With nearly one in three people struggling with symptoms, depression and anxiety are the most pervasive conditions in the U.S.
The root causes of these difficult mental health conditions are often overlooked, complicating treatment and causing confusion for the patient. While medication may be beneficial for some people, in this article you’ll learn how the gut, hormones, inflammation, and environmental toxins have an effect on mental health, and the 6 integrative medicine methods to improve depressive symptoms and feelings of anxiety.
Integrative medicine offers unique alternatives, or additional therapies to medication that can help you address the underlying causes of depression and anxiety to heal your body and mind.
The Integrative Medicine Approach to Anxiety and Depression
A rapidly increasing body of research shows the importance of a gut-brain connection wherein neurotransmitters are produced in the gut and are then delivered to the brain (1). Poor gut health equals poor neurotransmitter function and subsequent mood imbalance.
Related to this, hormone function, which has a major impact on mood, depression, and anxiety can also be affected by gut function. Many patients report anxiety and depression worsening cyclically, indicating the root of their problems is hormonal, and not isolated to their brain.
Our current environment, plus a heavy toxic burden plays a significant role in our body’s ability to clear inflammation and rid the body of unwanted substances that can negatively affect the mind.
If you’re ready to speak to a compassionate provider who will work with you to regain your emotional balance and your life, schedule an appointment today.
Connecting the Dots with Functional Medicine
When a patient with depression seeks treatment for their symptoms, a functional doctor will seek to understand the underlying causes creating the depression itself.
A diagnosis of depression tells us what a patient is suffering with, but not the imbalances that created it in the first place.
For example, you may be diagnosed with depression, but “depression” isn’t causing your feelings of sadness or apathy. The same rule applies to anxiety as well. Lifestyle, diet, environmental, and emotional triggers all play a role in our mental wellbeing.
Keep reading to discover the holistic systems which affect mind, body, and mood.
The Gut + Brain Connection & Mental Health
Psychological, behavioral, and emotional symptoms can be triggered by an unhealthy gut.
For example, Candida albicans–or yeast–overgrowth can cause anxiety attacks, mood swings, depression, brain fog, crying spells, and depression. Integrative doctors estimate that Candida overgrowth is likely massively underdiagnosed. Due to a high sugar and refined carb diet, low vegetable intake, and high stress, candida can quietly proliferate and take over the gut without its host (you!) knowing.
In addition, your main neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of well-being and satisfaction, serotonin, is produced in the gut. Enzymes and friendly bacteria in the gut help convert amino acids to serotonin, which then makes its way to your brain where it stabilizes your mood.
Without proper digestive function, the brain lacks access to important chemical signals that keep us feeling optimistic, motivated, and at ease.
Hormone Imbalance & Depression
Hormones are our body’s chemical messengers. Almost every process our brains and bodies carry out is regulated by hormone signals. This includes cortisol and insulin, as well as sex hormones like estrogen and testosterone.
Symptoms of HPA axis or cortisol dysregulation can leave us feeling fatigued, depressed, and without motivation. This system is highly sensitive to things like chronic stress and a poor diet.
If you struggle with depression, your functional doctor will also likely check your thyroid levels, as this hormone plays a crucial role in mood health. You TSH, free T3, and free T4 can provide insight as to whether or not your thyroid is functioning properly.
Many women report severe mood swings, crying spells, and even suicidal thoughts occurring cyclically, indicating these may be due to PMDD or PMS as a result of hormone imbalance.
CentreSpringMD offers in-depth and thorough hormone testing to identify hormone imbalance and help you restore optimal function to this complex system.
Inflammation Triggers Anxiety & Depression
The Standard American diet heavily consists of inflammatory foods. Processed carbohydrates, and sugar hijack brain chemistry and create metabolic issues which are linked to depressive symptoms and mood disorders. Sugar creates an unstable source of energy for the brain, which can alter brain chemistry and exacerbate depressive symptoms and anxiety (2).
In addition, undiagnosed food sensitivities, such as those to dairy, gluten, or soy, trigger an inflammatory immune response in the gut, which can affect the brain.
Increased inflammatory activation of the immune system in the gut can affect the central nervous system (CNS), playing a role in depression, fatigue, and anxiety (3).
Detoxification & Methylation Status
Similar to an inflammatory diet, environmental toxins and endocrine disrupting compounds can increase systemic inflammation as they overwhelm the immune system. Decreasing your toxic burden can improve immune function, and modulate inflammation.
About 40% of the population possess a genetic variant of the MTHFR gene, which can restrict methylation and optimal detox function, causing increased sensitivities to environmental toxins and inflammation buildup (4).
A CentreSpringMD provider can help you evaluate your methylation status and make personalized recommendations to support you.
6 Integrative Strategies to Heal the Mind
The functional medicine approach to anxiety and depression is simple: Remove negative influences on brain health, and replace them with healthy, functional nutrients, foods, and coping strategies.
1. Eat an Anti-Inflammatory Diet.
Omit or significantly limit sugar and refined carbohydrates. Include plenty of antioxidant-rich foods, such as:
- Spices (turmeric, ginger)
- Greens (kale, chard, spinach)
Eat whole foods as close to their natural state as possible, with plenty of veggies, healthy fats, and quality proteins.
2. Sleep Well
Adequate sleep allows the body time to regenerate and repair, in addition to normalizing hormones and metabolism. The research is very clear: lack of sleep worsens depression,
During sleep, the brain also performs waste removal via the “glia-lymphatic” system, getting rid of inflammatory compounds that could damage the brain (5).
3. Don’t Be Sedentary
Exercise has been shown to positively impact biomarkers of inflammation, hormones, and expression of specialized proteins within the brain responsible for protection and communication (6).
While exercise might not be a standalone therapy for mental health conditions, meta-analysis supports the use of exercise as an additional therapy in almost all cases.
Long-term depression can also shrink a part of the brain called the hippocampus, responsible for learning and memory, and studies have shown that exercise stimulates neurogenesis within the hippocampus (6).
4. Supplement Accordingly
Americans are deficient in several major nutrients which help build and maintain a healthy brain. When the brain has the right nutrients available, it’s better able to communicate and protect itself from damage which can negatively impact mood and wellbeing. Consider:
- Omega-3s from fish oil
- Methylated B vitamins
- Vitamin D
Research shows that children and adolescents with depression may also benefit from supplementation with omega-3s.(7)
5. Have Healthy Coping Strategies
It’s no secret that much of our modern lifestyles are not congruent with our biology, let alone supportive of mental health. One of the biggest predictors of longevity is psychological resilience, or your ability to adapt to different challenges. So it’s important to evaluate your life, make changes where necessary, and discover healthy coping mechanisms.
This looks like strengthening healthy thought patterns, having a mindfulness journal, meditating, or practicing controlled breathing exercises. There’s an infinite number of options, and most are completely free (or almost free) and offer great benefit to your mind and body.
6. Work With a Functional Medicine Provider
Managing anxiety and depression is a complex and difficult task, and solutions are often difficult to manifest when you’re deep into managing symptoms. Functional medicine is uniquely poised to help you handle both functional aspects of mental health treatment, and help you discuss the need for pharmaceutical intervention.
When you work with CentreSpringMD, you’ll be in capable and compassionate hands, as we navigate the road to better mental health together.
If you or a loved one struggles with depression, anxiety, or any other mental health condition, contact a CentreSpringMD integrative physician today.