Food and SSRI withdrawal

I’ve got a friend, and have had many more in the past who’ve been on SSRI and SNRI drugs like Prozac and Effexor, and had bad to horrible withdrawal syndromes.

These drugs increase availability of serotonin (and norepinephrine in SNRIs) in the brain by limiting the reuptake of the chemicals by the receptors. The drugs tend to create a dependance (though how bad varies from user to user pretty drastically), and discontinuation can cause some very serious side effects. There’s a ton of ongoing controversy about how the drug companies mislead consumers about the safety of the drugs, and adding to that that patients are often not able to get enough of a physician’s time for a conversation about possible side-effects, especially in low-income situations, and additionally when mental health issues — the very problem the drugs are to treat — are present, getting adequate support and information to make a decision is very hard.

The science of prescribing the right amount to treat a “chemical imbalance”-caused depression is nearly voodoo, since the tests to determine correct levels would involve measuring neurotransmitter levels, which would essentially involve a central nervous system biopsy. That’s not possible on a regular basis for any patient, and so diagnosis is by symptom only. The drug companies advertise a theme of “correcting chemical imbalances” so heavily that I’ve seen a lot of people leap to the conclusion that they have one, without any evidence.

In particular to the research at hand, one friend is having a very hard time discontinuing a drug because of the withdrawal syndrome. She suffers from it to the point where she has partial seizures. I’m researching ways to wean off the drugs, but it’s hard. XR versions are time-release, and the pills are not divisible because it breaks the time-release mechanisms.

As far as I’ve read, the primary reason for the withdrawal is a relatively sudden drop in the level of serotonin in the brain. I’m wondering about and looking for information on dietary supplementation of tryptophan (which is converted into serotonin in the body). Foods I’ve found so far that might help include turkey, black eyed peas, walnuts, eggs1, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, almonds, dairy products (especially cheddar and and swiss-style cheeses), and to a lesser extent grains.

I’d love to hear more from people who’ve had success weaning themselves off of SSRI and SNRI antidepressants when it was difficult. Was diet a factor? What else did you do?

1 I suppose that might be why I saw a relatively large positive effect on my mental health when I started eating eggs again. Other than correcting the complete lack of saturated fats and cholesterols in my diet.