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Could the Antibiotic Minocycline Ease Depression?

Minocycline (Minocin) has long been used to treat infections and acne. Could this old antibiotic be repurposed against major depression or schizophrenia?

Minocycline (Minocin) has been prescribed for decades. It belongs in the tetracycline class of antibiotics. Dermatologists have been among the most enthusiastic prescribers of minocycline for the treatment of acne. It has also been prescribed for skin infections like MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staph aureus). In addition, this antibiotic is used against some tick-borne illnesses, gum disease, rosacea and amoebic dysentery.

Using a tetracycling-type antibiotic to fight infections makes total sense. Now there is evidence that this antibiotic might be helpful against psychological depression.


New Resarch: Minocycline vs. Major Depression

Some psychiatrists are now testing the antibiotic minocycline as an add-on therapy for major depression. A small study in Australia compared 200 mg of minocycline to placebo in addition to an antidepressant for three months (Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, Aug. 2017). The results were promising, though not conclusive.

The investigators noted improvement in quality of life and functioning in the patients on minocycline. They suggest this compound, that reduces inflammation, deserves further study for its activity against depression.

Minocycline: Antidepressant Activity?

A small study published in the journal Bipolar Disorders (May, 2017) reported that:

“Results from the pilot study suggest that adjunctive minocycline may exert antidepressant effects in individuals with bipolar depression, possibly by targeting inflammatory cytokines.”

In other words, the authors believe that the anti-inflammatory side benefits of this antibiotic may account for its antidepressant activity. Perhaps it is this anti-inflammatory action that explains why this antibiotic may also be helpful against schizophrenia (CNS Spectrums, online, Feb. 9, 2017).

The authors of this analysis concluded:

“Minocycline appears to be an effective adjunctive treatment option in schizophrenia, improving multiple relevant disease dimensions. Moreover, minocycline has an acceptable safety and tolerability profile.”

There is much we do not understand about mental illness. The idea that an old, inexpensive antibiotic like minocycline might be a helpful add-on for treating major depression or schizophrenia is quite intriguing.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.”.
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