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Naturopathic Considerations for Treating Depression

By Melissa McCarty, ND – Seattle Integrative Medicine

The sun is coming out and the temperatures are warming up! This should be the time of year where we relax, play outdoors, travel, feel light and happy… right? Not always. Although you are likely exposed to more sunlight and creating more vitamin D, which has a mood-boosting effect, if you are feeling down and out you are not alone.

Common symptoms of depression include persistent sadness, crying, fatigue, lethargy, body aches and pains, irritability, loss of interest in things that you previously enjoyed, and isolating yourself from friends and family. These symptoms can strike any time of year.

In the summer months, however, we tend to overextend ourselves and get less sleep. This in and of itself can create an environment where you don’t feel great. Add to this the increase in travel and other activities that throw you off schedule and it means you likely aren’t sticking to the diet choices that you know keep you on track. But even when you are getting enough sleep and your diet is great, you may still feel sluggish and sad.

There are several reasons this might be and that may be worth exploring with a naturopathic physician.

Dietary
What and how you eat can truly affect your mood. It’s important to regulate your mood by keeping your blood sugar stable. For instance, people often notice feeling more anxious if they skip meals. Eating regularly is an easy way to stabilize your mood. The foods that help do that are proteins like eggs, nuts, beans, dairy, lean meats, and fish. Make sure you eat carbohydrates like breads, pastas, and sweets in moderation and always in combination with proteins so your blood sugar is not as affected.

Individual food reactions can also play a role in mood changes. There are several easy ways of identifying problem foods, one of which is the elimination diet. In this diet, you take out the most common reactive foods: gluten, dairy, eggs, sugar, soy, citrus, nightshade vegetables and alcohol for a period of 2-4 weeks and note changes in mood.

Another way to identify potential food problems is through blood testing for IgG antibodies that can be produced up to 3 days after you eat a problem food. There are several labs that offer these tests, which give a more personalized and inclusive guideline on specific foods to avoid.

Nutrient Deficiencies
Even though it’s lighter out, many folks still have vitamin D deficiency because they aren’t actually getting skin exposure. It’s important to have your levels of vitamin D tested to identify this deficiency and to help target the appropriate daily dose for you.

Other nutrients that may have an effect on mood are iron and B-vitamins, which can be easily screened via a blood test. Of course, there are numerous other vitamins and minerals which the body needs to make hormones and neurotransmitters, which keep us balanced and feeling good. These can also be identified through lab testing and easily supplemented.

Hormone Imbalances
There are certain times in life where hormonal changes can make people feel depressed. Puberty, pregnancy, PMS and menopause are just a few. Imbalances can often be diagnosed and treated based on symptoms in these cases, although lab testing does exist if needed. Thyroid deficiencies and adrenal hormone imbalances are common and really make people feel lousy. These can come with or even be the cause of the other hormone symptoms mentioned, making it more complicated to figure out the cause. Again, there are easy lab tests that can be done to help get to the root of the issue.

Fortunately, treating hormone imbalances does not necessarily mean taking hormones! There are many natural therapies that work well on this system—including vitamins, minerals, and herbal therapies to name a few.

Neurotransmitter Deficiencies
When most people think of treatments for depression, what comes to mind are antidepressant medications. These target specific neurotransmitters in the central nervous system—most commonly, serotonin. Using lifestyle, diet and nutrient therapies, it is possible to effect these neurotransmitters without medications, and in certain situations even wean off of antidepressant medications. There are easy tests that can be done to evaluate neurotransmitter levels when patients are not responding to a given therapy or have a more complicated situation.

If you aren’t feeling like yourself lately there are several factors to consider. Consult your naturopathic physician to begin exploring together why this may be and get you started on a plan to feel your best.

For more information on managing depression naturally, see a naturopathic physician. Click here to find one in your area.