Many people who undergo heart bypass surgery find themselves battling an unexpected side effect: depression.
Doctors are quick to give these folks antidepressants along with all the other drugs that follow heart surgery.
As it turns out, that's the exact wrong approach.
A new study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry finds that cognitive behavior therapy – most folks call this talk therapy – is far more effective in treating those post-op blues. Supportive stress management also worked fairly well with this group.
But guess what had almost no effect at all?
That's right… those antidepressants.
The researchers followed 123 depressed bypass patients. Forty-one of them were given talk therapy, 42 were treated with supportive stress management and 40 were just given usual care.
In each group, half the patients took antidepressants.
At three months, 71 percent of the patients in the talk therapy group said their depression had lifted. That number grew a tad to 73 percent at the nine-month mark. Supportive stress management was less effective, with 57 percent reporting improvement at those same points, but still far better than the usual care patients, only a third of whom reported improvements at six and nine months.
The researchers said the drugs had no impact on the outcome.
Of course, I could have told them that.
I've never been an advocate of antidepressants unless absolutely necessary. In many cases, they're unreliable and have nasty or even dangerous potential side effects. They treat only the symptoms, not the cause, and often don't work at all in the long run.
But many doctors feel hog-tied without their prescription pads, so the 20 percent of heart bypass surgery patients who end up fighting major depression usually end up with more meds.
Another 20 percent of bypass patients encounter milder forms of the blues, and many of them are unnecessarily put on antidepressants as well.
It's time docs stop treating conditions based on what they read in drug company brochures and look at what really works instead. This latest study is only the most recent in a growing body of evidence against antidepressants. In fact, back in 2005 the same journal published a study showing talk therapy was just as effective as drugs in a more typical group of depressed patients.
And I can tell you right now there are other drug-free treatments and therapies that will work in just about any group of depressed patients, regardless of whether or not they've undergone bypass surgery.
Sometimes, a simple nutrient regimen is all it takes to turn the depression around.
When you can get that kind of success without drugs, why fool with them in the first place?