Depression and Naturopathic Medicine

Dr. Lisa Polinsky

I was recently invited to speak on the radio about Naturopathic Medicine and the topic of depression as a lead up to the big media event for Mental Health Day on February 12, 2013.  It is a significant health issue that affects approximately 1 in 5 Canadians directly and untold numbers of family members.  Estimates by the World Health Organization are that  depression will be the single biggest medical burden on health by 2020.  Given the complex nature of depression (and mood issues in general) and the many varied factors that contribute to this chronic health issue naturopathic medicine can make a significant positive effect.

Depression is a big term and does not adequately describe the many varied causes for a person experiencing low mood.  Each person needs to be treated individually, and a ‘one size fits all’ approach is lacking in truly treating the cause(s).

Some common influences on mood are:

1)  low Vitamin D, low Omega 3 intake, low Vitamin B, low Magnesium – all of these supplements can be affected by diet, stress or living in Canada and have been shown to affect mood when low

2)  pre-existing conditions – various types of anemia, low thyroid function, adrenal fatigue, low progesterone and elevated testosterone can negatively influence mood and when treated can affect overall health

3)  diet high in food sensitivities or food allergies – eg. Dairy and wheat consumption are known to induce low mood, irritability, and anxiety when an issue.  It is important to identify and remove foods that pose a stress to the body

4)  poor blood sugar regulation – for example missing meals such as breakfast can set a person up for a yo-yo of low energy, anxiety and then leaning on caffeine and high carb foods to quickly bring things back in balance

5)  low serotonin levels – possibly from a family history, chronic digestive issues,  or chronic sleep disruption as well as low protein diet can contribute to reduced levels.  Symptoms can include low mood, increased crying, carbohydrate cravings later in the day and evenings and more negative outlook – ‘glass half empty’.

6)  Lack of exercise – we all have heard this before but even as little as 10 minutes a day of walking, stretching or yoga can help increase the beneficial effects.

7)  Medications –not to be overlooked but some medications such as the birth control pill deplete vitamins and can negatively influence mood, same with the drugs Lipitor and Metformin. Replenishing with the missing nutrients can assist and help prevent a problem.

Conventional approach to depression centers around cognitive behavioural therapy and medications.  While there are benefits to both they should be considered as part of the plan to first identify why a person is experiencing depression, and treat them as unique individuals.  Herbs such as St John’s Wort have a very strong profile when compared to medications for mild to moderate depression and have significantly lower side effects, so should be considered.  As well, GABA or 5HTP may be good options but would need to be assessed for fit and proper dose.  Acupuncture, homeopathic remedies and numerous other treatments offer some options for a comprehensive approach.

Emotions are signals or messages and ideally we as humans have access to all emotions like joy, enthusiasm, happiness, sadness, anger and flow through the whole range of possible feelings.  If we get stuck in depression, anxiety, negative thinking and other mood disorders then we can take that as a message that something (or possibly several things) are out of balance in our life.  Depression is not the end of the story but should be the start of exploration for possible causes and an approach that is specific to the individual, a truly holistic perspective.