R U OK Day aims to promote conversation to encourage connection – simple right? Yet so many of us struggle with loneliness and suffer from mood disorders such as anxiety and depression which only encourage us to further shy away from the simple act of connecting with another human being. To promote awareness of R U OK Day, and their tag line “A conversation could change a life”, this months blog is dedicated to mood disorders and what natural medicines can offer in the way of help.
Anxiety and depression affect around a quarter of Australians. Our rate of antidepressant prescriptions, per capita, is the second highest in the world, and this is increasing at an astronomical rate of about 25% per year. To understand the root causes of disorders such as anxiety and depression, its important to understand that these disorders are not merely a simple brain chemical imbalance, but rather involve a ‘whole’ person, including what they eat, how they live, the connections they have, the stress they suffer and whatever other ailments are going on in their body and lives.
I recently heard Dr Kelly Brogan, author of ‘A Mind Of Your Own’, speak at a conference (http://kellybroganmd.com/). She gave the analogy of an anxious person who has to go to a party. To cope, they have a few alcoholic drinks beforehand to calm their nerves. With a few drinks under their belt, they happily attend the party (momentarily) anxiety free. From this example, we could conclude that anxiety is a deficiency of alcohol, because it’s alleviated (momentarily!) when treated with alcohol, yet we all know that this is simply not the case. This is the same with mood disorders such as depression or anxiety. There is so much more at play than a simple or single, nutrient or neurotransmitter deficiency.
Antidepressants known as SSRIs, work on enhancing serotonin levels. Serotonin has been dubbed our ‘happy chemical’. Serotonin, however, has a multitude of other actions in the body, and those actions are dependent upon many other body chemicals and nutrients being balanced too. Approximately 10% of our body’s serotonin is located in the brain, the remainder in our gut, which suggests a role beyond merely mood regulation. Antidepressants have whats termed a ‘therapeutic delay’, in that they take about 6 weeks to kick in. If depression was only a lack of serotonin, as has been the train of thought for decades, then depression should get better with medication to increase this right? Unfortunately for many people, this isn’t the case, so there must be more to it..
Back in caveman days, the areas of our brain responsible for expressing fear, kicked in to warn us of danger, to alert us of the need to escape in order to survive. These days however, we don’t generally find ourselves literally having to run for our lives, instead, we express the same type of physiological fear from aspects of our 24/7 modern day world. We feel the same ‘caveman’ stress, but from things like social media instead. We suffer ‘FOMO’, or fear or missing out, when we see pics land in our news feeds, resulting in activation of the same parts of the brain as when we had to run away from becoming dinner for some beast.
Logically we know it’s not the same ball park, but our brains still activate the same areas whether we are running for our lives or feeling anxious over what we’ve just seen (or missed out on!) on facebook. Our stresses have gone from being primarily physical, to ongoing psychological ones.
For my part, treatment of any mood disorders simply has to consider all lifestyle factors. The underlying drivers of these disorders need to be reviewed for every individual. Treatment also involves the use of herbal medicines and nutrients specific to that person to support a healthy mood, to decrease the effects of stress and support the needs of their physical body. Eating a whole food, anti inflammatory diet is one of the most important considerations. This includes eating foods in the way that nature made them, as opposed to a diet of heavily processed foods.
Depending on where the person is at, I may focus on supplementing nutrients to get the person feeling better initially, and then start looking at the bigger lifestyle stuff such as diet. Its an individual journey for all of us. We all have different levels of coping and this needs to be addressed individually. Some needs bite sized chunks of info, others want to throw everything possible at it straight from the start. Dietary change, especially major dietary change, is hard. It is the ultimate goal however, and we work towards that at the level that suits you best. Food is medicine after all. As the saying goes ‘with every mouthful, you are either feeding dis-ease, or fighting it’.
Knowing which nutrients to harness in order to balance physical ailments and to help balance our brains can go a very long way towards getting you to feel better. Stress plays such a huge part in our modern day world, it can literally shrink areas of the brain that whisper “it’ll be ok” when we need that, and can grow areas of the brain responsible for fear and aggression (hello anxiety!).
At Saltuary, all our of therapies work at decreasing stress. Specifically, our Chiropractor Mark, runs a Sympathetic Dominance program to help calm down a stressed ‘system’. To read more about Mark’s work, go here:
As a Naturopath, I also do a lot of work with people with an array of mood disorders, as does Lisa, our Acupuncturist, who has specialist training in using acupuncture for mental health. To book in with any of us and get confidently back in the drivers seat of your life, call and make a booking today.
In calmness.. tiina xx