Understanding Depression by Grace Calihan ND, LAc

We have all experienced “the blues.”  Feeling sad will often follow a particularly stressful event or loss, but eventually we recuperate and feel like ourselves once more.  Well, what about when you can’t seem to feel better again?

Depression symptoms that interfere with the ability to work, sleep, eat, or enjoy once-pleasurable activities affects 1 in 10 adults, women being twice as likely to be affected as men.  We call this a depressive disorder.

Depression can be linked to genetic factors, but low mood can also relate to nutritional needs, underlying metabolic disorders, or lifestyle habits.  If you are depressed, it is essential to review all of your symptoms with a doctor you trust.  There may be contributing factors that are relatively straightforward to treat: iron or vitamin D deficiency, for example.

You can also request a neurotransmitter test.  This non-invasive approach measures the amount of each neurotransmitter in your nervous system.  Neurotransmitters are chemicals that communicate information throughout the body, telling the body how to move, breath, and feel.  Because neurotransmitters are directly related to mood, it can be helpful to determine which run high and which run low in your system.  Serotonin, for example, is one neurotransmitter that contributes to feelings of happiness and well-being.  There are pharmaceuticals called selective-serotonin reuptake inhibitors (Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, etc) that help increase the amount of serotonin in the system.

While that is one approach to low serotonin, there are diet, lifestyle and supplemental changes that can affect serotonin levels as well.  But what if serotonin is not the problem?  The test can measure up to twelve neurotransmitters that affect mood, and it can be a very helpful place to begin when certain supplements or medications haven’t been effective in the past.

Without testing, there is still plenty of naturopathic mood support available!  Here are some of my favorite baseline recommendations.

Move your body.  This doesn’t necessarily mean clocking lots of hours at the gym.  A simple 5-minute stretching routine can help increase circulation, stimulate lymphatic flow, and increase toxin removal.  Sixty-second burst exercises (running up the stairs, rebounding) flood your system with neurotransmitters called endorphins, which help improve mood.  Studies have shown that walking just 30 minutes per day has significant influence on mild to moderate depressive symptoms.

Find your food triggers (HINT: they are usually the foods you crave the most!).  If you are eating a food that your body doesn’t tolerate, there is a pretty big chance it is affecting your mood.  Common foods that make us feel anxious or depressed are: sugar, gluten, starches, caffeine, and dairy.  Have your naturopathic doctor design an elimination/re-challenge diet that will help you identify which foods are making you feel worse.

Talk to someone.  Working with a counselor, psychiatrist, or any mental health professional will do wonders for your mental-emotional health.  Studies show that cognitive therapy can be as effective as medications in the cases of mild to severe depression.

Please talk to your naturopathic doctor if you are experiencing symptoms of depression or are interested in neurotransmitter testing.  We look forward to working with you!

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