Depression: it’s not all in your head

Many people believe that depression is caused by chemical imbalances in the brain, and in particular, a deficiency in 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 deficiencies like Omega 3 oils and Vitamin D, and inflammation.

In fact, in recent years, scientists have proven the significant and undeniable link between inflammation and depression. Inflammation is our immune system’s response 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 high degrees of inflammation do not respond to conventional anti-depressants.

How inflammation 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 inflammation that can be caused by:

  • An imbalance in the good and bad bacteria in your gut (gut dysbiosis)
  • Coeliac and gut malabsorption from Crohns and other inflammatory bowel disease
  • Post food-poisoning and other bacterial overgrowth situations in the gut
  • Low-grade gut infections, such as bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine (SIBO)
  • Chronic bacterial or viral infections
  • 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 become inflamed, 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 increase inflammation.

As if that’s not enough, as serotonin is necessary for the creation of melatonin, you may struggle to sleep. Insufficient sleep causes more inflammation, 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 gut and brain inflammation. 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 mild depression, anxiety, insomnia, and chronic fatigue. In most of these cases, our patients experience gas, bloating, abdominal pain and irregular bowel motions. A course of anti-microbial herbs can help to clear gut inflammation and the mental health symptoms.
  • Supporting your immune system. We recently supported a high school athlete who was experiencing chronic fatigue, inflammation, and symptoms of depression – the after-effects of a chronic viral infection. A high dose of Vitamin C and D3, and immune support in the support of herbal and homeopathic medicines helped to remove the pro-inflammatory effects of the virus, boost his energy and improve his mental wellbeing.
  • Supplementing to overcome deficiencies. Omega 3 fish oils can safely reduce inflammation and increase mental wellbeing. Vitamin D3, which is usually found to be low in Hong Kong families, is also an anti-inflammatory and anti-depressant. 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 inflammation is causing or exacerbating your depression and, armed with the facts, we can create a personalized and sustainable plan to ensure optimal gut health.

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; naturopathic supplements, personalised herbs and probiotics; 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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