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Depression is a common mood disorder, an unhappy an unfun one at that with least 12% of Canadians meeting the criteria for major depression at some point in their lives. When you’re depressed, even the smallest tasks can seem impossible. Believe it or not, naturopathic medicine has some very simple, well-studied, natural answers that can help get you feeling alive again!
What is Depression?
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, one of several chemicals responsible for passing messages between nerve cells. Serotonin has been popularized for being the culprit in depression, but depression is more than just a serotonin deficiency- it is a complex syndrome. Depression is diagnosed when some or all of the following symptoms are present:
Being sad or depressed most of the time
Loss of enjoyment in things that were once enjoyable
Weight loss or gain
Changes in sleep (insomnia or excessive sleeping)
Feelings of guilt, hopelessness, or worthlessness
Thoughts of suicide
The number of the above symptoms you have, along with their intensity, helps describe how severe your depression is. No matter the severity, it’s important to know that if you have one or more of the above symptoms, you don’t just have to suffer through it. Asking for help takes courage, and getting the support you need to manage your depression to make life enjoyable again is an absolute must!
It’s common for people with depression to experience suicidal thoughts, and if this is the case for you or someone you love, it’s important to get help right away! In Toronto, you can call the Crisis Line at 416-408-4357 to speak to a counselor who is trained to help in a compassionate way.
How is Depression Treated?
Pharmaceutical antidepressants like selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) were the are commonly prescribed medications for depression. For mild to moderate depression, psychotherapy is the first choice. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) are two effective techniques commonly used by therapists and naturopathic doctors alike.
With naturopathic medicine, there are many things that can be done either in addition to psychotherapy or as an alternative. As naturopathic doctors, we are intimately familiar with the connection between the gut and your mood, as well as things like your stress levels and adrenal health! There are several herbs and supplements like St. John’s Wort and SAMe, that have been shown to be as effective as SSRIs at helping lift depressive symptoms.
The Gut-Brain Connection
Up to 95% of your serotonin is made in your gut, meaning that if your gut isn’t functioning correctly, you’re not making enough of this important neurotransmitter. While low serotonin isn’t the only cause of depression, getting your gut healthy will certainly help your mood! If you’re eating foods that you’re sensitive to, it could be causing inflammation in more than just your digestive tract. We know that mental health conditions often have an inflammatory component, so cleaning up your diet can really help.
It’s also very important to have a proper balance of good and bad bacteria, as clinical trials have shown improvements with probiotics, meaning more than just eating yogurt or kefir, clinical grade supplements make a difference!
Herbs Can Help
Lots of people have heard of St. John’s Wort- it’s a beautiful yellow flower that acts like an SSRI and works just as well as prescription drugs for mild to moderate depression. Saffron is a Middle Eastern herb used in cooking and has some evidence for its depression-fighting ability. Sometimes using herbs to help calm the nervous system works, such as Lemon Balm or Passion Flower. Sometimes herbs that help adrenal function help, like Licorice Root and Ashwagandha. There are many other herbs that can help, and naturopathic doctors are trained to help you choose the right combination of herbs and supplements that will work for you.