Treating Depression with functional medicine

Difficult events and experiences can leave us feeling low. It could be relationship problems, grief, sleep problems, stress at work, mistreatment, chronic illness or pain. Sometimes it’s possible to feel down without there being an obvious reason.

Low mood can include feelings of sadness, anxiety or worry. This may be accompanied by low self-esteem, frustration or anger. Typically these symptoms will go away after a few days or weeks. Working to resolve the underlying problem, talking to someone and getting more sleep can all help.

If the low mood doesn’t go away it can be a sign of depression. Depression symptoms consist of:

  • Low mood lasting two weeks or more.
  • Not getting any enjoyment out of life.
  • Feeling hopeless and that everything is pointless.
  • Fatigue and sleeping more than usual.
  • Not being able to concentrate.
  • Comfort eating or losing your appetite.
  • Having suicidal thoughts or thoughts about harming yourself.

Whatever the cause, if negative feelings don’t go away or are too much for you to manage, you may need to get some extra support.

The conventional medicine approach to depression includes talking therapies such as counselling and cognitive behaviour therapy as well as antidepressant medications. Orthodox medicine sees depression as a lack of the happy neurotransmitter serotonin. Antidepressants work on the serotonin pathway but they don’t address why the serotonin is out of balance.

Often depression is underpinned by reactions or imbalances in the body. The functional medicine approach to depression aims to find and correct these imbalances for a lasting solution. This will include:

  • Optimising nutrient levels to correct any deficiencies that might be impacting on the bodies ability to make serotonin and other neurotransmitters involved in a healthy mood.
  • Checking for hormone imbalances that can negatively impact mood – low thyroid function, high levels of stress and blood sugar imbalances might be making symptoms of low mood worse.
  • Identifying food allergies – studies have found that the proteins in wheat and dairy products can alter brain function and mood in susceptible individuals. Identifying if they’re a problem and removing them whilst ensuring a balanced diet can help balance mood.
  • Reducing inflammation – many researchers have linked ongoing inflammation and pain to negative changes in mood.
  • Fixing digestion – More serotonin is made in the gut than in the brain. The health of the gut and the balance of bacteria in the gut can both influence how we feel.
  • Enhancing sleep – working to establish healthy sleep habits can aid recovery from depression.
  • Calming the mind – Lifestyle changes, herbs and nutrients can all be used to help calm the mind and make it easier to manage anxiety or feelings of sadness.