidepressants is to destroy brain cells," added another. "They're like getting a slow lobotomy every time one takes a pill."
"Antidepressants generate a lot of profit for Big Pharma, psych doctors, and 'social worker' programs, but all they really do is add to the problems."
To learn more about the dangers and ineffectiveness of antidepressants, check out PsychDrugWatch.com.
Sources for this article include: