An estimated 17 percent of North Americans will experience a serious bout of depression during their lifetime, and 20 percent will experience an anxiety disorder.
Antidepressant medications are typically prescribed to help with six broad categories: panic attacks; obsessions and worries; general anxiety; social anxieties or phobias; and any combination of depression, anxiety and/or panic. Most antidepressants used to treat depression also work for anxiety – a benefit for the many people who experience these two problems simultaneously.
Antidepressants fall into several different classes and work in slightly different ways, depending on the brain chemicals they target. Most prescribed antidepressants work to increase the level of serotonin – a feel good chemical – in the brain. Other classes of antidepressants target other brain chemicals that also impact mood.
The side effects associated with antidepressants can vary from medication to medication, and depend on the individual taking the medication. Side effects can make sticking to your medication difficult. Some possible antidepressant side effects include:
- Weight gain
- Dry mouth
- Sexual dysfunction
Figuring out the right mental health medication can be tough. According to a survey, people who took medication for anxiety or depression tried an average of three different drugs. Trying multiple medications before finding one that works can be time-consuming, frustrating, and even debilitating. But it doesn’t have to be that way!
Genetic testing now allows us to determine the best antidepressant for your unique genetic profile. Genetic medication testing to find the right medication for you is called Pharmacogenetics, (or PGx for short). Pharmacogenetics predicts how YOU, personally, will respond to medications. Based on your genes, the way you respond to medications may be different from other people. Some medications may not be as effective, and others can cause serious – even life-threatening – side effects. Using your genetic profile, your response to medications can be predicted, which can save you from trying multiple medications before finding one that works.
How does pharmacogenetic testing work?
What really happens when we take a medication? We swallow a pill, maybe along with our breakfast cereal and OJ. When the medicine gets ingested, enzymes in the liver go to work to eliminate it from the body – perhaps in urine. Liver enzymes convert medications into molecules that are easier to eliminate. Before being eliminated, these molecules are sent into the bloodstream. The enzymes in the liver determine how long these molecules stick around. A medication is effective for YOU, only if these powerful man-made molecules (thank you, Pharma) circulate in your bloodstream at the right concentration.
Genetic testing for medication efficacy captures the genetic “fingerprint” of your enzymes, and tells us how to adjust the dose of a medication, to achieve the right level of medicine in your body. 95% of people have unique genetic differences affecting their drug response. Depending on these genetic differences, some people have more active liver enzymes – these enzymes work faster. Other people can have less active liver enzymes – these enzymes work more slowly and sometimes not at all. The drug gene testing process can tell us the activity of these enzymes.
One popular misconception is that we have specific enzymes for handling specific medications. Pharmacogenetics doesn’t work like this. The enzymes that work on medications originally evolved to breakdown toxins common in our environment – long before the invention of pharmaceutical drugs! Some populations evolved different versions of these enzymes – faster or slower – depending on the toxins (often found in plants) that they were exposed to over millions of years. For example, CYP2D6, a liver enzyme that breaks down plant toxins, often has more activity in individuals of Ethiopian and Saudi Arabian origin. This higher activity is thought to have evolved as a strategy to cope with the higher load of toxic plant alkaloids in their diet.
Modern-day medications are processed by these same enzymes. Individuals with more active enzymes, will chew up certain drugs very quickly, making them ineffective. Many antidepressants and neuroleptics sometimes do not work for this reason. The good news? This problem can be remedied with a simple genetic test!
By doing comprehensive genetic testing for medication efficacy, you make a permanent investment in your health. A PGx test to determine how you respond to different medications has lifetime value because your genes do not change. The meds you require in the future may change, but your genes will not. The PGx test you do today is good for life, as long as the pharmacogenomic testing company gives you the report (i.e. it is not locked up in your doctor’s office) and provides automatic updates as new meds come on-line.
Armed with a Pillcheck report, pharmacogenetics goes to work for you. You can stop worrying about unpleasant, even dangerous side effects. The information vital to safer, personalized medicine for anxiety, ADHD, and a whole host of mental health conditions, is yours forever.