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Scientists Unsure Why Antidepressants May Be Linked to Diabetes

People who take antidepressants may be at an increased risk for another serious health problem, Type 2 diabetes.

People who take antidepressants may be at an increased risk for another serious health problem, Type 2 diabetes.

British researchers conducted a review of 25 earlier studies and reviews on the two health conditions, and found people taking antidepressants were more likely to have the chronic health condition caused by problems with controlling blood sugar levels.

Antidepressants are some of the most popular prescribed drugs in the United States and other countries, and are given to people to treat depression. The pills work by balancing levels of some of the natural chemicals in your brain, called neurotransmitters.

Antidepressants have been linked to some mild side effects including headache, nausea, sleep problems, restlessness and sexual problems.

A 2011 CDC study found a staggering 400 percent increase in antidepressant use over the previous decade, with an estimated 11 percent of Americans taking the drugs.

60 Minutes reported the following Feb. that about 17 million Americans were currently prescribed an antidepressant, making it an $11.3 billion dollar industry.

In the United Kingdom where the new study took place, more than 46 million antidepressant prescriptions were doled out in 2011.

Such statistics lead the researchers to warn doctors that they should be extra vigilant when prescribing the medications, since they could pose a diabetes risk.

They noted there are "plausible" reasons why the drug taken for depression can lead to diabetes. Some antidepressants are associated with significant weight gain, which could increase risk.

But, their analysis found when removing other classic disease risk factors like obesity, exercise and other lifestyle considerations, the increased chance of developing Type 2 diabetes remained.

"There is something about antidepressants that appears to be an independent risk factor," Dr. Katherine Barnard, a health psychologist at the University of Southampton in the U.K., said in a statement. "With 46 million prescriptions a year, this potential increased risk is worrying. Heightened alertness to the possibility of diabetes in people taking antidepressants is necessary until further research is conducted."

They did however emphasize none of the studies they reviewed showed cause and effect, and calling for more research into the link.

An August study found a link between atypical antipsychotics, which are prescribed for mood disorders, and a tripling in diabetes risk for children who took them.

Still, doctors point out not taking medications to treat mental health woes can also be a major risk to one's health, so the study shouldn't convince people who need the drugs to stop taking them.

"Anyone who is currently taking, or considering taking, antidepressants and is concerned about this should discuss their concerns with their (doctor)," Dr. Matthew Hobbs, head of research at the charity Diabetes UK, told the BBC. He too emphasized the study did not prove cause and effect.

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