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MAO Inhibitors: Tell me About this Antidepressant 

MAO inhibitors: An Overview

MAO InhibitorThe MAO inhibitors are a class of  antidepressant drugs that were actually accidentally discovered as a treatment for depression. Physicians noticed that iproniazid, a drug being tested on patients for tuberculosis, was found to have an interesting effect in that it actually seem to make patients happier. Later, it was also discovered to have the same effect on depressed patients.  This antidepressant drug and several other chemically related medications, were found to slow the body's production of the enzyme monoamine oxidase (MAO), from which it received the name of MAO inhibitors. 

 

Usually, the brain supplies of the MAO enzyme break down the neurotransmitter norepinephrine. MAO inhibitors block this enzyme from carrying out this ”breaking down” process and thereby stop the destruction of norepinephrine.  Ultimately this results in an increase in norepinephrine activity, which in turn reduces symptoms of depression.  Approximately half of the depressed patients who take this antidepressant drug are helped by it. 

As clinicians continued to work with this antidepressant drug, they found that they also have the potential for serious medical problems. Many of the foods consumed in a normal diet such as cheeses, certain fish, bananas, and some wines contain tyramine. Tyramine is a chemical that can raise blood pressure dangerously if too much accumulates in the blood system.  Usually, MAO in the liver serves the beneficial role of quickly breaking tyramine down into another chemical, which helps keep blood pressure under control.  Unfortunately, when these antidepressant drugs are taken to combat depression they also block the production of MAO in the liver and intestines. This process allows tyramine to accumulate and puts the person in great danger of high blood pressure and has caused some patients to even pass away. 

MAO Inhibitors are not antidepressant drugs of convenience. People who take MAO inhibitors must usually avoid a long list of foods that may contain tyramine.  Recently, new MAOI’s have been discovered that affect norepinephrine levels without disturbing the breakdown of tyramine, resulting in much less potential for the dietary dangers usually associated with the traditional antidepressant drug.  Some of these medications, which are referred to as reversible selective MAO inhibitors are currently available in Canada and Europe but have not yet been approved for use in United States.MAO inhibitors include the medications Parnate and Nardil.

Information inspired by Ronald J. Comer’s Abnormal Psychology 

By Paul Susic Ph.D. Licensed Psychologist 

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Mental Health Diagnosis - DSM-IV Diagnosis and Codes: In Alphabetical Order

Antidepressants

Celexa 

Effexor

 Elavil

Lexapro

Luvox

Pamelor

Paxil

Pristiq

Prozac

Remeron  

Trazodone

Wellbutrin 

Zoloft


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