Depression and Naturopathic Treatment


Depression and Naturopathic Treatment

I am currently reading a great book called The Mood Cure by Julia Ross. It describes the biochemistry disruption of various moods and their link to nutritional deficiencies. As Summer approaches and we are getting a little more sun, I notice many people’s mood pick up as well as my own! However, depression is still quite a problem for many people and it can be quite common to blame yourself which only compounds the problem. I would like to share some information and approaches to consider for treating depression. Please call for a visit if you are struggling with your mood and we can explore what is appropriate for you!

Depression is one of the most common medical problems in the U.S. affecting some 17 million people. It affects the whole body, nervous system, mood, thoughts, behavior, appetite, and sleep. People can be chronically angry and irritable, feel sad, or feel very little emotion at all.

Causes of depression: stress or a traumatic event, imbalances in the brain, untreated low thyroid conditions, nutritional deficiencies, poor diet, high sugar diet, lack of exercise, allergies (including food allergies), hypoglycemia, and other medical conditions.

Neurotransmitters are the chemical messengers in the brain that regulate mood. The most important ones related to mood and depression are serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.

Low serotonin levels can cause depression, along with anxiety and sleep problems. Antidepressants like Prozac work by keeping levels of serotonin more available within the nerve area of communication called a synapse. Tryptophan is the amino acid that is the foundation molecule to make serotonin. Foods that support serotonin production are carbohydrates but the nutrients that are specifically needed to make serotonin come from tryptophan, B6, vitamin C, and the B complex. Tryptophan is an amino acid or protein building block and it is plentiful in milk and turkey. Tryptophan, in a supplement form of 5HTP, is often prescribed by naturopaths for depression. Again, it supplies the body with the foundation molecule to make serotonin if it needs it. If people’s depression is a result of low serotonin they usually respond quickly to this modified form of the amino acid tryptophan.
This should not be taken if a person is using a serotonin enhancing anti-depressant as a side effect of excess serotonin may occur causing the same symptoms as the one needing to be improved.

Norepinephrine deficiency can cause depressions especially with associated fatigue and low energy. Norepinephrine is supported by improving the availability of the amino acid tyrosine. We find tyrosine in foods like meats and cheese. In order for tyrosine to make norepinephrine we also need adequate amounts of B6 and Vitamin C.

St. John’s Wort works by inhibiting serotonin reuptake. This results in keeping serotonin around longer and there by simulating an effect of higher levels. This should not be taken when on an SSRI anti-depressant medication.

Some people have a metabolic deficiency in their ability to produce the essential fatty acid GLA. They are typically depressed since youth, and find that alcohol helps. Risk for this deficiency is greatest in those of Celtic Irish, Scandinavian, Native American, Welsh, and Scottish backgrounds. Borage/ Evening primrose oil and cofactors B6, zinc, magnesium, niacin and Vitamin C will provide the needed building blocks to produce the needed essential fatty acid and resulting prostaglandins to support mood.

Other supports for depression include:

Eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables, seeds, nuts, rice, legumes and whole grains with exception of wheat (wheat gluten is linked to depression and is a common food allergy). Complex carbs promote serotonin production. If you are depressed and anxious concentrate on complex carbs such as fresh fruits and vegetables or whole grain rice for feeling more relaxed.

Include quality proteins from egg whites, turkey, salmon, white fish, and spirullina that are high in the amino acid tyrosine if your depression is associated with fatigue and lethargy.

Avoid all artificial sweeteners but especially aspartame or NutraSweet, this may interfere with serotonin production and can disrupt brain chemistry associated with insomnia and headaches.

Avoid all concentrated sugars and the quick rise in blood sugar which is often followed by a feeling of fatigue and depression. Try stevia as an herbal alternative or agave, a low glycemic sweetener made from fruit.

Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and processed foods as these quickly deplete the minerals and cofactors to synthesize amino acids into neurotransmitters. They also spike blood sugar and deplete the adrenals both leading to fatigue.

Keep your mind active and get plenty of rest and regular exercise.

Work with your conscious and unconscious thoughts and ideologies. Even our brain chemistry is affected by our thoughts which are creating our perception of our life and experiences. If most of our responses to the world are unconscious then get help and learn ways to change patterns that are not bringing you happiness or peace. A skilled therapist, a group, books, spiritual teachings, and a multitude of techniques are available to work on attitude and thinking.

Light therapy is helpful in the production of serotonin and melatonin, another biochemical that supports a positive mood. Full spectrum light is needed for at least half an hour a day to improve mood.

Treating low thyroid, blood sugar problems, and other medical conditions often results in a better sense of well-being and mood.

As a naturopath, I use an array of nutrients, herbs, and homeopathy to help people with depression. The examples I have listed are only a few and should be tried under the supervision of a naturopath. There are many alternative treatments for other emotional and mental conditions as well, such as anxiety, attention disorders, fear, and grief.

Using food, specific nutrients, and herbs can be done from several perspectives. The scientific tradition uses intellect, knowledge, and results to form a rationale for treatment. As a Naturopath, I am inclined to combine the scientific tradition with a more healing perspective. The mentioned medicines may be prescribed as outlined previously but hopefully there is also attention to the soul through which the symptom of depression is expressing some challenge. Each physical and emotional challenge that I see is an opportunity to take time and attention to the individual and their life. We all need and desire to be heard and understood. The unconscious wants our attention and to explore it is to have more insight into the thoughts and perspective from which we react and act out our life. Nourishing with medicine can go beyond physical substances and may also include words, touch, environment, consciousness, prayer, and intention. All these have as dramatic effect on biochemistry as do specific substances. These are often neglected or discounted by the scientific world because they are harder to measure and quantify. Who hasn’t felt uplifted by a walk in a garden, the sound of a baby’s laugh, an inspired sermon, a hug, or someone taking the time to listen to our life story?

My favorite quote from the past week was, “Practice is progress but perfection is prison”! The other one, from a physicist was, “My parents taught me there is always an answer”. Keep looking for your answers and “expect a miracle”!

Take care and call for an appointment or bring it up at your next appointment if depression or some other mood just seems to persist!

Dr. Mikel

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