Approved by the FDA in September 2013, Brintellix (vortioxetine) is a prescription anti-depressant that claims to have been shown to effectively treat a certain type of depression known as Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) in adults, by balancing out the levels of neurotransmitters in your brain. Specifically, Brintellix is thought to work by enhancing the activity of serotonin in the brain by blocking serotonin reuptake, and also to cause other activities on two specific serotonin receptors.
But if you’ve tried other prescription medications in your battle against depression with mixed results, does Brintellix’s ability to work on five different receptor sites mean that it’s the most effective depression treatment? Is it a safe anti-depressant, and is worth the high price?
How Brintellix Work
If you have little interest in doing the things that once brought you pleasure, feel tired or run down, have trouble concentrating or making decisions, or suffer from insomnia, low mood, difficulty concentrating, and/or changes in appetite, Brintellix (vortioxetine) is a newer prescription medication that claims to treat symptoms associated with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). However, when compared to other depression medications, Brintellix claims to address these issues using two mechanisms of action: a) receptor modulation (e.g. works as both an agonist and antagonist) and b) reuptake inhibition (e.g. stops certain chemicals, such as serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine, from being absorbed). This occurs across five different receptor sites:
- 5-HT1A: Agonist
- 5-HT1B: Partial Agonist
- 5-HT3: Antagonist
- 5-HT1D: Antagonist
- 5-HT7: Antagonist
In short, compared to other prescription depression medications that may work on one or two, Brintellix’s ability to work across five receptor sites, as shown during its short clinical studies (6-8 weeks), might mean that it’s more effective at relieving your MDD symptoms. We’ll talk more about this in the final section.
According to the product’s website, Brintellix is available in 5mg, 10mg, and 20mg tablets, and the only active ingredient it contains is vortioxetine hydrobromide. However, inactive ingredients include mannitol, microcrystalline cellulose, hydroxypropyl cellulose, sodium starch glycolate, magnesium stearate, and film coating consisting of hypromellose, titanium dioxide, and polyethylene glycol 400.
Brintellix is claimed to provide most patients with a beneficial therapeutic effect within about 2 weeks, and full effects are typically realized after 4 weeks or longer. Common side effects include nausea (almost 1/3 of Brintellix patients experienced this), constipation, or vomiting, although we’ll discuss some of the medication’s more severe side effects in the final section.
As with any other prescription medication, what you’ll pay for Brintellix depends largely on your prescribed dosage and health insurance coverage. However, several reviewers claimed that it is very expensive, with one patient even stating that they paid $300 for a one-month supply of 30mg tablets, even with insurance and Takeda’s prescription assistance.
What Do Other Consumers Have to Say About Brintellix?
Overall, it appears that Brintellix has an evenly mixed online reputation, with some patients calling it a “miracle” drug that worked wonders for their depression, and with very few side effects.
On the other hand, the most common complaint related to Brintellix is nausea/digestive upset. While many patients claimed this could be reduced by taking the medication during your largest meal of the day, and that this typically subsides after two weeks of regular use, some were forced to stop taking it altogether due to extreme nausea.
Other common side effects noted by Brintellix patients included anxiety, irritability, confusion, itchiness, weight gain, and increased thoughts of suicide/self-harm. More than one patient also claimed that Brintellix caused their moods to swing wildly, from calm to manic, and/or that the medication made them feel “numb.” In other words, it kept them from spiraling into depression, but it also seemed to prevent them from really enjoying the “highs” of life.
Is Brintellix an Effective Medication for Treating Your Depression?
If you suffer from Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), you just want to feel normal again, and to enjoy the little things in life. But is Brintellix an effective method of accomplishing this? Perhaps, but keep the following in mind:
Brintellix May Work, But No One Knows Why
First, it’s important to note that even though Brintellix was FDA approved in September 2013, it’s unclear exactly how the medication works. According to the Brintellix website: “Although it's not fully understood, BRINTELLIX is thought to work by enhancing the activity of serotonin in the brain by blocking serotonin reuptake. It is also thought to have other activities on two specific serotonin receptors. The contribution of these activities to the antidepressant effect has not been established.”
With this said, while Brintellix claims to have been shown to be more effective than placebo in clinical trials, according to Consumer Health Digest, “has not proven itself yet to be better than existing antidepressant therapies.” However, like most SSRIs, Brintellix has not been shown to result in substance abuse.
Long-Term Use & Side Effects
Next, vortioxetine, the active ingredient in Brintellix, is a relatively new compound, which means that there aren’t any long-term studies that provide insight as to how the medication will effect patients over the long run. However, in addition to the minor side effects noted above, Brintellix has been shown to increase thoughts of suicide, and should not be taken with a Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitor (MAOI). In fact, one online review of Brintellix claimed that it results in serious interactions with more than 100 other drugs. Additional serious side effects include Serotonin Syndrome, abnormal bleeding, visual problems, or low levels of salt in your blood.
Because of the medication’s potentially severe side effects, it’s important that you have a detailed discussion with your physician about Brintellix, and disclose any other medications you’re taking.
When it comes to effectively treating depression, every person is different, and Brintellix may be just what you need to return to normalcy without having to attend a depression treatment center. However, based on online patient reviews, it seems to be a toss of the coin as to whether or not Brintellix will work, although you can likely expect nausea and other moderate side effects from taking it.