1 in 10 Americans and 1 in 4 women of reproductive age are on antidepressants. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that globally about 300 million adults suffer from regular depressive episodes. It’s the leading cause of disability worldwide and can lead to further complications with other diseases and affects things like work, sleep, digestion, energy, motivation, and relationships.
The literature is growing with evidence that supports the idea that many aspects of our modern lifestyle; highly processed foods, environmental toxins, and unremitting mental/emotional stress, overuse of medications, even over the counter meds like Tylenol, anti-acids, oral contraceptives, and antibiotics, can have a negative impact on the function of our body’s stress response (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis), which plays a fundamental role in how our bodies react to stress, causing sleeplessness, anxiety, increased susceptibility to infection, low sex drive, fatigue, sense of overwhelm. When taken together, some or all of these symptoms amount to what we call depression.
A compromised stress response will eventually lead to chronic
- Pain and inflammation
- Poor digestive health
- Imbalances in the microbiome (the good and bad bugs in our gut) – which affect our mood, behavior, cognitive ability, nutrient absorption, etc…
- Poor Detoxification
- Hormonal imblances
- Decreased metabolism/energy
- Nutritional Deficiencies
We all know what it feels like to be cranky when we haven’t eaten or when our body is in pain, but when remedied our mood is much improved. There is a strong mind body connection here that is largely overlooked in the history of western medicine. These conditions deplete the body and the brain of resources and affect the mind. An explanation of how this happens is the Immune-Cytokine Model of Depression (ICMD) which states that depression is a result of chronic stimulation of the immune system. Research in the last 20 years has improved our understanding of the import of the immune system in health and disease. We now know that the immune system is involved in pretty much all disease and is highly modulated by the bacteria in our gut. When the immune system is activated it produces inflammatory molecules called, cytokines, that directly affect the brain, altering function and behavior.
Treatments for Depression
Treatment for depression has been known to be a source of great controversy amongst the medical world. Many doctors are quick to use prescription drugs. One of my clients recently told me that as soon as she mentioned lack of energy and anxiety to her conventionally trained doctor, her docotor said, “Oh, you should be on an antidepressant”, like she was handing out candy.
Using prescription drugs, however, only addresses the symptoms and not the cause. Psychiatrist Kelly Brogan MD, argues that prescription meds do not actually work. If they did, she says, there would be a reverse correlation between their use and the rates of depression. But the rates of depression and the use of anti-depressants are both increasing.
There is an underground movement among progressive psychiatrists and psychologists who are advocating for more natural methods of treating depression using lifestyle medicine, like functional medicine, rather than masking the symptoms with side-effect producing prescription drugs.
Functional Medicine For Depression
Functional medicine deals not just with these natural methods, but also with discovering the root causes of the illness. Functional health professionals believe that to truly treat an illness, one must get to the bottom of it and unravel the source of the issue. In order to uncover the root cause it is common for a Functional Medicine provider to recommend functional labs to evaluate digestive health, nutritional deficiencies, hormones, food allergies, and toxicity.
Finding the root cause of the problem, removing it, then replacing and repairing the damage and fortifying resiliency leads to long term mental health success. Using this approach, not only does mood improve, but everything else gets better too: energy, sex drive, motivation, skin, and brain power.
7 Strategies for Combating Depression
- Live an Anti-inflammatory lifestyle – If God didn’t make it, don’t eat it. Eliminate processed, sugary foods and eat mostly plants. Eat organic only, and only grass-fed meat. Our body systems need nutrients from whole foods, not processed, foods to function. Both sugar and processed foods disrupt the microbiome, promoting the growth of the bad bugs which stimulates the immune system, our ability to absorb nutrients, and our mood and behavior. Eliminate alcohol, caffeine, corn, soy, and soda. Drink lots of water, reduce your exposure to environmental toxins and consider doing a detox for a 14 to 28 days. Don’t eat past 7PM.
- Breathe – Our sedentary lifestyles mean that we are often not taking in as much oxygen as we should be. Oxygen consumption is important for the stimulating the growth of mitochondria, which are the energy producing machines of the body. We need this energy not only for our muscles and brain but to fuel the body systems that are designed to keep us well. So exercise! You only need about 11 mintues a day. At a minimum practicin long deep breathing or do Breath of Fire.
- Get Some Sunlight – The sun has many healing properties. The best hours are early morning or late afternoon. Get 10 mintues at least 3 times a week. Visualize the rays entering your body and rejuvenating every cell in your body. Also check your 25 OH vitamin-D levels. You want your level to be over 50. If not, take 2,000 IU of vitamin D3 a day.
- Sleep – Depression is a symptom of imbalance in the body, signifying a catabolic state or breakdown mode of the body. In order to repair and regenerate we need to sleep. Not getting enough sleep and/or the right kind of sleep is detrimental to your long term health. Take 2 capsules of Calcium/Magnesium supplement at night to help you sleep. Melatonin is also good to take. Begin a bed time ritual of in being in bed, without electronics, with a good book and set a goal to be asleep by 10PM. Use essential oils like lavendar in a diffuser and on the palm of your hands and bottoms of your feet to help you relax (imagine your at a spa).
- Take a good multi-vitamin – A growing body of research demonstrates that a good diet in combination with supplementation with micronutrients and fish oil is very effective in preventing and treating mental and physical health. Here’s a compelling and inspirational talk by a clinical psychologist, Julia Rucklidge, who studies the role of nutrition in mental health. I recommend working with a functional medicine or other integrative health provider to identify your unique nutrient deficiencies.
6. Connect – Depression can often make people want to isolate themselves. If you find you are doing this, muster up the courage to reconnect with your friends and family. Seek help. Some of us have a hard time asking for help. If this is you, then as yourself this: if you knew of someone in need, would you reject them? No, you’d be happy to help! So let others help you. Humans are not solitary creatures, important healing chemicals are released when we connect with others. If you don’t feel like you have a good network of friends, join a yoga studio and you’ll kill two birds with one stone.
7. Manage Your Stress – Studies have shown that yoga and meditation can be extremely effective in lowering the severity of depression when practiced regularly. The idea behind meditation for depression is two-fold; first, simply to help people draw more awareness to the thought patterns and negative self-talk which often precedes and signifies an episode of depression. By objectifying the thought patterns then choosing not to believe and act on them, one will reduce their frequency and eventually they will no longer occur. Secondly, meditation puts the body in a physical state of rest, which is the opposite of the stress response, called the relaxation response, where the body can heal and regenerate.
In order to try it yourself, begin by simply sitting or lying down somewhere quiet and peaceful. Start to become aware of your breath and place your attention on the inhale and exhale. You may begin to notice a lot of thoughts popping up – that’s okay! The whole point is to notice them, you know them, they don’t know you! Then refocus your attention back to your breath, let the thoughts be. Just make sure every time this happens you draw your awareness back to the breath. This refocusing of your attention is the point of meditation practice. It is this refocusing that strengthens the part of the brain, called the prefrontal cortex, that allows you to better control negative behaviors, impulses, and thought patterns.
Enjoy this guided meditation to get started
I’d like to hear from you! If you’ve had success with these or any other natural remedies please share them with us here or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have tried these and are still experiencing problems, there could be a deeper underlying cause that needs to be corrected and I recommend working with a functional medicine or other integrative medicine provider to find out what the root cause is of your depression.
Cheers to Good Mental and Physical Health!