Study shows psychiatric drugs not disease causing brain shrinkage

The LA Times just yesterday published a story dealing with a recent research study, Brain shrinkage seen in those taking psychiatric medication. The scientists behind the study the article covers were looking for the reason as to why people labeled with schizophrenia have smaller brains than people who are not so labeled.

Over a study period that spanned 14 years, 211 newly diagnosed schizophrenic patients had periodic brain scans that measured the volume of their brains overall, and of their brains’ principal component structures. Scanning each subject’s brain at least twice and as many as five times, researchers at the University of Iowa’s Carver College of Medicine sought to tease apart the factors that might contribute to a long-observed phenomenon: that patients with psychiatric disease—particularly those who suffer the delusional thinking, hallucinations and cognitive deficits of schizophrenia—appear to have smaller brains than those in good mental health.

I guess they found it.

What they found was that those whose treatment with antipsychotic medication was most “intensive”—those who took the largest doses over the longest time–had the greatest losses in brain volume. The intensity of a subject’s antipsychotic medication therapy was a far stronger predictor of brain-volume loss than was the severity of his or her psychiatric symptoms or of the extent of his or her illicit drug or alcohol abuse, the researchers found.

Alright, do we have another 14 years to digest this matter while these study results are being replicated?

If you thought maybe this brain tissue loss was localized, guess again.

The volume losses were scattered throughout the brain, occurring in gray matter–the tightly packed clusters of brain cells that make up most of the brain’s lobes–as well as in the connective “white matter” that forms communication channels among the brain’s disparate regions and between its two hemispheres.

I don’t know how long reporters of this type of thing can continue to gloss over the facts involved in this sort of thing, but I imagine it could be forever. Although noting the rise in the use of these drugs on younger and younger “patients”, and the aggressive selling tactics of a multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical trade, the article closes by referring to an editorial from a psychiatrist playing down the facts we just heard reported. As both study results and editorial came from the General Archives of Psychiatry, we will just have to wait and see what uses more critical and less partial voices might make of this data.

It’s so easy to ignore the seriousness of the matter when it’s only a matter of ink on paper that one might forget that it isn’t only a matter of ink on paper. We could be dealing with war casualty statistics here. Think about the high mortality rates among people in psychiatric treatment, and you’ve got something that does indeed resemble war casualty statistics. The best you can hope for, given such mild reactions to this sort of evidense, from most main stream psychiatrists, is a sense that maybe they’d better practice more constraint and control in their prescribing practices. The idea that maybe there are other, better, and completely non-damaging approaches for them to take is, as it has been historically, a hard one for them to grasp.

2 Responses

  1. Very interesting study. Did the LA Times mention where the study originated?

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