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Thursday, Jan. 7, 2010

Antidepressants & Libido: Holistic Remedies

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After my recent column about antidepressants and sexual response, the reader who had originally sent in the question wrote again with this response:

I’m more curious about non-pharmaceutical aids. The stimulating gels [that were mentioned in the last column] would fall into that category, but what about aphrodisiacs, supplements, etc.? Big Pharma gave people this problem in the first place! If someone can’t afford yet another single-source name brand [prescription drug], they’re not going to go to more drugs for a solution if they can help it. I do realize that Wellbutrin does not result in sexual side effects, but it’s different from the SSRIs. In fact, it might not be a good solution for those who generally benefit from SSRIs, because it can cause anxiety. Since antidepressants are so freely prescribed these days, I can’t be the only person who would like a solution to this problem.

These are great points, and I'm really glad that this reader took the time to follow up. As I said in the last column on this topic, I don't have a lot of faith in over-the-counter products that are marketed as aphrodisiacs or sexual enhancers, because they are largely untested and unregulated. However, I do have a lot of faith in alternative health care providers, so I contacted Krista McCain, a licensed acupuncturist and Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner who owns Hundred Grassesin Bay View.

According to Krista, sexual side effects caused by SSRIs can be treated with herbal medicine, acupuncture, medicinal foods (such as raw walnuts), meditation, and qigong, as well as some other modalities that are provided by licensed Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioners. Because everyone's body is different, holistic practitioners work with their clients over a period of time to identify individualized solutions. Ideally, people who are dealing with sexual side effects caused by antidepressants would look for a TCM practitioner with special interest in mental health.

Since SSRIs and the larger family of psychotropic drugs are making serious brain chemistry changes, Krista counsels that some patience and investment in treatment is necessary—e.g., there is no quick solution to be had by simply taking a supplement. Ten people coming in with the same condition, such as depression, will actually receive very different treatments, based on their individual symptoms and health history. Traditional Chinese Medicine works best when the person receiving care is truly willing to do some work on their own, such as following some nutritional suggestions and exercising regularly. All of these can help you to ease side effects to the SSRIs.

TCM practitioners in the Milwaukee-Madison area range from about $50-$100 per session, and there may be separate costs for herbal medicine. Some health insurance policies cover acupuncture. Some people with mild to moderate anxiety and depression do so well with TCM that they are able to decrease or even go off their prescription medications, although Krista adds a strong note of caution, as there should be a lot of teamwork and honesty involved in the decision to stop or change medication.

Although this doesn't provide an easy answer to this question, it is possible to manage the sexual side effects of SSRIs holistically, without resorting to further prescription medications. For more information on acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine, visit www.acupuncturetoday.com  and www.aaaomonline.org.

Want Laura to answer your questions in SEXpress? Send them to laura@shepex.com. Not all questions received will be answered in the column, and Laura cannot provide personal answers to questions that do not appear here. Questions sent to this address may be reproduced in this column, both in print and online, and may be edited for clarity and content.

Laura Anne Stuart has a master’s degree in public health and has worked as a sexuality educator for more than a decade. She owns the Tool Shed, an erotic boutique on Milwaukee’s East Side.