Five Integrative Medicine strategies to help manage mental health when medication is unwanted or not enough.
“Stress” has been identified as a central trigger for 80 per cent of mood disorders including Depression and PTSD. Depression has surpassed HIV AIDS, malaria, diabetes and war as the leading cause of disability worldwide. This is no light weight topic.
What then is stress? Stress can be anything from the direct trauma of a car accident or life tragedy, to the everyday juggle of our relentlessly busy lives, which for many people these days feels increasingly unsustainable. We are all potentially vulnerable to experiencing depression at some point. Statistics identify that potentially as many as 1 in 4 of the global population may suffer a mood disorder. So if it’s not YOU it is potentially somebody you know. We need to explore and implement strategies to prevent stress triggering mood disorders. This article, by Dr Natalie Dalton (TCM, Nutrition, Naturopathy) suggests ways to assist in staying strong and holding ground when your world is shaky.
While we do know that stress is one of the triggers, we don’t know exactly what causes depression — and once developed, for some, depression may last a lifetime and be resistant to treatment. Our first anti- depressants were discovered by accident in the 1950s as side effects to an antihistamine medication and a tuberculosis medication. Since then a significant amount of money, time and effort has gone into improving a class of drugs known as SSRIs, (Select Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors, two of the more commonly known are Zoloft and Prozac). For 50 per cent of patients with depression SSRI’s don’t work and despite all of the investment, we still haven’t managed to prevent a global epidemic of mental health issues and mood disorders. Patients on anti-depressant medication often describe symptom relief – but not a resolution.
Excitingly, a more recent Harvard University study has found a link between inflammatory states of the brain, depression and anxiety. Western medicine is now looking to address more preventative measures to increase ‘stress resilience’ expanding the traditional view on how to offer treatment to people with a mood disorder.
Fortunately in the Integrative Medicine space we have always thought preventatively and we are often asked how we might collaborate in supporting a patient’s journey back to a state of mental wellbeing.
The following 5 strategies are often employed by Naturopaths, Herbalists and Clinical Nutritionist to support patients with depression with an intention of supporting our mental health.
1. Decrease Inflammation
We can work towards decreasing inflammation by alkalising the extra cellular matrix. This is an important way to facilitate the clean up of the inflammatory debris created by cells under immune mediated stress. If we clean up the extra cellular space we can shunt away the bi-product of inflammation more efficiently from the cell wall. It’s like ensuring that the water around an atoll is crystal clear so there is no pollution at the shore line of the cell allowing waste to be eliminated and nutrients to be efficiently transported across the cell wall. This in turn supports healthy cellular activity and reduces inflammation. In people suffering depression decreasing inflammation in the brain is proving to clinically beneficial. Scientifically developed formulations (including turmeric and saffron) further support the down regulation of inflammation in the brain.
2. Support Mitochondrial Methylation
In other words support ‘cellular detoxification’. Our cells’ methylation pathways will ultimately generate super anti-oxidants such as Glutathione and N-Acetyl Cysteine if they are working normally. If methylation pathways are compromised then our anti-oxidants will be in short supply and the ability that we have to scavenge (destroy and eliminate ) free radicals is also compromised leading to further inflammatory responses. Inflammation is the precursor to all cellular pathology including cancer. Healthy methylation also requires bio-available B vitamins as they act as co-factors and substrates to thousands enzymes and biochemical pathways. These biochemical pathways (such as serotonin and dopamine) also contribute to regulating the production of neurotransmitters and thus potentially supporting a stable mood.
3. Eat Regular Meals
Eat regularly and at each meal ensure the best quality of essential fatty acids, whole food, proteins and green vegetable, high in fibre and/or complex carbohydrates from a wholegrain or legume source. These elements, when present in the correct quantities and ratios will also help regulate neurotransmitter production as carbohydrates and proteins may also impact the balance of dopamine and serotonin levels. Eating regularly and balancing your carbohydrates, good quality fat and protein load will also regulate your insulin and glucagon responses – which in turn regulate blood sugar; this too has an impact on brain function and mood.
4. Address the individual
Of course there are a whole range of herbal and nutritional strategies to support adrenal function, improve the quality of sleep and help to regulate our moods. Some herbs do not work well with prescription medication but others do. Clinical Nutritional and Herbal strategies can be tailored to suit the individual and are a helpful adjunct to supporting mental health.
The “Secrets of the Golden Chamber” is an ancient Chinese medicine text, dating back to the Han Dynasty and it refers to the restoration of a healthy spirit through the combination of breath, meditation and movement. These three things combine in practices of Yoga, Qi Gong and Tai Chi. Meditation is key and finding the right style of practice and the right teacher for you just takes time and exploration. We are all different so if you at first haven’t succeeded then try try again. Exercise has been proven to help manage stress in more than 70% of the population. Exercising regularly – but not too intensively – as we don’t want it to be a source of stress in itself. Stimulating endorphins is another way of regulating our neurotransmitter levels and staying happy.
Immune mediated stress can create inflammatory responses locally and ultimately systemically impacting mood and behaviour. Our treatment plans will include key ways to reduce inflammation and regulate the production of neurotransmitters through diet and best practice herbal and nutritional supplementation.
*Fact Check; Beyond Blue