Integrative medicine approaches depression very differently than traditional medicine, which focuses on treating symptoms with pharmaceuticals. Physicians often prescribe SSRI’s to handle the dysregulation of neurochemicals like serotonin.
More recently, healthcare professionals are viewing depression as a symptom of multiple underlying issues – including faulty gut health, vitamin deficiencies, genetic factors, toxin exposure, thyroid problems and sleep disturbances. Pharmaceutical treatments can have short term benefits by manipulating brain chemistry. But, longer lasting changes really come from rebalancing and rebuilding integrative systems that impact the brain and body.
Heal The Gut
Serotonin might be the single most important neurotransmitter which is mostly manufactured in the gut and impacts many other neurochemicals. Leaky gut which is triggered by food intolerances and toxins and unhealthful gut bacteria can disrupt the production of serotonin. Additionally, leaky gut can trigger systemic inflammation which also leads to depression. Research shows that treating leaky gut often helped reduce depression significantly. The brain and gut are connected a bi-directional pathway.
Healing the gut and microbiome includes introducing fermented foods ( kefir, kimchi and sauerkraut), taking prebiotics like onion and garlic which help fertilize the good bacteria, lower the consumption of refined carbs and sugars and increase the intake of healthy fats ( cold water fish, flax and chia seeds, avocados, olive and coconut oil).
Address Vitamin Deficiencies
Vitamin B is crucial to mood regulation. Low levels of B-6, B-9 and B-12 are all correlated to depressive symptoms. B vitamins are critical to the methylation process which supports the body’s production of beneficial neurotransmitters and detoxification process.
Omega 3 fatty acids ( DHA and EPA) are essential to brain function. Recommended dosages are 500 mg of DHA and 1000mg of EPA. If these are low you significantly increase the probability of developing mental illness. Omega 3’s can also be found in cold water fish and flax seeds.
Minimize Toxin Exposure
Exposure to chemicals like pesticides, herbicides and glyphosate found in commercial agriculture and toxicity from heavy metals like mercury and lead have been linked to a variety of disorders including anxiety, panic attacks and clinical depression. Many of these toxins can pass through the blood brain barrier and impact the brain directly. Therefore, eat certified organic foods, drink filtered water, use air purifying filters, replace cleaning and health care products with organic and chemical free ones. Exercising regularly also helps to boost the body’s detoxification process.
The thyroid secretes hormones that affect every part of the body, including the brain. Hypothyroidism, indicative of low thyroid hormones as been linked to depression. It is often triggered by an autoimmune condition in which the body attacks the thyroid tissue thinking it’s an invader. Gluten is often a trigger- which has been shown to imitate thyroid tissue. Resetting the thyroid involves a combination of diet and lifestyle interventions.
SNP’s ( single nucleotide polymorphisms) are genetic variations which are passed through generations. It’s been estimated that up to 40% of our population carry the MTHFR SNP which impairs vitamin B production which impedes the methylation process – needed for detoxification and the production of neurotransmitters needed for mental health and mood stabilization. It’s the SNP for methylation that get passed on not a gene for depression. The good news – we can treat methylation. Protocols for treating depression include methylated B vitamins and increasing exercise.
Sleep deprivation and over sleeping can be a strong trigger for depression. It’s during our sleep that the brain and body detoxify. Every cell is in the human body is essentially a molecular machine that has evolved to function on a 24 hour cycle called circadian rhythms. Our neurochemistry is correlated with our circadian sleep cycle. Our bodies and brain function optimally when we go to sleep when it’s dark and wake when it’s light and ideally at the same time every day.
Additionally, healthy and regular social interactions are as important as diet, exercise and sleep in impacting and managing depression. We are all very impacted by the people we engage and spend most of our time with!
Mindfulness and meditation practices have also been shown to be powerful antidotes to managing stress that is often a trigger for depression
New Treatments For Depression
Probiotics – help boost and promote beneficial and diverse bacteria in our gut, where most of our serotonin is produced. What’s good for the gut is good for the brain.
Light Treatment – has been used successfully to treat SAD (seasonal affective disorder) and non – SAD conditions.
Movement Therapy – rhythmic movements have been shown to elevate mood enhancing neurochemicals.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – this therapy has been used to help calm people before bedtime and ensure better quality sleep and reducing insomnia.