Do Any Supplements Help While Weaning From Effexor?

Tapering off of Effexor, a prescription drug used to treat depression and anxiety, takes time and a plan with your doctor.
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Effexor is the brand name of the antidepressant drug venlafaxine. It's commonly prescribed to treat depression, general anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder and panic disorder, per the Mayo Clinic.

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The medication is part of the SNRI family, which stands for serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors. These prescription drugs work by increasing serotonin in the brain.

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An Effexor prescription can come in capsules or extended-release tablets. The tablets are typically taken two to three times a day with food, while the extended-release capsules are usually taken once in the morning or at night, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM).

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Effexor can safely be taken for years, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), but over the course of treatment, it's natural for some people to wonder if and when they can stop taking meds. But weaning off Effexor (and other antidepressants) takes time and care.

How to Wean Off Effexor

Tapering off of Effexor is a gradual and strategic process, says Johanna Beck, MD, a psychiatrist at Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia. Always talk to your doctor to make a plan to wean off of Effexor safely.

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"I usually would recommend tapering Effexor very slowly. The amount of time depends on how high of a dose you are starting on. It also depends on why someone is stopping," Dr. Beck says.

There are risks and side effects from weaning off Effexor and other antidepressant medications, which is why experts don't suggest going "cold turkey."

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One potential risk is antidepressant discontinuation syndrome (ADS), according to Dr. Beck. ADS is a condition that might happen when someone suddenly stops taking antidepressants after consistent use. Side effects can include flu-like symptoms, mood changes and dizziness, per the Cleveland Clinic.

"Medically you'll be fine, but you will be uncomfortable and unhappy because the brain is used to having that serotonin," Dr. Beck says.

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Instead she recommends talking to your doctor to find a substitute medication that is less likely to cause withdrawal symptoms. "Usually I don't just stop meds. I cross-titrate, meaning I slowly wean down drug X and slowly increase drug Y," Dr. Beck says.

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Warning

Weaning off Effexor and introducing substitutes or supplements should be done under the supervision of a doctor. The National Alliance on Mental Illness warns that stopping Effexor abruptly may result in withdrawal symptoms including irritability, nausea, dizziness, vomiting or headaches.

Supplements Likely Won't Help You Wean Off Effexor

Some people weaning off Effexor wonder if any supplements could help with the process, but it's not a good idea to self-medicate, especially with over-the-counter supplements.

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"There is no supplement I would ever recommend. And that's because they're usually not FDA-approved or regulated and you don't know what you're getting," Dr. Beck says.

You may have heard of the supplements below as possible natural alternatives to Effexor. However, none of these stands up to rigorous research:

St. John's Wort

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This herbal supplement has been used to treat depression, according to the Cleveland Clinic. It can be effective for treating mild to moderate depression, but its long-term benefits and ability to treat severe depression are still unclear, according to the Mayo Clinic.

"If a patient starts taking St. John's Wort, it is essentially like cross-titrating," Dr. Beck says, meaning they would need to start scaling back on Effexor or risk too-high serotonin levels.It could also interact with other medications. "St. John's Wort can affect the metabolism of other medications," she says. "I would never recommend it because there are a lot of drug interactions."

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5-HTP

Another supplement some people think could be an over-the-counter substitute for Effexor is 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP). Preliminary studies on 5-HTP suggest it's "possibly effective" for mild to moderate depression, though scientific evidence is lacking, per the NLM.

Given the limited research, 5-HTP is not recommended. And it can be risky buying a supplement that isn't regulated. "I think the general psychiatrist perspective is that there is no supplement that you know what you're truly getting in an over-the-counter pill," Dr. Beck says.

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Tryptophan

This essential amino acid is naturally found in meat, eggs and dairy products and also sold as a supplement. Tryptophan stimulates the brain to produce serotonin, per the NLM. Tryptophan intake was associated with a more positive mood in a 2021 systematic review in the Journal of Dietary Supplements, but more studies need to be done, including on tryptophan dosage.

Even though tryptophan is a natural supplement, it's possible to overdo it. This could cause serotonin syndrome, Dr. Beck explains. Serotonin syndrome is a serious drug reaction when an excessive amount of serotonin builds up in the brain, according to the Mayo Clinic. It's most likely to occur when a medication dose is increased, or a when you start taking a new drug.

How to Manage Effexor Withdrawal Symptoms Instead

The strongest recommendation and strategy to wean off Effexor is working with your doctor to make a tapering plan.

"I would not recommend anybody try to wean from Effexor without the guidance of a physician," Dr. Beck says. "To me, just knowing you're on Effexor means that you may be really struggling with anxiety or depression because you're not on a general SSRI."

Dr. Beck also suggests speaking with a doctor about possibly going on a different medicine that won't cause withdrawal symptoms.

"This could mitigate side effects altogether because you're replacing Effexor and getting serotonin from somewhere else," Dr. Beck says.

According to Harvard Health Publishing, Effexor withdrawal symptoms can also be reduced by non-medicinal methods including:

  • Psychotherapy
  • Maintaining healthy lifestyle habits, including a balanced diet, consistent sleep and exercise
  • Asking for support from family or friends
  • Trusting the taper process

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