Depression is a debilitating mental illness that requires treatment. For depression, doctors often recommend antidepressant medications, including MAOI medication.

MAOI antidepressants are usually effective even when other antidepressant medications have failed. However, this treatment for depression may cause extremely severe side effects. Patients taking MAOI drugs must also follow a careful diet.

MAOI Antidepressant Medications

Depression and other mood disorders are associated with low levels of three brain chemicals: dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin.

These chemicals, called monoamines, send messages in the brain that affect mood, as well as many other bodily functions. When monoamines have completed this task, a protein called monoamine oxidase destroys them.

MAOI antidepressants (short for monoamine oxidase inhibitor) prevent monoamine oxidase from destroying these neurotransmitters, allowing the brain to increase levels of monoamines. This usually alleviates symptoms of depression.

Commonly prescribed MAOI antidepressants include isocarboxazid (Marplan®), phenelzine (Nardil®) and tranylcpromine (Parnate®).

Side Effects of MAOI Antidepressant Medications

MAOI antidepressants are very effective at relieving depression symptoms, even in patients who haven’t responded to any other treatment. Monoamine oxidase interference, however, often leads to bigger problems.

Monamine oxidase is responsible for eliminating excess amounts of tyramine, which affects blood pressure. MAOI drugs cause increased levels of tyramine in the brain by preventing the breakdown of tyramine. If certain foods are eaten, the brain receives a sudden spike in tyramine levels, which may increase blood pressure enough to cause a brain hemorrhage. This is known as a hypertensive crisis.

Most people don’t have to worry about tyramine, since monamine oxidase regulates tyramine levels so effectively. For a person taking MAOI medication, however, monoamine oxidase is blocked, and eating the wrong foods can be fatal.

If you are taking MAOI medication, avoid the following foods that can cause high levels of tyramine in the brain:

  • Aged foods
  • Alcoholic beverages and non-alcoholic beer or wine
  • Anchovies
  • Bologna, salami, pepperoni or other sausages
  • Caviar
  • Cheese, except for cream cheese and cottage cheese
  • Chicken liver
  • Fermented foods
  • Figs
  • Fruit such as raisins or bananas (or any extremely ripe fruit)
  • Meat prepared with tenderizers
  • Smoked or pickled meat, poultry or fish
  • Soy sauce.

Other foods may be eaten in moderation, including:

  • Avocados
  • Canned soup
  • Chocolate
  • Sour cream
  • Yogurt.

Considering MAOI Medication as Treatment for Depression?

Talk with your doctor about any existing health problems before beginning any treatment for depression, especially MAOI medication. Be especially upfront about any heart issues or frequent headaches. Dangerous spikes in blood pressure may cause severe headaches or chest pain, so be vigilant of any potential warning signs.


Croft, H. (2010). Monoamine oxidase inhibitors. Retrieved June 8, 2010, from

Depression Guide. (2005). Monoamine oxidase inhibitor. Retrieved June 8, 2010, from

 Posted on : June 26, 2014