Some antidepressants may lead to more weight gain than others, according to a new study. Know which ones and what to do to avoid weight gain while on antidepressants

Antidepressants are prescribed to enhance mood regulation, increase feelings of happiness and well-being of a person diagnosed with a mental illness. Weight gain is one of the potential side effects of antidepressants, which can help people struggling with mental health problems such as depression, panic disorder, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Now, a new study has found that some of the popular antidepressants may lead to weight gain more than the others. Sertraline, escitalopram, duloxetine, bupropion, paroxetine, fluoxetine, venlafaxine, and citalopram were the antidepressants used in the study, for which researchers compared weight gain among more than 183,000 individuals. Read on to know the connection between antidepressants and weight gain, and what to do to avoid this side effect.

Study on the link between antidepressants and weight gain

Sertraline, a popular antidepressant, was associated with an average gain of nearly 0.2 kg at six months, and it shot up to 1.46 kg at 24 months, as per the study published July 2, 2024 in the Annals of Internal Medicine journal.

A woman taking antidepressant that can cause weight gain
Fluoxetine was not associated with change in weight. Image courtesy: Freepik

Researchers used that as a comparison, and found that at six months, users of escitalopram, paroxetine and duloxetine were 10 to 15 percent more likely to gain at least 5 percent of their baseline weight than those who used sertraline. People who took bupropion were 15 percent less likely to gain weight than sertraline. On the other hand, fluoxetine use was not associated with any change in weight.

“This study provides important real-world evidence regarding the amount of weight gain that should be expected after starting some of the most common antidepressants,” said lead author Joshua Petimar, Harvard Medical School assistant professor of population medicine at the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute.

What are antidepressants?

Antidepressants are medications that are prescribed to treat mental health conditions such as depression, and anxiety. They work by correcting imbalances in neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine, which play a crucial role in mood regulation, explains mental health and behavioural science expert Dr Rahul Chandhok. Antidepressants can help in relieving symptoms like sadness, hopelessness, and loss of interest in activities, improving overall mental well-being.

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Antidepressants may lead to weight gain because some of them can increase appetite and cravings for carbohydrates, leading to consuming more calories. Also, some antidepressants can cause fluid retention, bloating, and slowed metabolism, contributing to weight gain, shares the expert.

To pick the right antidepressant to balance between efficacy and this side effect, make sure that you consult a doctor who will assess your symptoms, medical history, and personal preferences. Also, discuss the potential benefits and side effects of antidepressants, including weight gain. You should start with a low dose and gradually increase as needed to minimise side effects, suggests the expert.

What other factors can contribute to weight gain while taking antidepressants?

There are several factors that can cause weight gain while taking antidepressants. These include:

  • Decreased motivation to engage in physical activity
  • Hormonal changes, such as increased cortisol and insulin resistance
  • Water retention and bloating
  • Sleep disturbances, leading to fatigue and poor food choices.
  • Genetic predisposition also leads to weight gain.

How to avoid weight gain while taking antidepressants?

You need to combine medication with lifestyle changes to avoid weight gain. Do the following:

1. Maintain a healthy diet

Go for a healthy diet that includes whole, and nutrient-dense foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats as well as lean proteins. Avoid sugary and ultra-processed foods, as they can lead to weight gain.

Antidepressants that cause weight gain
Eat healthy while on antidepressant to avoid weight gain. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

2. Stay hydrated

Keep yourself hydrated by drinking plenty of water along with healthy drinks throughout the day. This will help control your hunger while reducing cravings for unhealthy snacks, says Dr Chandhok.

3. Exercise regularly

Working out is one of the best ways to be healthy. You don’t have to always go for high-intensity exercises. Even 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activities such as power walking, and cycling, most days of the week is enough.

4. Get enough sleep

The leptin hormone can get triggered by poor sleep quality and make you feel hungry even after eating something. So, get sufficient sleep of about 7 to 8 hours every night to help regulate the hunger hormone and support weight management, says the expert.

5. Monitor your progress

Regularly track your weight, measurements, and food intake to stay aware of any changes and make adjustments as needed. But make adjustments only after discussing with your doctor.

Antidepressants may cause weight gain, so work with your doctor to find the right balance between managing your depression symptoms and maintaining a healthy weight.

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