A liver is a good thing. You really need one. According to the Canadian Liver Foundation, your liver performs over 500 different functions, including controlling blood sugar, assisting with blood clotting, manufacturing proteins and hormones, metabolizing toxins and fighting off infection. The ancient Greeks considered the liver to be the seat of human emotions. In a practice that they called “hepatoscopy,” they would sacrifice goats or oxen and then examine the dead animals’ livers to determine whether or not their military campaigns would succeed.
Technology is doing a better job of helping humans to grow new livers. For example, since the liver is the only organ in your body that can regenerate itself, a donor can give part of his or her liver to a recipient, who can then grow an entirely new liver. A company called Organovo has used a cell-based ink to literally print liver tissue. The tissue is draped around a mold, and the cells grow together naturally to take the shape of the mold. Still, a healthy human liver is a terrible thing to waste. That’s why I stopped taking Serzone.
My First Antidepressant (Is That Like My First Barbie?)
No matter how much you love your primary care physician or your nurse practitioner, never let him or her prescribe antidepressants for you. Essentially, you’ll describe your symptoms to that person, and then he or she will go back to the office and plug those symptoms into a database. If a drug pops up, congratulations. Your prescription will be waiting at your local pharmacy.
The first antidepressant I ever took was Effexor. After my mother died, I started going through this period in which I woke up at 4am every day. I would fall asleep again at around 6am, and then I would wake up late for work. My MD assured me that Effexor was just what I needed. He even drew a diagram explaining norepinephrine and serotonin—well, sort of. I left his office with a purple prescription paper and that drawing, which he’d done in blue ink on the back of an envelope. I swallowed my first Effexor tablets. After a few days, I felt so wired that I thought I might launch into orbit.
I stopped taking Effexor after a while for a couple of reasons. First, at that time, I thought that long-term antidepressant use was for losers. Second, Effexor can be a libido killer. I was newly married, and in retrospect, maybe I blamed certain (ahem) problems that my husband and I were having on the medication instead of blaming them on, well, him. So about six months after I quit taking Effexor, I went back to my MD and asked for a different drug. My marriage was far from copacetic, and I was still feeling depressed. This time, he prescribed Serzone.
Liver and Onions, Anyone?
Serzone did absolutely nothing for me, which, in retrospect, was a lucky thing. I ditched my medication and figured that praying was the cure for me. About that time, Serzone was taken off of the market in Europe for causing severe liver damage. Bristol Meyers quietly stopped making it in the U.S., citing “poor sales.”
In the intervening years, I’ve taken lots of different antidepressants, and I would encourage anyone who wants to try one to see a psychiatrist. Your psychiatrist has not only a helpful database but also some experience treating patients who have depression. He or she can help you concoct a much better cocktail to treat your symptoms. At my lowest, I took four antidepressants simultaneously. Now, I only take two. I also take folic acid because it helps your brain to produce more neurotransmitter compounds.
Your antidepressant is most likely metabolized by either your liver or your kidneys. If you mix a liver-metabolized antidepressant, a fast food diet and an alcohol habit, then you’re demonstrating an attitude of ingratitude toward your liver that could end in severe illness. Until scientists master the art of printing livers, you only get the one you’re born with. So treasure it. Respect it. And don’t take banned antidepressants.