Depression is a very common condition affecting millions of Americans. SSRI drugs such a Zoloft and other prescription antidepressants are one of the most common medications prescribed by family medicine physicians. But what is the reason? In functional medicine we always ask the question “why?”. So why are so many people depressed in our country? Is it an epidemic of Prozac deficiency, or is there something else going on?
What is depression?
Lets start with the question “what is depression?” For many people it can be more than simply feeling sad. Major depression can be debilitating! It is one of the most common reasons for missed work. It can affect marriages, physical health, and almost every aspect of life. For someone who has never suffered from depression it may be easy to discount the effects, but anyone who has been truly depressed knows this illness can be devastating. So if it is more than just feeling sad, how do you know if you are depressed? The following is a list of common symptoms associated with depression:
- Lack of motivation
- Lack of energy
- Feelings of sadness
- Feelings of guilt
- Increased or decreased sleep
- Lack of interest in pleasurable activities
- Difficulty concentrating
- Increased or decreased appetite
- Becoming easily agitated
- Thoughts of harming yourself or others
So what causes depression? This is a very complicated question and I believe the answer is multifactorial.
Here is a list of a few problems or conditions that can lead to symptoms of depression:
Neurotransmitter imbalance-Some data suggests it is an imbalance of the “happy hormones” like dopamine and serotonin that cause depression. This is how most prescription antidepressants work, by increasing the amounts of these hormones in the brain.
Gut dysbiosis– More and more data suggests that an imbalance in the bacteria in the gut can lead to depression.
Food sensitivities– There is no question that food affects our mood. For individuals who suffer from depression, it is important to identify any food allergies or sensitivities.
Hormone imbalances– Hormone imbalances, particularly the thyroid hormone, can lead to many symptoms of depression.
Stress-Stress can contribute to depression. People who are chronically stressed can deplete their adrenal reserve, and the result can be a constellation of symptoms that are consistent with depression.
Sleep– Poor sleep can result in poor energy, lack of motivation, and a depressed mood.
Alcohol and drug abuse– Alcohol is often used to self-medicate at home, but it is a depressant and can make symptoms worse.
What can you do if you suffer from depression?
Working with a practitioner that is experienced in managing depression is crucial, particularly if you are already taking a prescription antidepressant. Never stop your antidepressant “cold turkey” especially if you have been on it for a prolonged period of time. Always consult your prescribing physician prior to making any medication changes.
Have your vitamin D level checked and supplement at least 2000IU of D3 or 15-20 minutes of sunlight daily. Ideal levels of 25(OH) Vitamin D should be between 50-80 ng/ml.
Supplement omega-3 fatty acids with fish oil or eat wild salmon at least twice weekly. Healthy ratios of omega 3: omega 6 fatty acids are important for proper brain function and mood.
Eliminate problem foods from your diet. You can determine food sensitivities by participating in an elimination diet or undergoing food sensitivity testing. Two common culprits are dairy and gluten. Try avoiding these for 2 weeks and see how you feel.
Add probiotics to help support a healthy gut microbiome. I recommend high potency, broad spectrum probiotics. We use PureEncapsulations or Metagenics. You can order from us online by using our practitioner code kchavers.
Supplement with B12 and folate. Patients with an MTHFR genetic mutation may require methylation support for proper mood. Some people respond well to sublingual methylcobalamin (B12) 2500-5000mcg and oral MTHF 1-5mg daily. Be sure to avoid processed cereals and breads which contain synthetic folic acid and may make your mood worse.
If you are feeling depressed, overwhelmed, or do not know where to start, let us partner with you and help guide you in the right direction. You are not meant to feel down and out the rest of your life, or be dependent on prescription medications to get through the day. I truly believe with the proper nutrition, exercise, stress management, and treatment of other underlying conditions, you can overcome your depression and live up to your potential.