Are Your Psych Meds Making You Fat?

We all know that eating processed food laden with chemicals such as MSG and sugar can contribute to weight gain. And fast food, huge portions and sedentary lifestyles are all likely to put on pounds.

In addition, stress releases excess Cortisol, a hormone integral to health in the proper amount, but responsible for increases in abdominal fat given too much.

But did you know that one of the biggest contributors to obesity is rarely if ever mentioned – let alone discussed?

The elephant in the living room, so to speak, is the use of psychiatric drugs –otherwise known as psychotropic medications or psych meds for short.

At least among psychiatrists, it’s a well known fact – the same medications that are prescribed to treat such psychiatric symptoms as anxiety, depression, psychosis, mania and mood swings very often have the unfortunate side effect of rapid weight gain.

• The worst culprits when it comes to weight gain are the atypical antipsychotics; most of these drugs cause ‘fairly significant’ weight gain in most people. Some are FDA approved for treating psychosis (as in, but not limited to, schizophrenia). Others are approved for symptoms linked to Bipolar Disorder — bipolar depression; psychotic agitation; bipolar maintenance; and ‘other indications.’

• Next on the list? The Anti-Manics or “Mood Stabilizers” used to control mood swings, particularly in Bipolar Disorder.

• Last but not least come the antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications — estimated to cause weight gain in approximately 25% of the population for which they are prescribed.

The fact that these medications so often result in weight gain is sad indeed – it simply compounds the emotional problems for which the drugs were originally prescribed.

Now, let me round out the picture with some hard, cold numbers:

• According to The Obesity Society from the late 1990’s until now prescriptions for psychiatric drugs have increased by 73%.

• In 1996 Eli Lilly was exposed as trying to conceal knowledge about side effects of one of its biggest sellers — Zyprexa — one of which is weight gain.

• Over the past twenty years the number of obese adolescents has tripled; in roughly the same time period prescriptions for psychiatric medication in children rose over by over 50%.

So why in the world would your psychiatrist or M.D. withhold such important information? Well, much (if not most) of what prescribing doctors learn about both drugs and treatment protocol comes straight from the horse’s mouth — the pharmaceutical companies — companies who are publicly traded and have a bottom line responsibility to the shareholders.

Accordingly, most psychiatrists are in the business of writing prescriptions, as opposed to presenting patients with a choice of treatment options, including the many alternative ways to help people feel better emotionally.

I don’t know about you, but does the following scenario not sound like the creation of a vicious cycle? Start with people who are depressed or otherwise emotionally disturbed… diagnose them as mentally ill… put them on psych meds… create an increase in weight… and then prescribe more psych meds to both deal with the weight gain and the further emotional problems caused by the weight gain.

But perhaps that is exactly the point. Believe it or not, there is talk about classifying obesity as a mental disorder by 2013, when the revised Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) is released – creating yet another ‘reason’ to prescribe more drugs.

So how can you truly determine whether your psych meds are making you fat?

The short answer is by taking responsibility for your own health. Position yourself as an active participant in your treatment plan and make sure your doctor is clear on your stance.

• When your doctor proposes a treatment plan (which most likely will include medications) ask questions – and plenty of them.

• Ask about the risk of weight gain, but don’t stop there – while you’re at it, ask about other side effects.

• Then do your research – Google the name of the drug and see if its side effects include weight gain.

• After all that, should you decide to fill the proposed prescription(s), read all of the accompanying information provided by your pharmacy or HMO.

• Say yes to a consult with the pharmacist when you pick up the prescription for the first time. He/she can be an important resource to double check the information you’ve now gathered and to ask any additional questions you might have neglected along the way.

• And lastly, be observant and track your med usage – if you start to gain weight your notes will help you sort out whether the drug(s) are responsible or not.

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating — the state of your health is up to you.