Why Are 23% of Women on Antidepressants?

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

With a staggering 23% of women taking an antidepressant medication, there’s clearly a need for interventions. In this episode of the podcast, Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen discuss the reasons why so many women struggle with depression.


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Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way Podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.

Tana Amen: And I'm Tana Amen. Here we teach you how to win the fight for your brain to defeat anxiety, depression, memory loss, ADHD and addictions.

Dr. Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics, where we've transformed lives for three decades using brain spect imaging to better target treatment and natural ways to heal the brain. For more information visit Amenclinics.com.

Tana Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is also brought to you by Brain MD, where we produce the highest quality nutraceuticals products to support the health of your brain and body. For more information visit brainmdhealth.com. Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way Podcast. And, stay tuned for a special code for a discount to Amen Clinics for a full evaluation, as well as any of our supplements at Brainhealthmd.com.

We are back and today we're going to talk about something that we hear a lot about, in fact something that affected me personally. It's women and depression. Why are women so much more affected by depression? Now, we say that, but I know a lot of men who have been severely affected by depression and when they are it's usually pretty bad.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, I think most of this will apply to men as well, but 23% of women are taking antidepressant medication. Dr. Drew Pinsky and Dr. Mehmet Oz and I did a program on the Dr. Oz show about this. We've known for a long time women have twice the risk of depression as men. Part of the reason is women have less serotonin.

Tana Amen: Right. Natural.

Dr. Daniel Amen: According to one study, women have 52% less serotonin than men.

Tana Amen: That's if they're not doing something to diminish their serotonin, correct? That's just naturally.

Dr. Daniel Amen: That's overall.

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr. Daniel Amen: One of the reasons for that could be birth control pills.

Tana Amen: Right. Some of the things that decrease serotonin, birth control pills dramatically can decrease serotonin, drinking alcohol can decrease your serotonin, taking Advil. If you've got severe period cramps, during your menstrual cycle, you've got fibroid tumors and you're taking a lot of Advil, can decrease your serotonin because it's killing gut bacteria. Anything that kills gut bacteria can actually decrease your serotonin. If you're eating a really bad diet and you're increasing inflammation you can be affecting your serotonin because you're affecting gut integrity. So, a lot of things. Women's bodies, because of the way we're designed with periods and things like this, we end up doing things because of pain, so that might be affecting it.

Dr. Daniel Amen: There are 62% of women of reproductive age are currently using contraception of one form or another.

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Birth control pills are-

Tana Amen: We're not telling you to do something.

Dr. Daniel Amen: ... the most common. If they decrease serotonin-

Tana Amen: They do something else though too. They dramatically decrease B vitamins, which can also be a big culprit when it comes to depression, can't they?

Dr. Daniel Amen: Yes, and magnesium. Women can be more anxious, and also what a lot of women don't know is their progesterone levels drop about 10 years before they go to menopause. When progesterone drops, women get anxious.

Tana Amen: And cranky.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And negative, so they're more likely to get divorced, because their partners may be unhappy with the crankiness. They may start drinking more. If you just begin to look at the stacked-

Tana Amen: Stacking.

Dr. Daniel Amen: ... trauma, or the stacked causes, from naturally lower serotonin levels, so naturally higher incidence of depression, birth control pills that can deplete serotonin further, the chronic stress that women are under in the United States. When I was growing up there were not very many two parent working homes. Now, that's 90% of the population, because of how society has shifted. Even though 90% of mothers are working outside of the home, they're still primary caretakers for children. They're still primary caretakers for the home.

Tana Amen: It's a lot of stress.

Dr. Daniel Amen: They're under chronic stress. They're not sleeping as well and all of those things contribute to it.

Tana Amen: It's amazing. This is slight detour but, the survey from the NIH where they actually surveyed 2,400 women, and what they discovered was childhood trauma connected to chronic pain. The depression part of it ... Trying to connect the depression to chronic pain, as well. It can lead to chronic pain.

Dr. Daniel Amen: So often and some of what the antidepressants, particularly Cymbalta and the supplements SAM-e have been found to decrease depression and decrease pain as well.

Tana Amen: Help pain. What they're finding is, because women, what's really interesting is they found that it was more common with women. Boys certainly go through childhood trauma, in fact probably fairly close, but for whatever reason women, or girls are more likely to be sexually abused when they're younger, and go through a lot of trauma and child abuse, and so women are more affected. That childhood trauma was actually effecting their chronic pain later because they were processing it emotionally.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Let's talk about five things women can do if they struggle from depression. Now, you have personal experience with this. What are some of your top suggestions?

Tana Amen: Well, I had no idea that my thyroid was affecting it, so I'm going to tell you to start by actually going to someone who knows what the heck they're talking about, like an integrative doctor, who will check all your numbers. Know if your thyroid's off. Know if you have Lyme's Disease. Know if you've got these issues, like vitamin D deficiency, because it matters. It will make you feel terrible. If you're on birth control-

Dr. Daniel Amen: And it Change Your Brain, Change Your Life, Brain Warrior's Way in memory rescue, there's charts on how to know, which important numbers you should test for. Do that. You can't change what you don't measure.

Tana Amen: Right. Along those lines, we just talked about birth control. Now, we're not here to tell you to stop taking birth control. If there's an alternative one you can take, great. If not, know what it's doing so you can start to replenish.

Dr. Daniel Amen: There are natural ways to boost serotonin.

Tana Amen: ... to replenish.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Light is one.

Tana Amen: Exercise.

Dr. Daniel Amen: In the new book I'm working on, Feel Better Fast and Make it Last, I came across a whole group of research studies on light and vitamin D increase serotonin.

Tana Amen: Right you can take vitamin D.

Dr. Daniel Amen: That can help you be more flexible.

Tana Amen: Exercise.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Exercise boosts serotonin. Now, the tricky part of diet and serotonin is getting a sugar burst increases serotonin.

Tana Amen: So let's take healthy first.

Dr. Daniel Amen: It's why people get happy with cupcakes.

Tana Amen: Right. Let's think about healthy carbs, because you can still get that burst by eating healthy carbs. Healthy carbs are not simple. Don't turn to sugar so quickly. We actually again, write about that a lot in-

Dr. Daniel Amen: Sweet potatoes.

Tana Amen: Right. Sweet potatoes with the skin on, especially. Lots of tips like that in the Brain Warrior's Way Cookbook will help you. But, be thinking smart carbs.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Smart carbs can be really helpful. Exercise, smart carbs, know your important numbers. [crosstalk 00:08:04]

Tana Amen: Don't drink too much because that's going to decrease your gut bacteria. You don't want to do anything to harm your gut bacteria.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And some probiotics have actually been found to help support your mood. Obviously learn how to kill the ants, the automatic negative thoughts that steal your happiness.

Tana Amen: Meditation, absolutely.

Dr. Daniel Amen: But, I think exercise is just one of the most important things you can do. And people go, well, I don't have time to exercise. Neither do I. It's why I wear my Fitbit. You can park faraway at work. You can walk at lunch rather than take your car. You just want to move your body.

Tana Amen: I'm going to push back on that, because I'm one of the busiest people I know. I am just on the go constantly, and because I'm so busy, I don't have time not to. That's one of those ants. I'm an ant squasher. You need to flip that in your head, because if you are that busy and you feel that bad, you really need to be doing it. Even if it's not for an hour and a half a day, or an hour a day and you get 30 minutes of sort of intense exercise, that's going to help you. You don't have time not to. Figure out someway to carve that out and cut something else out. It just is what it is. Do a meeting on the phone and walk. I don't know, but figure it out.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Wow.

Tana Amen: Wow.

Dr. Daniel Amen: You're so intense.

Tana Amen: I am, because I have suffered. I'm not going back.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Also, keep a mood log. So helpful. I have my patients do that, and that way you can track. Is it related to your cycle? Because there's things you can do about that.

Tana Amen: And how long before? What a lot of people don't realize is there's a pattern, how many days before your cycle, it starts.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, and one of my favorite nutrients is saffron. Saffron has actually been shown in multiple studies to help mood, but also PMS and also memory, and sexual function. If you think of some of the antidepressants, they may help your mood, but they don't help PMS or they don't help your memory. They may actually make it worse, and they make your sexual function worse. I'm just a huge fan of saffron. There are lots of things you can do to enhance your mood. If you struggle with it, it's critical to take care of it, because if you suffer with depression you actually have a higher risk of getting divorced, because of the negativity that goes along with it.

Tana Amen: Right. Maybe you can answer this question. Women tend to suffer more from depression than men do, but I've heard that men are more like to commit suicide if they're depressed than women are. Why is that?

Dr. Daniel Amen: Women actually try to commit suicide a lot more than men.

Tana Amen: Really?

Dr. Daniel Amen: But men are much more successful at it because men tend to use more violent means.

Tana Amen: More extreme.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Women, when they try and kill themselves it's often a cry for help, but because men have trouble crying and crying for help, they are often more effective.

Tana Amen: Oh, interesting. I thought it was just because they were-

Dr. Daniel Amen: And never forget that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary feeling or problem. It almost always goes away. Growing up Catholic, I am not above using guilt. You kill yourself, it radically increases the chances that your child will kill themselves.

Tana Amen: So sad.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Because that's how they learn that people solve problems.

Tana Amen: Well, it's so hard to imagine when you're in that place. I've been in that place. You can't see beyond yourself. You can't see beyond your pain. I couldn't see beyond my bed that I couldn't get out of at the time. It was horrible. That's why I get so intense about telling people they have to do it, because it was so terrible. It was so terrible. I know how awful it is. You can't see past it, but I promise you, I promise you, there are so many ways people can help you. There are so many answers beyond that pain if you can just step outside of it, just to reach out for help. There are so many things, so many tools in our belts that we can use to help people. You just gotta be able to take that step to get help. There's always a solution and it's not taking your life.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Depression, one of the most highly treatable disorders. Get the help you need. Stay with us.