*Editor’s Note: No website is designed to, and can not be construed to, provide actual medical advice, professional diagnosis or treatment to you or anyone. Elephant is not intended as a substitute for medical or professional advice, care and treatment. Not all cases of depression can be treated holistically; this is one approach that may be an alternative to medication for some.
If we struggle with feeling hopeless, sad, or otherwise mentally fragile, we’re not alone. More than 100 million Americans—that’s literally one in three—struggle through life with a “broken brain.”
Pharmaceutical companies are quick to pick up on this idea of “brokenness,” but conventional medicine cannot cure it.
With its symptom-based medicine approach, conventional medicine tackles depression the wrong way. Rather than determine what actually creates that depression, many doctors immediately reach for their prescription pad.
That explains why one in 10 Americans today uses antidepressants, while more than eight million children are taking stimulants like Ritalin.
These statistics are not normal. Depression does not come standard-issue. It is not a Prozac deficiency.
Conventional medicine fails to address the underlying causes of depression and why they differ from one person to the next. Instead, they simply label the disease and approach the treatment identically, even though the cause of that disease may be radically different from person to person.
Ultimately, drugs like antidepressants don’t cure the disease; they just mask the symptoms.
I take a radically different approach to depression by understanding what creates it. To call someone depressed says nothing about the underlying causes that create depression.
When it comes to healing, the key to this new paradigm is simply this: Depression is not in our head. It is in our body.
The functional medicine approach to depression is quite simple. We eliminate things that cause imbalances in core systems and provide our body things it needs to heal (like good food, vitamins, minerals, omega-3 fats, and hormones when necessary).
With that approach, our body will repair and heal very quickly.
While simple, this approach requires digging deep and connecting patterns. We might still need therapy or medication. Just don’t assume these will cure the problem if we have any of these underlying issues.
Without oversimplifying it, some of the things that contribute to depression include:
- Low thyroid function
- Folic acid or B12 deficiency
- Omega-3 fats deficiency
- Bugs in our gut affecting our brain or immune system
- Hormonal imbalances
From that perspective, we can understand how to treat depression. Oftentimes doing detective work and trial-and-error take a little work and time, but remember the average anti-depressant drug takes six weeks to kick in!
Most of my patients find nutritional issues really cause most mental illnesses. We can change our mind to change our body, but we can also change our body to change our mind!
While uncovering the causes of depression can require patience and sleuthing to determine the underlying issues, I’ve found that just about everyone benefits when they employ these six strategies:
- Eat whole, real food. Feed the brain and body with nutrient-dense, whole, fresh, plant-based diet that includes plenty of protein and healthy fats. Our brain is about 60 percent fat, so it makes sense eating plenty of healthy fats (and including anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids) and protein can help heal our brain.
- Cut out sugar. If we’ve ever eaten something sugary, “crashed” a little later, and felt absolutely miserable, we know how sugar can contribute to depression. Studies confirm sugar consumption can contribute to depression. Become a detective and find hidden sources of sugar.
- Exercise regularly. Studies show exercise is as good and even better than anti-depressants. Find a comprehensive exercise plan here.
- Get enough sleep. Terrible sleep will only contribute to and exacerbate depression, so we want to aim for eight hours of solid, uninterrupted sleep every night. Grab 19 of my top sleep tips here.
- Control stress levels. Constantly feeling stressed out becomes a surefire way to become depressed or stoke the fires of depression. Find what creates calm and practice it regularly, whether that includes meditation, yoga, or just walking our dog. Many patients find my UltraCalm CD helps melt away stress and anxiety.
- Take the right nutrients. Many nutrients can alleviate depression and support optimal brain health, including omega-3 fatty acids and 5-HTP. Work with an integrative practitioner to customize a nutrient program.
I also strongly encourage reading The UltraMind Solution, which delves more deeply into depression and how to fix it. Many patients have enormous success using The Blood Sugar Solution 10-Day Detox Diet, which eliminates gluten, dairy, and other food sensitivities to reduce inflammation and help us feel better. These patients also get the “added bonus” of weight loss.
If you’ve struggled with depression, has your doctor ever suggested pharmaceutical drugs? Did you find exercise or other dietary and lifestyle factors benefitted you equally or even more? Share your story below or on my Facebook page.
Author: Mark Hyman
Editor: Emily Bartran
Photo: Paul Garaizar/Unsplash