Psychiatric drugs are causing weight gain, doctors warn

Sharon Kirkey
Canwest News Service

Monday, March 31, 2008

The very drugs millions of Canadians are taking to get through their day can cause dramatic weight gain, doctors are warning.

Psychiatric drug-related weight gain "is a huge problem," says Dr. David Lau, chairman of the diabetes and endocrine research group at the University of Calgary and president of Obesity Canada.

"You can see patients gaining 10, 20, 30, 40 pounds," Lau says.

Not everyone taking antidepressants, mood stabilizers or newer generation antipsychotics will gain weight, he stressed. What's more, he said new antipsychotics, so-called "atypical antipsychotics," have been "tremendous in terms of bringing back the functionality of people with schizophrenia, bipolar disorders and depression."

But Harvard University psychologist Paula Caplan warns of a vicious cycle, where patients who experience weight gain after taking psychotropic drugs are reluctant to discontinue their use.

"If they gain weight, they think 'I can avoid fast foods, or I can take smaller portion sizes or I can exercise more.' But to think, 'go off my medication that I believe is responsible for my being able to function, is too scary.'"

In a recent article in the magazine New Scientist, Caplan says new revelations that some antidepressants are virtually no better than a placebo for all but the most severe cases of depression "make the potential scale of the side effects more worrying than ever."

She believes the widespread use of psychiatric medications among adults and children is making the obesity epidemic worse.

Writing in New Scientist, Caplan says obesity among teens and younger children has risen over the past 10 to 15 years with a five-fold increase in prescriptions of antipsychotic drugs to those age groups, and that "children taking these drugs are even more likely to gain weight than adults are."

She says too much fast food, large portions and our increasingly sedentary lifestyles are all legitimate culprits in the rising tide of obesity.

"But I'm thinking, there's this glaring omission. It's like the elephant in the living room. No one is talking about [psychiatric drugs] as a source."
© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2008