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Depression is a debilitating illness that can cause major issues in every area of a person’s life when it goes untreated. Naturopathic approaches to treatment are an effective way to alleviate and manage symptoms without, or complementing pharmaceutical drugs. Sometimes it is absolutely necessary to use pharmaceutical medication, but certainly not always. In moderate and mild depression, most cases are treatable naturopathically.
Those suffering from depression often find it hard to pinpoint at first as depression can come on gradually. Things start feeling off and eventually it can be hard to find hope or positivity in your life. This can be a very scary experience and unfortunately, while things are improving, there is still some stigma around mental illness, even though ¼ Canadians will experience a serious episode at some point in their lifetime. And it is strongly suspected that this number will soon prove to be closer to 50% of all Canadians - and that includes children, sadly.
Depression is can be situational, a side effect of a medication, genetic or even a result of another medical condition (such as hypothyroidism), however regardless of the cause it can be supported with naturopathic medicine.
Effective treatment of depression allows people to get back to their lives with being able to access feelings of happiness, hopefulness and have the energy to do the things you enjoy. Often times depression can be made worse by anxiety, which becomes another obstacle to getting well again. Thankfully there are some excellent interventions and treatments in naturopathic medicine to treat anxiety.
What are some of the signs of depression?
- Unable to access positive feelings.
- The sense that things are “wrong” or that there is something “wrong” with you, sometimes not as a sickness, but you aren’t right as a person.
- You feel sadness just under the surface and often feel close to tears.
- You don’t have any energy, it’s hard to get out of bed.
- Nothing feelings interesting, and you can’t get excited about anything.
- Decision making is very difficult, or feels impossible.
- You don’t want to spend time with people that you love and you might question how you really feel about them.
- You feel very anxious and it can feel like you are suffocating or your thumping heart is having a heart attack.
- You think about suicide.
- You are constantly thinking about things you fear.
- You put yourself down, focus on everything you’ve done wrong.
How Depression Can Affect Your Life
Because depression affects your energy levels and how you feel about yourself, the impact is seen throughout a person’s life - in relationships, physical health (oh yes, the mind and body are indeed very connected), at work, in parenting, etc.
Depression affects your health
- You may lose the desire to clean your house and taking care of yourself. Other signs can include:
- You may stop exercising and choose fast foods that are quick and convenient instead of eating healthy foods.
- An even bigger concern is when you stop eating regularly.
- You overeat and are putting on weight or you’re rarely eating and are losing weight.
- You miss or don’t schedule appointments to see the doctor for illnesses.
- You can’t sleep.
Depression affects your work
- Over time depression can affect your job and performance which could be a risk to your livelihood. Signs may include:
- You find it hard to give the energy required to excel at your job. Any additional responsibility feels crushing.
- You might stop caring for your appearance, making you seem less professional.
- You take more sick days than usual.
- You find it hard to relate positively with your colleagues or boss.
Depression affects your relationships
- Important relationships get neglected and you may:
- Start making excuses to spend time with your friends and family.
- Miss important holidays and events.
- You’ve lost interest in sex and affection in general.
- You avoid talking to people when you can.
Depression affects personal interests and goals
- Your chores and responsibilities either don’t get done or take much longer than they should.
- You don’t have any interests anymore.
- You don’t care about how much money you are spending, even if that means debt.
What Factors Influence Depression?
Since depression is caused by situational, genetic factors, other medical conditions or medications, many, many factors can influence depression. These can include but are not limited to:
- Thyroid conditions, adrenal fatigue, hormone related issues and other illnesses.
- Low levels of iron, vitamin D, Omega 3s, magnesium and other vitamins and mineral that impact mood
- Dietary allergies and sensitivities that cause the body to be inflamed and stressed.
- Low serotonin levels
- Insomnia / trouble sleeping
- Lack of exercise
- Medications and antibiotics
What are the options for treating Depression Naturopathically?
Therapy: Dr. Smith does basic counselling but does strongly encourage patients to also be in therapy and find someone that they connect with. She has many excellent referrals of various therapists with different areas of focus.
Meditation: More and more meditation is playing an increasingly important role in mood disorder treatment. There are many high quality studies highlighting how learning how to calm our nervous system plays a valuable part in improving mood and reducing anxiety. Dr. Smith, ND refers into various meditation programs as she strongly believes this is extremely helpful.
Exercise: We all know how good it feels to exercise, it’s just that when you’re depressed, you’ve likely forgotten how it feels. Exercise releases some of our feel good hormones: dopamine and serotonin, (not to mention adrenaline). And, we almost instantly feel better about how we look, which further enhances the antidepressant effects. Even more potent - if we can get outside and be outdoors, studies show this even further amplifies the health benefits of exercise.
Diet: We all know that we should be eating more whole foods, fresh fruits and vegetables, trans fats and processed foods. But what many don’t know is that nutrition actual almost immediately affects mood. Food isn’t just fuel, it’s information. It turns genes on or off and it very much affects our brain. Often patients are surprised that Dr. Smith, ND spends as much times as she does in this area - but it is hugely important.
Botanical medicine: Many herbs have a long history of traditional use in this area of medicine and some have research trials behind their efficacy. One of the most well-known is Hypericum perforatum or St. John’s Wort. Trials comparing St. John’s Wort to the SSRIs have not only shown the herb to be superior to placebo, but just as effective as these medications, with far fewer side effects. However, St. John’s Wort has MANY drug reactions so must be prescribed by and naturopathic doctor or master herbalist. St. John’s Wort can NEVER be used with other mental health medications and must be monitored and prescribed by a licensed provider.
Nutrients and amino acids: Zinc plays a role in over 100 enzymatic reactions in the body (that we know of). Enzymes are what enable reactions to take place. If zinc is deficient, then the reactions don’t work optimally. Zinc is essential in maintaining and developing neurological networks and communication. One of the leading theories on the relationship between zinc and depression is that zinc is a necessary cofactor for neurotransmitter production and function.
L-Tryptophan and L-5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP): are amino acids and are precursors to serotonin, “the happy hormone”. These amino acids should only be used under the supervision of a licensed physician or naturopathic doctor. If these amino acids are combined with SSRIs (depression medications), a condition called serotonin syndrome can result. This can cause irreversible damage in many organ systems or even death.
Omega 3 essential fatty acids: In various trials a 7:1 ratio of EPA:DHA resulted in dramatic improvements on mood scores. This is always prescribed by Dr. Smith, unless there are contraindications.
SAM-e: S-adenosylmethionine is a substance naturally produced in the body that has been shown to be effective even in major depression. It acts as a methyl donor in pathways that form nucleic acids, proteins, phospholipids, and neurotransmitters. SAMe can raise dopamine levels, reduce inflammation, and enhance detoxification reactions in the liver. Two major drawbacks of oral supplementation of this substance are poor oral absorption through the gut and cost. Furthermore, like tryptophan and 5-HTP, it can cause serotonin syndrome. Additionally, some people don’t tolerate it well. This should also be prescribed by a licensed provider.