I have a history of depression. I was actually diagnosed with MAJOR depression when I was 25, as if classifying it as more severe was supposed to make me feel better!? But, I wanted to share how I was able to heal my depression holistically.
The day my doctor diagnosed me seemed SO ridiculous because my life was about as perfect as one could imagine. Like too many Americans, I was given an antidepressant to deal with the issue. I tried therapy several times, while on and off medications, but felt no difference. I’d get tired of how lousy I felt on the antidepressants, so I’d stop taking them. After a while, I’d start back on them because I was desperate to heal my depression and anxiety/irritability.
Now, add in two pregnancies with medication changes and the hormones that go along with that. I was a wreck! In addition, to my psychiatric symptoms, I constantly had sinus infections (this started in my early teens), my eczema was worsening, I was becoming sensitive to many foods, my joints were beginning to hurt and I had trouble falling and staying asleep despite being exhausted. At 38 years old, I developed anaphylaxis to an antibiotic I was taking for my umpteenth sinus infection. Crazy enough, I had sinus surgery to “fix” my recurrent sinus infections, but was still getting them! I finally decided to stop the madness and deal with the root of my problem! I felt just as bad on the medications as I did off of them, so what did I have to lose if I tried and healed my depression holistically!? Nothing!
First Things First
I immediately found a functional doctor to assist me with getting off of my antidepressants safely. We tested for the root cause of my depression using blood, breath and stool tests. I had to pay out of pocket for many of these tests, but it was well worth the price. Other tests were covered 100% such as thyroid, which I discovered was a little wonky and could also be contributing to my depression symptoms.
I took lots of herbs, followed some strict eating protocols, and avoided foods that were giving me symptoms. Once I took care of a few gut problems (I now know these are pretty common), I felt like a different person. I was shocked that I could feel amazing! Fast forward a few years and I’m feeling even better! At Thrival Nutrition, we can run these same tests for you and help you with an individualized diet + lifestyle plan to support your underlying health issues. If you’re interested, please schedule a free 15 minute explore call with me!
The Gut + Brain Connection
The gut is nicknamed the second brain. Some practitioners refer to it as the first brain because it is such a vital component of our body’s overall health. The central nervous system (CNS) is located in the brain and spinal cord. The enteric nervous system (ENS) is found in the gastrointestinal tract. These two have very similar tissues and “talk” to each other through what is called the gut-brain axis. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers. They carry a signal (message) from the nerve cell to the target cells (like a muscle or brain cell). Some neurotransmitters include serotonin, dopamine, acetylcholine, GABA, norepinephrine, and oxytocin.
Serotonin + Gut
Serotonin is one of the neurotransmitters that helps regulate your mood, sleep, appetite, and relaxation. One would think this comes straight from the brain since that is what is affected by the chemical. In reality, 85-95% (let’s call it 90%) of serotonin is found in the gut ENS! Therefore, only 10% is produced in the CNS! But wait! Something can possibly get in the way of you producing the proper amounts!
An Intro to Gut Health + Bacteria
The gut, hormones, neurotransmitters, bacteria, oh my!!! There is so much information with so many interconnected layers related to one’s individual health! So, I’m going to keep this vague and brief. You have probably heard – inflammation is bad. Inflammation can wear down the intestinal tract causing it to become leaky and open. When this happens, things get through that aren’t supposed to pass through.
The microbiota (good gut bacteria) help protect us by repairing the worn-down gut mucosal barrier. That barrier keeps things where they are supposed to be and doesn’t allow large foreign particles through. On the converse, when the bad bacteria are higher, the gut can become leaky. This initiates inflammation known as pro-inflammatory cytokines. Cytokines are part of the body’s immune response. Some kick in for healing while others create inflammation and progress diseases. These cytokines can cross the blood-brain barrier. Bad bacteria put out an inflammatory response, which can damage the pathogen (bad stuff), but can also damage healthy tissue. Microbiota help to decrease the inflammatory response by secreting an anti-inflammatory cytokine to kill the bad stuff but keep the healthy tissue.
As you can see, good bacteria are powerful in the gut. They have even been shown to create a good mood by increasing GABA receptors. GABA is a neurotransmitter responsible for controlling the communication between the brain and nervous system. It is thought to help control fear and anxiety when the neurons are firing strong. Too few GABA receptors are thought to be related to disorders like schizophrenia, depression, and anxiety.
Necessity of Nutrition for Gut-Brain Health
In the case of serotonin, those cytokines decrease the amino acid, tryptophan. You’ve probably heard of it – the “turkey” amino acid? It’s associated with making you feel lazy after Thanksgiving dinner? Anyway – tryptophan is necessary to produce serotonin. This is just one example of how the bacteria in our gut not only affect our gut, but our brain, inflammation and overall health.
The body uses fats, amino acids, vitamins and minerals to keep itself functioning. Medications cause nutrient depletion. This is why getting nutrient testing can be beneficial. If you know what is low, you can begin properly supplementing and increase nutrient rich food sources to get back to normal levels. It is vital to consume the right foods which will nourish our gut and our brain.
Stress + Anxiety = Poop?
Have you ever heard someone say “she has a nervous stomach (ie diarrhea)” or “he gets backed up for days from stress”? That may be partly because serotonin actually affects gut motility (ie how the bowel muscles move). If your serotonin is off, you might develop constipation or diarrhea. Over time, these bowel changes affect your gut health.
Did you know that you should poop a minimum of once a day? Think about poop’s function. It gets rid of the toxins in our body. If you are not eliminating frequently, you are allowing toxins to fester and pollute your body.
If you are experiencing anxiety symptoms, you might enjoy this blog.
A Better Approach
Sometimes, medications are warranted for short and long term use. I advocate for safely weaning off of medications with medical supervision with your doctor and functional intervention to support the natural healing by the body. By doing this, you target the problem – not the symptom. You might have vitamin or mineral deficiency, unbalanced bacteria in the gut, pathogens, parasites, hormone imbalances, inflammation, etc. When we do specific testing (most conventional western docs don’t offer these tests, which is why we recommend finding a functional medicine/naturopathic doc), we establish a baseline that is individualized to you. From there, we use food, herbs/supplements, and a lifestyle approach to change and support your mental and physical health!
In my case, I used many supplements to support gut health. I think the five supplements that benefited me the most include:
- Good Probiotics
- FC-Cidal from Biotics Research Corporation
- Dysbiocide from Biotics Research Corporation
- Grapefruit Seed Extract from Pure Encapsulations
- Restore For Gut Health
Antidepressant Drug Facts
According to the CDC, 1 out of 8 Americans over the age of 12 years claim to take antidepressants. This is a reported 65% increase between 1999-2014, adding up to nearly 30 million Americans. These reports include use of medication for IBS and depression symptoms. With stats like that, we are looking at around 30 million Americans!
What Studies Are Reporting
You’ve probably heard that you should always say two positive things before a negative. Well in the case of reporting results of drug studies, they seem to focus on only the positive and ignore the negative. One report from the New England Journal of Medicine looked at 74 studies on antidepressants. Of those, 37/38 (97%) of the studies with positive results were published, where only 14/36 (38%) of the negative studies were reported. That seems somewhat deceptive! What many people don’t know is that the drug companies get to control which studies are published. That sounds to me like they are more interested in making money than looking out for my best interest.
Side Effects of Antidepressants
Often, disclaimers on medication commercials sound worse than the symptoms you are treating. Antidepressants are not exempt from this. Side effects range from nausea, rashes, constipation, diarrhea, sleep interruption, fatigue/drowsiness, dry mouth, change in libido, dizziness, anxiety/jitteriness, etc. And lets recall medications cause nutrient depletion.
I want to encourage you all that there is MORE you can do if you find yourself struggling with depression and I’d love to help you!