Recent research suggests that depression is not solely a “chemical imbalance” caused by low neurotransmitters in the brain. Depression can be related to a variety of underlying factors. These include:
- gut issues
- nutritional deficiencies
- hormonal changes
- sleep deprivation
- and other factors that drive inflammation in the brain.
Pharmaceutical treatments for depression are often not effective and fail to correct these root issues.
In my practice, I address each of these underlying factors (and refer as needed) so that I can help my patients reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety naturally.
Who might benefit from this approach?
Because this approach addresses the essentials such as nutrition, exercise, sleep and stress, it can help you improve your brain health, mood and energy even if you have not been diagnosed with a mood disorder.
This approach to mood disorders can also be helpful for those who have not responded to medications or do not wish to start medications.
Please note that patient safety is paramount. Patients who have active suicidal ideation or are not currently stable enough to follow a treatment plan and perform daily tasks of self care are encouraged to work with a psychiatrist or other community mental health care practitioners until they are stable enough to participate in lifestyle change.
Do I have to stop taking my medication for depression?
No. This approach to brain health can make your medication work better. And it may help you wean off of your medication in the future. The goal is for you to make sustainable lifestyle changes to support your mental health. Many people are able wean off medications after their mood has been stable for at least 6 months. But the choice to use medication is always yours and should be considered on a case-by-case basis, in conjunction with your prescribing doctor.
What does this natural approach to depression entail?
Each individual is unique and will need a different approach to treatment. But there are some common factors that are essential for brain health and form the foundation of most treatment plans:
1. Nutrients & antioxidants
The brain is dependent on specific vitamins and minerals to function. Unfortunately many of these nutrients are often deficient in the Canadian population. Some of the most important ones are: Vitamin D, B vitamins, minerals such as zinc, iron and magnesium, and a variety of antioxidants found in plant foods. A diet rich in these nutrients lowers the risk of depression and cognitive decline.
Testing is available at my naturopathic clinic in Vancouver to ensure that you have optimal levels of these nutrients for brain health. Should deficiencies be identified, I offer nutritional coaching and guidance on supplementation.
2. Happy Gut
Since the early 2000’s, there’s been an increase in research connecting the health of the brain to the health of the gut. We now know that there is a link between certain types of bacteria in the gut and increased risk of depression and anxiety. I work with patients to help cultivate a healthy bacterial population in the gut that includes the strains of bacteria shown to improve mood.
Low stomach acid and food sensitivities can also contribute to depression.
3. Stable blood sugar
Your brain requires a steady supply of glucose (sugar) for energy and mood. Not too much and not too little. A diet high in processed sugars can increase the risk risk of depression. And low blood sugar can contribute to anxiety. One of the most simple and effective strategies for improving mood is to maintain stable blood sugar levels throughout the day.
4. Healthy fats
The human brain is 60 percent fat. It follows that healthy fats are critical for the brain’s ability to perform. The omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish and algae) are especially important for the brain. These healthy fats are often deficient in the Western diet. Low levels can contribute to inflammation and depression. So I often suggest that my patients supplement with a high quality omega 3 oil.
→ Note: It is important to choose an oil that has been tested for oxidation and heavy metals. Fish is also a great source of omega-3 fats. But make sure you choose small fish like salmon to avoid high levels of mercury exposure.
5. Regular exercise
Exercise boosts our natural feel-good endorphins, and improves neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to remodel itself. Extensive research shows that exercise is an effective treatment for depression. The most important factor in determining how successful exercise will be for treating depression is how often you do it. Focus on exercising every day and don’t worry too much about the intensity or duration when you are first getting started.
6. Emotional Safety
Trauma can increase your risk of developing depression. I allow time and space for emotional healing in our visits. And I have a fantastic team of counsellors that I refer out to as needed.
How long does it take to recover from depression?
Every person is unique and their response to treatment will be different. Many of my patients who follow the suggested dietary and lifestyle changes see some improvement in energy and mood within 6-12 weeks.
This is consistent with the findings of the first ever randomized control trial examining how a healthy diet can improve mood. The trial, published in 2017, used a mediterranean-style diet to treat depression. After 12 weeks, one third of the participants with depression reported full remission of their symptoms.
It is important to remember that this is not a quick fix. Patients must commit to making positive changes in their diet and lifestyle–and stick to these changes over the long-term.