Feeling Depressed? It’s not just about your brain.

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~ Dr. Sonya Nobbe, ND

Even if you’re fortunate enough to answer “no” to this question, the illness is so prevalent, it’s likely that someone you know struggles with depression. Unfortunately, of the nearly 1 in 20 Canadians treating their condition with pharmaceuticals, fewer than 50% will experience complete relief from their symptoms and at least as many will experience drug complications or side-effects, ranging from increased risk of suicide in adolescents to bone fractures in the elderly. Science’s limited understanding of depression offers solutions for only a minority of people afflicted, leaving many more searching for additional healthcare options.

Your brain is responsible for up to 25% of the metabolism in your entire body. These metabolic processes require hundreds of nutrients, including proteins and B-vitamins for brain chemicals that create mood, and omega-3 fats that generate healthy brain cells. Vitamin D, magnesium, and zinc are also critical for healthy brain function. A struggling brain works much more efficiently if given the correct nourishment.

Did you know that the digestive tract makes approximately 95% of all the serotonin in your body? Depression is often considered to be a “serotonin deficiency disorder” and the most common drugs used to treat depression increase the availability of serotonin in the brain. But what causes the serotonin deficiency in the first place? One underlying cause includes deficiency of the serotonin pre-cursor called tryptophan. Tryptophan is a component of protein, and a tryptophan deficiency can occur in people whose absorption of protein is impaired by acid blocking medication such as Zantac or Prevacid, or a digestive disorder. It can also occur in people with chronically high levels of inflammation (e.g. arthritis, heart disease), that consume protein at the expense of an optimally functioning brain.

In other words, the origin of the depression arguably isn’t in the brain at all, and treating the brain alone will only manage symptoms. Depression is a well-documented symptom of many underlying illnesses, including low thyroid function, pre-menstrual syndrome, diabetes, Celiac disease, and sleep apnea. These conditions are further characterized by deeper underlying system imbalances related to digestion, blood sugar, cortisol, estrogen, testosterone, inflammation, and nutrient deficiencies. It’s quite possible that when depression runs in a family, that family shares an inherited change in metabolism that affects these underlying systems. The key is in understanding which system is affected and working to restore normal function.

Achieving the most relief possible from depression includes combining multiple approaches that include treating the underlying cause. An integrative healthcare practitioner will help you identify and treat the underlying system imbalances and rule out contributing illnesses such as low thyroid function and sleep apnea. These approaches work well with or as an alternative to, artificially increasing serotonin access in the brain with pharmaceuticals. Furthermore, a combined approach that improves how your body functions further minimizes your risk of developing other chronic health conditions that can accompany depression, such as heart disease and chronic pain.