Statistics Canada reported that 1 in 4 Canadians suffer from a mental health condition, and many of these are victims of the cracks of a medical system, which is unequipped to fight daily stress and mood disorders, like depression.
The conventional healthcare model treats mental conditions as separate from the rest of the body, and the mainstream medicine treats it as a brain chemical imbalance.
The use of anti-depressants is believed to improve mood and correct deficiencies in the “happy” chemicals in the brain, such as dopamine and serotonin.
On the other hand, naturopathic doctors are aware of the connection between the mind and body. Similarly, scientists have long established the gut-brain connection, or the link between the digestive system and mood, and the connection between the mind, mental health, and the immune system.
They even formed a completely new field known as “psychoneuroimmunology”, which studies the effects of inflammation on behavior and mental health.
Yet, most depression treatments are currently still based on the low-serotonin theory of depression, which regards it as a result of the reduced production of certain neurotransmitters in the brain.
Even though they are more effective than placebo, scientists are still uncertain for the reason about their effects.
As soon as they start using SSRI and SNRI drugs, patients experience a quick rise in the neurotransmitter levels in the brain, but the significant mood changes occur only after 2-4 weeks.
Yet, the pharmaceutical companies manufacturing these drugs claim that this time is needed for the medication to “restore” the natural chemical balance in the brain.
The Neuroscience and Behavioural Reviews published a paper which questioned the effects of SSRI medication, claiming that it does not improve the mood of patients, but the body just overcomes the effects of the drug.
According to authors, anti-depressant medications might just form an obstacle to cure, so depressive patients cannot recover in the short-term.
Regarding the fact that the immune and digestive system are linked to mood and overall health, we can all naturally fight inflammation, help digestion, and fuel the brain by taking proactive measures against the increased stress levels.
First of all, we need to fight against the stigma and discrimination around mental health issues. Then, it is vital to seek professional help that will try to diagnose your problem and start treating the symptoms and the root cause of the disorder.
Here are the most effective ways to treat mental health conditions:
Healing the gut
Scientists refer to the digestive system as the “second brain”, due to the Enteric Nervous System, which is a collection of millions of nerve cells that control its function and communicate directly with the brain. Any irritations of the digestive system cause significant mood changes.
This is very important if we consider the fact that 30-40% of the population suffers from digestive symptoms like GERD, bloating, diarrhea, flatulence, IBS, constipation, and IBD.
Also, researchers have found that the use of certain probiotics can stimulate the production of neurotransmitters and thus improve mood and mental function, as a result of the link between beneficial gut bacteria and mood.
Naturopathic medicine has long known that conditions like IBS are aggravated by stress, depression, and anxiety. A healthy digestion is also vital for the adequate absorption of the amino acids and micronutrients needed for synthesizing neurotransmitters.
Essential nutrients and adequate nutrition
The body cannot produce the building blocks for building hormones and neurotransmitters if it does not possess them. Despite raising the levels of serotonin in the brain, SSRI medication depletes the minerals and vitamins in the body.
Therefore, to support mental health, you need to optimize the levels of vitamins B6, folate and B12, magnesium and zinc, as well as protein.
Healing the adrenals
The evolutionary biology suggests that depression might, in fact, represent a necessary adaptation to stress that promoted our survival and ability to pass on our genes.
“Adrenal fatigue” is a term used in naturopathic medicine and other alternative health fields, which covers a list of symptoms due to prolonged, chronic stress.
It is characterized by high levels of emotional, physical, and mental health, insomnia, apathy, low mood, food cravings, sleep issues, weight gain, fatigue, and low energy levels.
There are numerous self-care practices you can choose in order to manage low mood and reduce stress, using herbs, stress management practices, and proper nutrition.
A 2014 meta-analysis found that fish oils improve mood and are helpful in the case of major depressive disorders. The brain requires the fatty acids EPA and DHA found in fish in order to function properly.
Moreover, it is important to regulate the EPA: DHA ratio. Moreover, fish oil effectively fights inflammation, which is closely linked to depression.
It is the preferred first-line treatment for depression and other mental disorders, and it significantly boosts the effects of medication. Researchers have found that the therapeutic relationship is one of the best determinants of positive health outcomes.
One of the main depression modalities is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which is supported by numerous studies.
It is based on changing ingrained and habitual thoughts, beliefs and behaviors that might be the causes of low mood. Additionally, motivational interviewing was also found to be highly effective counseling models.
Researchers have discovered that mindfulness meditation effectively lowers stress, prevents depression, improves mood, and treats depressive disorders.
According to the findings published in JAMA, the Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), which is a type of secular mindfulness meditation, provides the same effects as medication in the treatment of mild to moderate depression.
It improves mood by helping patients to become aware of their emotional state and identify their negative emotions, and understand their beliefs.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of the founders of MBCT, explains:
“Mindfulness is an awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally. It’s about knowing what is on your mind.”
It works with the energetic healing forces of the body in order to eliminate obstacles to cure and ensure the smooth energy flow throughout the body. The main modalities include meditation, acupuncture, homeopathy, and visualizations.
One study by the Journal of Alternative and Complementary medicine confirmed that after 6 weeks, the effects of acupuncture were the same as the ones of medication at reducing depression.
Mind-body medicine integrates the emotions, thoughts, and physical sensations to help us become aware of the body and the possible tools to reduce stress.
People suffering from depression or any other mental health condition should be educated about these natural treatment options. These are especially effective in the early stages of a mood disorder and serve as preventive measures as well.