What if your depression wasn't all in your head? The real reason you can't just "feel better"
Given today's current environment and depression rates on the rise, I thought there was no better time than the present to revisit this super important topic. If you didn't catch our post on anxiety earlier this year you can find it here!
When I first started in practice as a functional medicine practitioner, I was blown away by the amount of people I met who were dealing with depression. I say "dealing with" because although many of them were on medications and quite a few of them had been through at least one type of therapy, most of them were just getting by at best. Certainly none of them were living their best life, and most of them agreed that they wanted to stop taking their medications but were afraid that if they did all their issues would just come right back.
I decided that this could not be the only way for these people to live. There had to be more to it.
Most traditional medical training on the subject of mental health tells us that there must be some type of trauma, or that there is a chemical imbalance in our body that is not allowing our brain to function correctly. This didn't entirely jive with me because even if these things were true, it doesn't answer the larger question that no one seems to be looking at which is WHY.
Why would some people experiencing traumas or hardships being processing them, dealing with them and moving on with their lives while others get stuck in a cycle of depression and self loathing? Why would our body create a chemical imbalance, or not correct a chemical imbalance that occurred and let our brain stop functioning correctly? Is it possible that there is more to this story??
The answer is a resounding yes.
The missing connection is in our belly. Yup, the old gut. This is known as the gut-brain axis, and it's a hot topic among researchers in the fields of functional health and psychology alike. You see, for a long time, traditional western medicine has looked at the body as a bunch of different and mostly separate systems and created specialists for each of these systems. If you have a heart problem, you see the cardiologist, if you've got a gland disorder like diabetes you see the endocrinologist and so on. The problem with this way of thinking and treating patients is that it usually doesn't address the "why" aspect. Why do you have a heart issue? Why are you diabetic?
If I can be so bold, I would say that we stopped asking many of these questions when we turned to pharmaceutical drugs to ease the symptoms of our health issues. With the symptoms reduced, it feels less necessary to search and find the root cause of the issue. Not to mention, that the companies that produce these drugs would make a lot less money if we found easy ways to cure many of these ailments.
Alternative medicine looks in the other direction. We look to find the root causes of the health conditions that we treat so that a patient can experience a full and permanent recovery whenever possible. This requires us to look at the body as a whole, not just individual systems, since most health issues are really a cascade of issues.
To explain that further. Let's get back to our gut-brain axis. The gut, or digestive tract, is filled with millions of bacteria in thousands of different species. In a perfect world all of these species are in balance and get along with one another. Unfortunately, do to many factors in our current lifestyles, this Utopian gut scenario is not the case. Many people develop what is called gut dysbiosis. A fancy way of saying some of the wrong type of bacteria have moved in to the neighborhood, taken up residence and are proliferating at an aggressive rate, pushing out some of the other lovely types of bacteria that we need.
When this is happening to someone, it is the first domino to fall in the cascade that can lead to a whole host of health conditions. Gut dysbiosis can lead to autoimmune disease, food allergies/sensitivities, blood sugar issues, recurrent fungal infections, poor immune function AND...mood disorders.
Some of this connection from gut to brain/emotion is due to poor nutrient uptake. If you don't have the right bacteria to break down food, there's little possibility of taking up the right nutrients.
The larger way that this connection occurs is due to the fact that many of these bacteria are actually responsible for producing substances called neurotransmitters that help to carry function signals up to the brain letting us know what hormones/chemicals to secrete into the blood stream. If these neurotransmitters cannot be properly produced or are being produced in the wrong number, or in response to the wrong thing, our whole way of reacting to the world emotionally gets really screwed up.
So no, depression is most certainly not all in your head. And to be honest, if we don't look at you systemically and address any issues going on in your gut, there's only a small
chance that you will be able to overcome these feelings long term, even with therapy and medication.
The great news is that healing the gut is not as difficult as it may sound as long as you know where to start. As a functional practitioner I look for balance, and often add supplements, remove offending foods, and use some super specialized techniques (like NAET) to be able to get to the bottom of someone's gut issues and help them get on track with their health. This inside-out approach allows pepopel to solve their health issues from the bottom up and start living their best life, for the rest of their life!
If you want to learn more, contact us! We'd love to see how we can help!
Dr. Caroline Ricker has been passionately helping people avoid unnecessary medications and surgeries since 2009. She combines a very logical functional medicine approach to digestive disorders and more using a more alternative holistic approach, utilizing standard lab tests and in-office evaluations as well as nutrition, acupuncture and homeopathy.
Whole Health & Wellness
10807 Big Bend Road
St. Louis, MO 63122
P: (314) 269-3847