Zoloft (Sertraline) is an antidepressant medication that has been around since 1991. It functions as an SSRI (selective-serotonin reuptake inhibitor) to increase extracellular levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin. The drug is considered effective at treating a variety of conditions including major depression, social anxiety disorder, panic attacks and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Despite being around since the early 1990s, it is still a highly popular antidepressant medication in 2015. Although the drug tends to significantly help some individuals cope with their depression, may who take Zoloft experience weight gain. In the event that an individual gains a significant amount of weight while taking the drug, the weight gain may make the person feel as if they are trapped in a lose-lose situation: take Zoloft and feel less depressed but gain weight OR don’t take Zoloft and lose weight.
Zoloft and Weight Gain
Not every doctor informs patients of potential side effects that they may experience while taking Zoloft or the generic version, “Sertraline.” One very common side effect is that of weight gain. Some people may notice a gradual increase in weight over time while taking an SSRI, while others may notice a significant increase in body fat within the first couple months of treatment. Others may not notice any weight gain for a period of time and then realize that they’ve gotten pretty big.
How Zoloft causes weight gain: Hypotheses
There is no exact science behind the weight gain that a person experiences while taking Zoloft (Sertraline). However there are a variety of speculative possibilities including: increased carbohydrate cravings, metabolic adjustments, as well as standard medication side effects such as lethargy which make it tough to burn calories.
- Appetite changes: Some individuals notice that when they take this medication, their appetite also changes. They may become hungrier than usual, making them eat more frequently. Those who had a poor appetite as a result of depression may now be eating more calories due to the fact that they actually enjoy eating. It is common to notice fluctuations in appetite while taking this drug.
- Carbohydrate cravings: One theory is that Zoloft may increase a person’s carbohydrate cravings. Those that take it may notice that they’ve developed a sweet tooth. There is a clear relationship between serotonergic functioning and carbohydrate cravings. Therefore, some speculate that the serotonergic changes being made in the brain by Zoloft is a plausible cause of increased carb cravings. If you notice that you all of a sudden want to eat more pastas, breads, cereals, and sugary candies, it may be more than a coincidence.
- Fat storage: Another theory is that certain SSRIs make the body store more fat than usual. The increased fat storage would account for some of the packed on pounds while taking Zoloft. Whether this is actually true is up for debate simply because it hasn’t been formally studied.
- Food tastes better: Some people notice that when they are depressed, food doesn’t taste very good. When their neurochemistry gets adjusted by the Zoloft, they notice that food all of a sudden tastes much better than it had in the past. When food tastes better, it leads people to crave it and/or seek out more.
- Hormone changes: Antidepressants like Zoloft tend to alter natural hormone production within the body. The exact changes that they make are unknown, but some believe that weight gain experienced while taking them may be due to alterations in hormone production from the drug. The only way to track this would be to get hormone levels checked prior to treatment and then compared them while undergoing treatment.
- Interactions: Most people taking multiple medications don’t even consider the possibility that Zoloft and the other drug may be interacting to contribute to weight gain. If you are taking multiple psychotropic drugs, it can be difficult to pinpoint whether one is causing the weight gain, whether they each are to a certain extent, or whether the two are interacting to compound the effect of weight gained.
- Less depressed: When you’re less depressed, you’re more likely to eat and take care of yourself. When you feel hungry, you’re probably going to eat. Someone who is depressed may skip meals, eat infrequently, and may become skinny as a result of their lack in motivation to eat.
- Side effects: While weight gain can be arguably considered a direct side effect of the drug, other side effects such as grogginess, lethargy, and sleepiness may lead to weight gain. When you feel tired from this medication, it may be extremely difficult to get out of bed, exercise, and move your body. This leads to less overall calories being burned and inevitably an increase in weight.
- Slower metabolism: While some argue that SSRIs don’t alter the body’s metabolism, many people believe that they do. One theory is that some people taking Zoloft may develop a slower metabolism. Some people have found via experimentation that even if they maintain the same strict diet and portions, they gain weight. This suggests that there is a metabolic component associated with the weight gain.
- Social eating: People with various forms of depression and social anxiety may have been isolated and uninvolved in social activities. When the Zoloft starts working, they may make friends and become more involved with friends. This often leads to eating out, possibly at unhealthy restaurants.
Note: In most people, the specific changes made by Zoloft on functioning are difficult to track. It is thought that weight gain may be caused by a combined influence from many of the hypotheses listed above.
Factors that influence weight gain on Zoloft
It cannot be generalized that everyone will gain the same amount of weight while taking Zoloft (Sertraline). Some individuals will gain more weight, others will gain less, and others may not gain any at all or even lose weight. It all depends on your individual response to the drug.
Perhaps the most important factor in the equation is dosage, how many milligrams of Zoloft do you take? Those that take a higher dosage will be at greater risk for gaining weight – it’s that simple. When you take a higher dose, you are essentially giving the Zoloft more control over your nervous system than natural homeostatic functioning. If weight gain is a side effect at a lower dose, doubling the dose may also double the weight gain. Therefore to minimize weight gain, it is recommended to always take the lowest effective dose.
2. Individual factors
There are an array of other individual factors that will influence the weight gain you experience while on Zoloft. Weight gain may be a result of genetic interactions to the drug, your physiology, your metabolism, hormones, lifestyle, stress level, dietary intake, exercise, and other health conditions. It is impossible to evaluate all of the possible factors that could be contributing to weight gain in your specific case. Just know that individual factors are often not discussed, but play a huge role in determining whether you’ll gain weight from this medication.
3. Time Span
The time span over which you’ve been taking Zoloft plays a role in determining how much weight you’ve gained. Those that have been taking Zoloft for a very short term may not notice anything in terms of weight changes. People that have been taking Zoloft over a long term often notice that the weight gain gets worse over time. This is often due to the fact that over time, people become tolerant to the effects of the drug and increase their dosages.
4. Other medications
As was already mentioned, if you take any other drugs, you cannot rule out the possibility of them interacting with the Zoloft. An interaction effect could lead to increased weight gain while on Zoloft. You may want to also evaluate whether you believe the weight gain is a result of the Zoloft, whether the other medication is the primary culprit, or whether they are both equally responsible.
How much weight will you gain from Zoloft?
The exact answer is that “it depends” on the person. Most experts agree that nearly 1/4 people will notice weight gain when taking an SSRI like Zoloft. The average amount of weight gain is approximately 10 lbs. from an SSRI. Keep in mind that this is an average statistic and is subject to variation based on other individual factors. Further research needs to be conducted to determine how dosing and duration of usage plays a role in influencing weight changes. Other uncontrolled studies have suggested it is possible to gain an average of 15 lbs. after 6 to 12 months of treatment.
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24898363
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC181155/
Will everyone gain weight while taking Zoloft?
No. It is important to remember that all psychotropic drugs affect everyone differently. This is why there are tests like GeneSight being developed to help determine which drugs will best suit you based on your genetics. Some people actually remain weight neutral while taking Zoloft and others may lose weight depending on how the drug influences their functioning. Although a majority of people will gain some weight, it is important to determine whether that weight is significant enough to make you depressed or become a health issue.
Zoloft: Conducting a Cost-Benefit Analysis
If you have gained a significant amount of weight from taking Zoloft, you may want to conduct a cost-benefit analysis. Some people don’t care how much weight they gain as long as the medication is keeping their depression at bay. Others may actually get more depressed from the weight that their medication is causing them to gain.
In all cases, it is important to weigh the degree to which you benefit from the Zoloft and compare it to the weight gain (and other side effects). If the cost from taking the drug outweigh the benefits you’re getting, it may be time to switch medications and/or go through Zoloft withdrawal.
Did you experience weight gain from Zoloft?
Not everyone will experience major weight gain while taking Zoloft. Others may gain a few extra pounds, but it won’t be much of a big deal. Yet others will experience a major increase in their baseline bodyweight. If you have gained weight from Zoloft, feel free to share how much you gained, the dosage you took, and the time span over which you took the drug. Also feel free to discuss what you think caused the weight gain and if there were any other factors that may have also contributed.