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If you or a loved one has ever suffered from depression, you know how debilitating it can be. Participating in daily activities becomes challenging and enjoying life seems like a chore. Is depression really just a chemical imbalance in the brain that needs to be corrected with medication, or is something else going on? 

What is Depression?

Everyone experiences ups and downs as a part of daily life. However, when the “down” feeling persists for weeks at a time and is accompanied by other symptoms, like low energy and abnormal appetite, there may be something more serious going on.  

Mayo Clinic describes depression as “a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. Also called major depressive disorder or clinical depression, it affects how you feel, think, and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems.” [1] 

While there’s a wide variety of symptoms and severity in depression, having several of the following may indicate depression.  

Symptoms of Depression

Within the general category of depression, the field of psychiatry recognizes several levels of severity, including depressive episodes, mild to moderate depression, seasonal affective disorder, major depressive disorder, and severe depression. [2] 

While there are many common symptoms, they range according to the severity of the disorder. Here are some common symptoms of depression:  

  • Feelings of extreme sadness, hopelessness, or worry. 
  • Having difficulty finding joy 
  • Easily becoming irritated or frustrated 
  • Abnormal appetite (increased or decreased) 
  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much. 
  • Low energy levels/chronic fatigue 
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions. 
  • Poor memory 
  • Physical symptoms like headaches, abdominal pain, or sexual dysfunction 
  • Thoughts of self-harm or suicide 

Depression is associated with several other health conditions, including chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, chronic pain, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), heart disease, and stroke. Likely, the same mechanisms (such as chronic inflammation) are behind depression and these other conditions. 

How is Depression Diagnosed?

The medical system diagnoses depression based on symptoms, medical history, and mental health history. There’s no diagnostic test for depression; however, to receive a diagnosis of depression, you must have at least five depression-related symptoms daily for at least two weeks. Lab tests may be used to determine whether underlying medical conditions may be contributing to depressive symptoms. 

The Fireman vs. The Carpenter in Healthcare

At The Wellness Way, we talk about the mainstream perspective on healthcare versus our perspective, as the “fireman approach” versus the “carpenter approach.”

Mainstream “fireman” doctors have two tools (treatment options) to take care of people: an axe and a hose. The axe represents cutting things out during a surgical procedure. The hose represents using medications to extinguish the “flames”: inflammation, pain, and other symptoms.

Wellness Way doctors are more like carpenters: They assess the body’s current state with testing and then create a personalized plan to rebuild using nutrients from foods and supplements. Sunshine, rest, and positive relationships are some common natural therapies that support the body in healing.

While these things are considered “complementary medicine” or “alternative medicine,” scientific research backs up their effectiveness in supporting the healing process.

Mainstream Medicine’s Approach to Depression

Mainstream medicine looks at depression as a mental illness that’s very rarely connected to physical imbalances and lifestyle choices. In most cases, healthcare providers will prescribe psychotherapy or medications to help the patient with symptoms. Occasionally, an open-minded doctor may also recommend stress-lowering techniques like exercise or cognitive therapy.  

Common Medications for Depression

Conventional treatment of depression usually includes antidepressant medications of some kind, although some doctors may also recommend psychotherapy (talk therapy) or joining support groups. Here are some common antidepressants: 

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs): SSRIs are thought to delay the uptake of the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine, keeping them active longer in the brain. In addition to depression, they are also used for anxiety, panic disorder, fibromyalgia, and back pain. Examples include Cymbalta, Pristiq, and Effexor 
  • Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs): SNRIs are thought to increase the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain. They can be used as anti-anxiety drugs. Examples include Prozac, Zoloft, Lexapro, and Celexa. 
  • Tricyclic antidepressants: These drugs aren’t typically used unless the patient doesn’t get improvement from SSRIs or SNRIs. That’s because they can lead to more side effects than SSRIs and SNRIs. Examples include imipramine (Tofranil), nortriptyline (Pamelor), amitriptyline, and others. 
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs): These drugs are also only used when other medications don’t work, as they can also have severe side effects. Examples include tranylcypromine (Parnate), phenelzine (Nardil), and isocarboxazid (Marplan). These medications require following a diet that strictly avoids alcohol and foods high in the amino acid tyramine.  
  • Atypical antidepressants: These are antidepressants that don’t fit into the other categories. Examples include bupropion (Wellbutrin XL, Wellbutrin SR), mirtazapine (Remeron), and vortioxetine (Trintellix). 

Medications are thought to treat depression by improving or prolonging the effects of neurotransmitters like serotonin in the brain. They may help with symptoms. However, they all have negative side effects and can cause other health problems. Those side effects are often the reason people seek out natural remedies or natural ways to overcome depression. 

What Causes Depression? Trauma, Toxins, and Thoughts

While mainstream medicine acknowledges life events may contribute to depression, they tend to think pharmaceutical drugs are the only proven way to address it. They also tend to believe that mental health is separate from physical health. However, at The Wellness Way, we disagree.  

Traumas (Physical Stressors)

Traumas or physical stressors can be acute or chronic. Chronic subluxations in the spine can inhibit nerve and blood flow to the small intestine, leading to DIS-ease there, and triggering an inflammatory response. An inflamed gut is an inflamed brain. Other traumas that may contribute to depression include: 

  • Concussions 
  • Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs) 
  • Severe illness or infection 
  • Witnessing violence or a natural disaster 
  • Military combat – PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) 
  • Surgery 
  • A death in the family or a close friend  
  • Having a baby – leading to post-partum depression 

Physical traumas and the potential of chiropractic care should not be underestimated. Lowering inflammation by taking stress of the central nervous system can go a long way toward improving feelings of depression. 

Toxins (Biochemical Stressors)

Toxins are biochemical stressors that may be either natural or synthetic. Toxins associated with depression include: 

  • Medications – The Journal of Psychiatry admits that some medications can have a side effect of depression. Some examples include benzodiazepines, calcium channel blockers, and corticosteroids. [3] 
  • Sugar Sugar increases inflammation throughout the body, including the brain. A high intake of sugar-sweetened beverages was associated with depression in a 2019 review. [4] Another review published in 2020 concluded that added dietary sugars had a depression-promoting effect. [5] 
  • Toxic metals – Chronic mercury toxicity, for example, is associated with increased feelings of depression. [6] Lead exposure, even during childhood, can contribute to depression over time. [7] 
  • Food allergies – Foods can act like toxins, causing intestinal inflammation if you’re allergic to them. [8] Intestinal inflammation is linked to depression and other neuropsychiatric disorders [9].  
  • Non-native EMFs – Electromagnetic frequencies from cell phones and WIFI (as opposed to natural frequencies from the earth) may also contribute to depression. [10] 
  • Artificial blue light exposure The overuse of screens, especially after sunset, is also associated with depression. The free radicals from artificial light exposure may contribute to brain inflammation and associated depression. [11] 

Traumas and toxins are made worse by negative thought patterns and emotional stress. 

Thoughts (Emotional Stressors)

Emotional stress can significantly contribute to feelings of depression. Staying in a stressed state can make it difficult to overcome depression, as the burden can feel too much to bear. Chronically elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol can contribute to the development of depression.  

Here are some potential emotional contributors to chronic stress, inflammation, and depression: 

  • Watching or reading the news (fear/worry)
  • Emotional stress from marriage, financial, career, or other issues
  • A state of overwhelm by major life changes, such as marriage, a new baby, graduation, divorce, or even moving to a new city. 
  • Grief/feelings of loss 
  • Pent up anger 
  • A toxic workplace 
  • Skipping vacations  

Thoughts are powerful! Renowned psychiatrist Dr. Daniel Amen talks about the harmful effects of what he calls “ANTs,” an acronym for Automatic Negative Thoughts. In a study out of Singapore, negative automatic thoughts were positively correlated with stress, anger, anxiety, and depression. [12]  

The Wellness Way Approach to Depression

At The Wellness Way, we dig deeper to solve the health challenges others can’t. We start with testing to see where there may be imbalances and then develop a personalized nutrition and supplement plan to help your body heal itself.  

Important Tests for Assessing Your Gut and Brain Health

Here are some commonly recommended tests at The Wellness Way:  

Testing depends on which ones your Wellness Way practitioner considers most important based on your symptoms and health history. 

Dietary Changes for Those with Depression

First, we must lower inflammation so the gut can heal. That means avoiding your food allergies and following a personalized nutrition program, as recommended by your Wellness Way practitioner. These are some additional guidelines for inflammatory conditions like depression: 

  • No sugar or processed foods – Both increase inflammation. Balancing blood sugar is also important for keeping depression at bay. 
  • Gluten-free, mostly grain-free – Gluten is known to aggravate the gut lining, contributing to chronic inflammation in the gut and brain. [13] 
  • No cow’s milk dairy products – Goat and sheep’s milk products may be better tolerated –and even beneficial. [14]  
  • Avoid high omega-6 vegetable oils, like corn, canola, soybean, cottonseed oil, sunflower, grapeseed, and others, which can alter the omega-6 to omega-3 balance to be more inflammatory. [15] Instead, use fruit oils like olive, coconut, avocado, and palm oil; or animal fats like beef tallow, bacon grease, and duck fat. 
  • Avoid alcohol – Alcohol compromises the intestinal lining and increases inflammation. Chronic alcohol use is associated with an increase in depressive symptoms and abstaining from alcohol for a time can even help alleviate depression. [16] 
  • Consume an overall low carbohydrate, non-inflammatory diet of organic whole foods.  
  • Follow a Personalized Nutrition Program, based on your food allergy test results. 
  • Specific nutrient-dense foods: Liver/organ meats, sauerkraut, and microgreens for added nutrition. 
  • Focus on antioxidants – Including things like turmeric, green tea, berries, dark chocolate, and foods high in polyphenols can help keep inflammation under control. 
  • Omega-3-rich foods – Wild-caught salmon, herring, sardines, walnuts, and ground flaxseeds provide omega-3s and help lower inflammation. [17] 

Sticking to a healthy diet is essential, but supplements can help the body in healing the gut and brain.  

Supplements to Consider for Those with Depression

Herbal supplements and other dietary supplements can be incredibly supportive in overcoming depression. They can also improve a person’s overall sense of well-being. 

  • St. John’s Wort This herb has long been used by Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to treat depression. A meta-analysis published in 2017 found that St. John’s Wort was comparable to SSRI medications when used for mild to moderate depression. [18] *Serotonin-promoting supplements like St. John’s Wort should not be used when on SSRIs or other serotonin-promoting supplements as it may result in serious side effects. 
  • B Vitamins – B Complex vitamins are required for the proper functioning of the nervous system and support the production of healthy serotonin and dopamine levels, which help sustain emotional balance. Deficiencies in certain B vitamins (B1, B6, B9/folate, and B12) have been linked to depression. [19]  
  • Vitamin D – Vitamin D is known to have many health benefits, but it’s also essential for those suffering from depression. Low vitamin D levels are common in those with depression, and supplementation may be helpful. [20]
  • Omega-3 fatty acids – Fish oil provides omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to lower inflammation, support healthy cell membranes, and modify signaling proteins like neurotransmitters. [21] 
  • 5-HTP – 5-hydroxytryptophan or 5-HTP is a precursor to the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin and the sleep hormone melatonin. While the serotonin-depression connection is suspect, according to recent research, 5-HTP does seem to improve symptoms of depression in many people. [22] 5-HTP is an ingredient in our nervous system and immune system support supplement Alcedonia. 
  • SAMe – S-adenosyl-l-methionine may be helpful for certain people who struggle with depression. However, it should not be used by those with bipolar disorder, as it could trigger mania. [23] 

Everyone is different – herbal remedies that work for one person may not work for another. Part of that is due to body chemistry, including genetics and allergenic responses, and part is due to differences in the contributing causes of depression.

It’s important to note that these herbal supplements should not be added on top of medications like SSRIs. Combining serotonin-promoting herbs and supplements with pharmaceutical drugs can lead to a condition called serotonin syndrome. 

 ***This is why it’s important to talk with your Wellness Way practitioner before starting any supplements like St. John’s Wort.***   

Lifestyle Changes & Complementary Therapies for Depression

Other natural treatments for a low mood are lifestyle changes and other therapies that bring balance to the brain, such as the following: 

  • Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy – This practice combines cognitive behavioral therapy with mindfulness-based stress reduction to ease feelings of depression. [24] 
  • Regular chiropractic care – Chiropractic care helps improve blood flow and nerve flow while decreasing overall physical stress on the body. It also supports balance in the autonomic nervous system, which is associated with decreased feelings of depression. [25] 
  • Physical activity Regular exercise has been shown to help mood disorders like depression by raising levels of endorphins in the body. Increasing endorphins can help lift the mood, alleviating feelings of depression. [26 
  • Diffusing essential oils – Aromatherapy can also be beneficial. Certain essential oils like lavender and chamomile have been shown to be beneficial in promoting positive emotions. [27] 
  • Don’t skip vacations! Inc. Magazine reported in 2021 a survey that found skipping vacations doubles your risk of depression. [28] 

Be a well-informed patient! Here are some resources for learning more about depression. 

Educational Resources for Depression

Videos & Webinars Related to Depression

Depression: Fact vs. Fiction | A Different Perspective | Episode 44
Anxiety, Depression; Cavities & Fluoride | The DPF Show | Episode 27
Hiring Staff that Stays & Depression | The DPF Show! | Episode 12 

Articles to Support Those With Depression

Understanding Five Surprising Contributors to Teen Depression
Bustin’ Baby Blues: 11 Healthy Ideas
Missing Pieces: 4 Surprising Factors To Mental Health
“It’s All In Your Gut.”
Moodiness, Outbursts, and Hormone Imbalances 

CONNECT WITH US!

We invite you to connect with us! Find an event at a clinic near you! Follow us on social media. Tune in to A Different Perspective each Saturday morning LIVE to get cutting-edge training directly from Dr. Patrick Flynn. Set up a no-obligation health consult with one of our doctors today. The best is yet to come! Think differently – and THRIVE. Reach out to a Wellness Way clinic today to get thorough testing and start on your health journey. We are here to help!  

References

  1.  Depression (major depressive disorder) – Symptoms and causes – Mayo Clinic 
  2. Depression: Causes, Symptoms, Types & Treatment (clevelandclinic.org) 
  3. General Medical Drugs Associated with Depression – PMC (nih.gov) 
  4. Sugar-sweetened beverages consumption and the risk of depression: A meta-analysis of observational studies – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  5. The depressogenic potential of added dietary sugars – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  6. document (psu.edu) 
  7. Neurotoxicity in young adults 20 years after childhood exposure to lead: the Bunker Hill experience – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  8. Food Allergies: The Basics – PMC (nih.gov) 
  9. The Gut-Brain Axis: How Microbiota and Host Inflammasome Influence Brain Physiology and Pathology – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  10. Microwave frequency electromagnetic fields (EMFs) produce widespread neuropsychiatric effects including depression – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  11. Exposure to light at night and risk of depression in the elderly – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  12. Balanced states of mind in psychopathology and psychological well-being – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  13. Mood disorders and non-celiac gluten sensitivity – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  14. In vitro evaluation of immunomodulatory activities of goat milk Extracellular Vesicles (mEVs) in a model of gut inflammation – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  15. The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  16. Alcohol and Gut-Derived Inflammation – PMC (nih.gov) 
  17. Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in primary Sjögren’s syndrome: clinical meaning and association with inflammation – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  18. Clinical use of Hypericum perforatum (St John’s wort) in depression: A meta-analysis – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  19. The Effects of Vitamin B in Depression – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  20. Vitamin D and depression: mechanisms, determination and application – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  21. Fish oil and depression: The skinny on fats – PMC (nih.gov) 
  22. Effects of 5-hydroxytryptophan on distinct types of depression: a systematic review and meta-analysis | Nutrition Reviews | Oxford Academic (oup.com) 
  23. Natural remedies for depression: Are they effective? – Mayo Clinic 
  24. Mindfulness-Based Interventions for Anxiety and Depression – PMC (nih.gov) 
  25. Neurobiological basis of chiropractic manipulative treatment of the spine in the care of major depression – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  26. Effects of exercise and physical activity on depression – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  27. The effects of Lavender and Chamomile essential oil inhalation aromatherapy on depression, anxiety and stress in older community-dwelling people: A randomized controlled trial – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  28. The SBA After PPP | Inc.com 

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Disclaimer: This content is for educational purposes only. It’s not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your Wellness Way clinic or personal physician, especially if currently taking prescription or over-the-counter medications. Pregnant women, in particular, should seek the advice of a physician before trying any herb or supplement listed on this website. Always speak with your individual clinic before adding any medication, herb, or nutritional supplement to your health protocol. Information and statements regarding dietary supplements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

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