Depression: it’s not all in your head

Many people believe that depression is caused by chemical imbalances in the brain, and in particular, an imbalance of serotonin – our ‘feel good hormone’. The textbook medicine approach is to prescribe anti-depressants to increase brain serotonin. This works for some people; but it does nothing for others.

Why? Because – as multiple studies confirm – depression is not always in your head. Depression can be caused for multiple reasons including, but not limited to, early life physical and mental abuse, loneliness, chronic stress, lifestyle factors, nutritional imbalances like Omega 3 oils and Vitamin D, and your inflammatory response.

In fact, in recent years, scientists have proven the significant and undeniable link between your inflammatory response and depression. This response is our immune system’s reaction to infections and physical trauma, but it can also be aggravated by dietary and metabolic factors. Research now confirms what our naturopaths have observed for years: patients with a heightened inflammatory response do not respond to conventional anti-depressants.

Your inflammatory response depresses serotonin

Your body and brain have a natural ability to take tryptophan – an amino acid in foods like turkey, chicken, fish, eggs, lentils, nuts, cheese and yogurt – and convert it into serotonin. But this ability is hindered by an inflammatory response that can be caused by:

  • An imbalance in the good and bad bacteria in your gut (gut dysbiosis)
  • Gluten intolerance, reduced nutrient absorption from digestive conditions
  • Post food-poisoning and other bacterial overgrowth situations in the gut
  • Gut issues like bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine (SIBO)
  • Low immunity
  • PMS and menopause
  • Exposure to mould and fungus
  • Food intolerances
  • Pro-inflammatory diets, especially those high in sugar, starches or carbohydrates

When your gut and brain have an inflammatory response, you can get caught in a challenging cycle. There’s less serotonin forming in your gut and brain, which means your gut now becomes less regular, so your bacteria levels increase. This further reduces serotonin and affects your mood.

And your mood affects what you eat. So, you potentially reach out for a sweet pick-me-up or other forms of ‘comfort’ food, which turn not to be so comforting after all because they stimulate your inflammatory system.

As if that’s not enough, as serotonin is necessary for the creation of melatonin, so you may struggle to sleep. Insufficient sleep triggers the inflammatory response again, and so the cycle continues.

Breaking the cycle

There are many lifestyle tweaks that can help to break the cycle – exercise, improved sleep hygiene, and more – but when you’re struggling with depression, it can be incredibly hard to implement these tweaks. What we can do is start with your gut.

Depending on your unique gut-brain challenges, the following may help:

  • Identifying food intolerances. We recently supported a woman who was depressed for 15 years. She did not respond to antidepressant medication or naturopathic supplements. It turned out gluten was causing an inflammatory response in her gut and brain. Just three days after removing gluten from her diet, she felt a positive shift in her mental and emotional wellbeing.
  • Taking anti-microbial herbs. Many of our patients come to us with low mood, stress, sleeping issues and fatigue. In most of these cases, our patients experience gas, bloating, abdominal pain and irregular bowel motions. Our naturopaths can make the right recommendations to reduce the inflammatory response in your gut and improve mental health symptoms.
  • Supporting your immune system. We recently supported a high school athlete who was experiencing chronic fatigue, heightened inflammatory response and symptoms of depression – the after-effects of an illness. Supporting his immune system helped ease his inflammatory system’s response, in turn, boosting his energy and improving his mental wellbeing.
  • Supplementing to overcome imbalances. Omega 3 fish oils can safely regulate your inflammatory response and increase mental wellbeing. Vitamin D3, which is usually found to be low in Hong Kong families, is also supportive. Backed by research, we have found that a high dose of Omega 3s and Vitamin D3 can have a significant impact on mental health, mood and sleep.

You’re not alone

Over the years, we’ve worked hand-in-hand with thousands of clients to heal their guts and heal their minds. Through simple testing, we can check to see if an inflammatory response is causing or exacerbating your depression and, armed with the facts, we can create a personalized and sustainable plan to ensure optimal health of your inflammatory system and gut.

To ensure we address every contributing factor, as well as the degree and severity of your recommendation, your plan may include natural treatments and complementary therapies, such as lifestyle and dietary changes; and mental health support with one of our psychologists or counsellors.

To arrange a consultation with one of our naturopaths, call 2523 7121 or connect with us here.

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