Defusing Depression

depression pic of bench with the words feeling depressed

Defusing Depression

By Dr. Pamela Frank, BSc(Hons), ND

Do you or have you ever suffered from depression? If so, you’re not alone. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 350 million people suffer from depression worldwide and that it is a leading cause of disability. Fifteen percent of adults will experience depression at least once in their lifetime.

Depression knows no bounds. It can impact anyone at any point in their life, regardless of age, gender, medical history, or socioeconomic status. This is evidenced by the recent very high profile suicides of designer Kate Spade and chef Anthony Bourdain. While depression may seem like an invisible condition, there are warning signs to look for.

What is Depression?

How can you tell if you or someone you know might be experiencing a major depressive episode? A major depressive episode is defined as a depressed mood lasting at least two weeks or more. Life seems filled with darkness, heaviness or hopelessness, and there is a loss of interest or pleasure in almost all activities. Depression also comes with other symptoms that can interfere with your work, school or social life.

What are the signs or symptoms of depression?

The signs and symptoms of depression include:

  • Sleep issues. You may be either sleeping too much or having difficulty falling asleep
  • Fatigue. Low energy or feeling fatigued almost every day for no reason
  • Indecision, lack of focus or concentration. Inability to focus, make decisions or think clearly.
  • Moving slower than usual or making unintentional motions to a degree that is noticeable by others
  • Changes in weight and appetite, with an increase or decrease of more than five percent of your body weight a month
  • Recurring thoughts about death or suicide, a suicide attempt, or a specific plan in place for suicide

If you are or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms, it’s important to start a conversation right away, get professional help to identify the cause, and find some appropriate solutions.

What Causes Depression?

What makes depression so puzzling is that there is no one single cause. Hormones, brain chemistry, hypothyroidism, family genetics, life experiences and physical health are all possible contributing factors that can trigger a depressive episode. While some types of depression can be attributed to conditions such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter or early spring due to lack of sunshine over the winter) or postpartum depression (after giving birth), for many the source might not be so obvious.

Unfortunately, in this situation, doctors prefer to medicate rather than investigate, prescribing antidepressants instead of exploring the cause of the condition or offering counselling. Antidepressants have their time and place, but with a myriad of possible side-effects, they are not always an appealing or effective option for everyone. Also, a lifetime prescription to antidepressants is only a Band-Aid solution that doesn’t really address the underlying problem.

Research shows that high levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of inflammatory disease, have been documented in subjects with depression. In fact, results from a national health and nutrition examination survey showed that subjects with depressive symptoms had CRP levels that were 46 percent higher than those of non-depressed subjects. Research has illustrated a connection between inflammation in the brain from IgG food sensitivities and depression. Additional studies also suggest that subjects with a depressed mood have low levels of fractional exhaled nitric oxide (FeNO), which is an indication of airway inflammation.

Over time, depression can also lead to significantly more inflammation in the brain. Inflammation is our body’s response to injury or illness, and when left untreated, it can cause chronic illnesses like heart disease and potentially even neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. So not only is identifying the cause of depression early on important for your mental health; it’s also important for your long-term physical health!

This is why visiting a naturopathic doctor can be so crucial. Not only is depression a serious condition, not to be taken lightly, but there are so many possible influences, that it requires a proper 360-degree assessment to determine what might be the cause. The first thing you need to ask yourself is “Why am I feeling depressed?”, we can help pinpoint the underlying cause.

5 Ways to Treat Depression

For those with mild to moderate depression, there are a variety of natural options that can help fight the blues effectively, without pharmaceuticals.

Sunshine & Exercise

It may sound trite to suggest a little fresh air and exercise; however, you can never underestimate the value of a brisk walk in the sunshine. Activity pumps up serotonin, dopamine and endorphins, which are our feel-good, happy brain chemicals. Go for a run to experience a true natural high. Running has been shown to increase a brain chemical called Anandamide. The word is derived from a Sanskrit word, Ananda, which means joy or bliss. It works to lift your mood by binding to the same receptors as THC from marijuana.

Don’t forget, the sun doesn’t just light up the sky. It can also lighten up your mood with its feel-good rays that help your body produce vitamin D. Invest in a therapeutic light box for those cloudy days and winter months.

Create a Regular Bedtime Routine

Depression and sleep issues are intimately connected. For those who have trouble falling asleep, a nighttime routine can help ease you into a more restful slumber.

Set a regular bedtime and unplug from all devices at least two hours beforehand. Use that digital downtime time to take a bath, read a book, listen to music, meditate or unwind in any other low key way. By eliminating sources of constant stimulation and slowing down your evening habits, you will be working with your natural body rhythm and foster a better mental environment for sleep. If you’ve been dealing with insomnia for a while, melatonin is a helpful natural supplement to reset your internal clock. This supplement may not be appropriate for everyone, it should never be taken with sleep medications and in some patients, it has shown a slight increase in depressive symptoms.

Keep yourself on a consistent schedule by setting your alarm to go off after 8 hours. Try to resist the urge to nap during the day as it can disrupt your nighttime sleep.

Natural Supplements

Serotonin is a vital brain chemical called a neurotransmitter. It regulates our mood, behaviour, libido, sleep, and memory. Keep your serotonin levels elevated by getting your fill of healthy omega-3 fatty acids ─ the kind you find in fish, walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds, and more.

Cut down on coffee, which can reduce serotonin levels. Instead, try green tea which has L-theanine, an amino acid that has a calming and relaxing effect. L-Theanine boosts neurotransmitters and helps to alleviate stress and anxiety. It can create a calm alertness though, so green tea and L-theanine are best consumed early in the day.

Rhodiola rosea and St. John’s wort are other natural supplements that many individuals have had success with for treating depression. That said, St. John’s wort may interfere with birth control or other medications and should NEVER be taken with antidepressants. This is why it is always important to get professional guidance on which supplements and what dose might work best for you.

Get Your Hormones Balanced

Our hormones have an impact on our physical body, our brain and our mood. They can be the reason behind depression, anxiety, chronic fatigue, weight gain, and more. Think of your adrenal, sex and thyroid hormones as Jenga blocks. When certain blocks that work together and support each other become imbalanced, it can send our whole life tumbling out of control. The longer you take to correct the imbalance, the more difficult it can be to heal. Getting your hormones tested is an easy and effective way to assess any issues so that you can effectively identify what your options are to get back into balance.

Talk to someone

While you may feel vulnerable or uncomfortable at first, opening up to friends and family may be the relief you need to get through dark times without feeling so alone. Social support is critical when you are feeling depressed. If you don’t feel comfortable sharing your burdens with the people you know, then seek professional counselling, whether a therapist, life coach or trusted doctor. We are all here to help, not to judge and we can offer you a fresh, new perspective on things.

If you think you are dealing with depression or can’t shake the blues, we invite you to reach out to us at Forces of Nature. Please feel free to book an appointment or a free 15-minute consultation with us by calling 416-481-0222 or emailing Maria@ForcesofNature.ca. You don’t have to battle depression alone. We can help you get your life back!

The Team at Forces of Nature Wellness Clinic

References:

https://www.thelancet.com/pdfs/journals/lanpsy/PIIS2215-0366(18)30087-7.pdf

http://www.psychiatrist.com/JCP/article/Pages/2016/v77n12/v77n1221.aspx

http://ndnr.com/mindbody/case-study-herbal-treatment-of-depression/

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0005791617300629#sec4

The Trouble with Stress


woman with stress

Why is Stress a Problem?

We often underestimate the power of stress. We like to see it as natural, and even helpful, in being productive in our day-to-day lives. But the positive effects of stress, like goal orientation, motivation, and even intensified memory or cognitive responses are most beneficial in small doses.

Many of us have built up tolerances to living with constant, heightened stress levels, and the temptation to see this as a positive or heroic trait has reduced our natural desire to respond to it. Instead of recognizing and reacting to the core ‘fight or flight’ survival response that it provides, many of us function with long durations of heightened stress without realizing that living under continued high levels can have dire health consequences.

How Stress works:

You’ve probably heard this before, and you’ve certainly felt it: the pounding heart, the rushing sounds in your ears, and an acute and intense desire for action when something has caught you completely off guard.

When your brain perceives some kind of stress, be it your move in a basketball game, a heated argument, or stepping off a busy street, it starts producing an influx of epinephrine, norepinephrine and cortisol hormones. This flood of chemicals produces a variety of reactions: increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, and an acute focus on taking whatever action is necessary to stay safe.

Stress can be brought on by a variety of internal and external factors, and it can be a very healthy reaction and necessary to maintain our survival. It’s when you remain in a heightened state for prolonged periods of time, that the effects of stress on your system can become a real medical problem.

How much stress is too much?

Life events, changes in lifestyle, work, family, or even shifting responsibilities such as child or parent care, relationships, and work can directly affect feelings of overwhelm. When the amount on our plate reaches a place of critical mass, we experience overwhelm. That experience can present itself in many ways. Emotional stressors like these, that remain for a period of weeks, months, or even years, can become detrimental to your immune system, and your overall health. Being able to recognize our own stress signals is the first step to finding ways to cope with and dissipate it, to return to a healthy state that will enable you to work through the demands placed on you.

Recognizing Stress Responses:

There are many ways that stress expresses itself. While some might be more familiar to you than others, a person can experience some or all of these at different times. But, multiplied sources of ongoing stress can lead to larger health issues. If chronic stress is not dealt with effectively, it can become debilitating, leading to an inability of what we want to do most: thrive at work, and in life with our family and friends.

Being able to recognize the sensations of stress is the first step to being able to discuss them with your family doctor and your personal health team. Then, they can help you find ways to cope more effectively.

Stress can feel like:

  • Frenetic energy or restlessness
  • Fatigue, or trouble sleeping or staying awake
  • Digestive issues, changes in appetite, over or under eating
  • Change in use of addictive substances like alcohol, tobacco, or drugs
  • Inability to concentrate or complete tasks
  • Increased frequency of colds or other illnesses like autoimmune disease flares
  • Heightened anger or impatience
  • Headaches, migraines, body aches
  • Increased irritability, anger, or anxiety
  • Lack of motivation, depression, sadness
  • Inability to catch your breath, panic attacks
  • Change in sex drive, social withdrawal
  • Feelings of being ‘burnt out’

That’s me! What should I do?

First, know that everyone experiences high stress at one time or another. You are not alone.

Second, understand that it is manageable and that there are many tools that Dr. Pamela Frank, ND  Dr. Rachel Vong, ND and Ichih Wang, therapist in training, have at their disposal to help hone in on treatments and and actions that will support you in managing yours. If stress is creating muscle tension, back pain or neck pain, see one of our massage therapists, Helen Bhavnani or CJ Paterson, our acupuncture/TCMP Joy Walraven and Dr. Farnaz Najm, our chiropractor.

There’s no need to wait until stress is overwhelming to start practicing some simple management techniques. In fact, the Mayo Clinic recommends including a few key practices to help manage everyday stress, so that if a major issue should arise, you’ll have a few great tools already in your tool box.

Some people find great benefit in:

  • Effective, gentle breathing and stretching techniques
  • Tai Chi or gentle yoga (such as Hatha, Yin, or Restorative not Vinyasa, Ashtanga, or Power)
  • Exercising regularly, choosing gentle forms of movement and temporarily reducing or eliminating cardio intensive exercise (which increases the cortisol response)
  • Allotting quiet time for yourself, to think, journal, meditate, or engage in a creative activity that you enjoy
  • Implement a restful sleep routine that makes a conscious effort towards reducing screen-time and stimulants before bed, and gives you the opportunity to regulate the amount and timing of your sleep hours – the mind and body heal when at rest

Let the mind and body work together:

Remember that stress starts in the brain, and then exhibits in the body. It is not a form of weakness; rather, it is a normal psychological and physical response to situations that require our attention. The way that we can best manage stress is by paying attention and caring for the mind as well as the body, holistically. Some potential stress diagnostic and stress management tools your practitioner could suggest include:

  • Hormone testing and re-balancing
  • Methods of identifying and eliminating stressors
  • Natural, non-addictive, sleep training
  • Building inroads to create family support
  • Natural nutritional supplements such as:
    • Magnesium glycinate
    • B vitamins
    • Adrenal support and adaptogenic supplements (like ashwaganda, Korean ginseng, licorice root, or schisandra)
  • Properly administered essential oil blends, such as:
    • Chamomile
    • Frankincense
    • Lavender
    • Lemon balm
    • Rose
    • Vanilla
    • Valerian

It’s never too early to start learning how to identify and copy better with stress. After all, life is full of surprises. Have you tried any of these tools? Which ones have worked best for you? Which new ones will you try?

Your Forces of Nature Wellness Team is here to help you. If you find that your stress management toolkit isn’t providing what you need, please call us. We would love to support you to finding your best health.

 

Get off Antidepressants

woman who wants to get off antidepressants

How to Get off Antidepressants

In practice, I see a number of patients who are on antidepressants but don’t want to be for various reasons. Some don’t feel that they are effective, others feel that they are no longer warranted, others are coming for fertility treatment and don’t want to be on medication during pregnancy, some prefer to take a more natural, holistic approach and others find the side effects unbearable.

Regardless of the reason for wanting to come off, there are a number of naturopathic options that can help with discontinuing anti-depressant therapy. This should only be undertaken under the supervision of your medical doctor and a naturopathic physician.

Firstly, weaning off of anti-depressants needs to be done very slowly, sometimes using dosages that are not available and need to be custom compounded. In patients who have been on anti-depressants longer term (more than a year or two), tapering off may take 6-24 months.

Secondly, there are several medications that are NOT safe to use together with herbal antidepressant alternatives like St. John’s Wort. These include: antidepressants (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors/SSRI’s), benzodiazepines (anti-anxiety), warfarin, statins, verapamil, digoxin, and oral contraceptives.

How a Naturopath Can Help you Get off Antidepressants

To help with weaning off of anti-depressants, we will often make dietary changes to support the brain and nervous system, introduce lifestyle changes like stress reduction, meditation, yoga, and exercise, and use nutritional supplements like fish oil, B vitamins, magnesium and protein to support normal brain function. Herbs may be used to reduce anxiety (Passionflower, valerian, lemon balm, oatstraw, skullcap), improve resilience to stress (rhodiola, ashwagandha, schisandra) and improve mood. Some may require a gradual weaning on as the anti-depressant dose is being reduced. Because of the risk of interactions with anti-depressants or other medications, herbs should only be used for this under the supervision of a naturopathic doctor.

Acupuncture can be used to help with weaning off of antidepressants as it can help to “raise the spirit qi”.

For advice about how to get off antidepressants, book a consultation with one of our naturopathic doctors.

By Dr. Pamela Frank, BSc(Hons), ND

References:

Jane Clewes, MA A Case Report of Onset of Tinnitus Following Discontinuation of Antidepressant and a Review of the Literature. Prim Care Companion CNS Disord. 2012; 14(1): PCC.11br01218.

Davis SA, Feldman SR, Taylor SL. Use of St. John’s Wort in potentially dangerous combinations. J Altern Complement Med. 2014 Jul;20(7):578-9. doi: 10.1089/acm.2013.0216.