Holistic approach for depression and anxiety

Dr. Donna Acree, a local naturopath.

Each year, physicians in this country write millions of prescriptions for anti-depressant and anti-anxiety drugs. Yet some people are turning to natural approaches as an alternative, or in addition, to these medications to avoid side effects or because they had limited success with pharmaceuticals. Not many conventional doctors are researched on holistic approaches to mental health, nor do they endorse it, but Marianne Rothschild, MD, a physician with conventional training and also board certified in Integrative and Holistic medicine, does have a stand.

“Every individual has a unique constellation of things going on as a result of their history or story.  Each person’s ‘anxiety,’ ‘depression,’ or ‘stress’ is different, so the approach should be individualized, and I do believe a natural approach considering all factors is often effective. It may be herbs, supplements, reducing toxins, and/or dietary interventions, for instance,” said Rothschild.

This holistic approach is the standard way that Dr. Donna Acree practices. Acree is a board-certified doctor of naturopathic medicine at the Center for Mind-Body Therapies in Frederick. Below she addresses common questions.

Q: What is the main difference between pharmaceuticals and a natural approach for anxiety, depression, and overall mood?

A: Some of the most common pharmaceuticals prescribed for depression and anxiety are SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), which increase serotonin uptake in the brain (a chemical associated with mood). SSRIs and most pharmaceuticals for anxiety and depression affect chemicals in the brain in order to reduce symptoms. 

A natural approach for mild to moderate depression and anxiety does not focus on addressing symptoms, but seeks to balance chemicals by addressing underlying causes. The treatment is a multipronged approach that considers diet, sleep routine, exercise, supplements, and herbs.

Q: What is the role of sleep in managing anxiety or depression? And what do you recommend to help people sleep?

A: The body detoxifies and regenerates at night. But when a person is chronically sleep deprived, body systems begin to break down, and hormones become imbalanced. Sleep deprivation causes mood and behavioral changes.

To help a person improve their sleep, I would begin by looking for what is causing the person’s nervous system to run overtime and try to determine why they can’t fall asleep or stay asleep. For instance, he or she may have an imbalance of the hormone, cortisol, which becomes elevated or imbalanced with prolonged stress.

I would look for other factors that affect sleep. Neurological stimulants such as sugar and coffee increase the cortisol, insulin, and epinephrine hormones and thus increase alertness. Consuming them can begin a bad cycle, as often sleep-deprived people rely on sugar and caffeine to keep energy levels up through the day, but these ingredients compound sleep problems. So I suggest avoiding sugar and caffeine.

I also recommend a nightly routine in order to train the body to relax. It could be a hot bath, chamomile tea, yoga, meditation, or listening to relaxation music. The key is to stay consistent. 

Q: What foods may contribute to depression or anxiety?

A: Alcohol, fast food, sugar, and refined carbohydrates can contribute to mood problems. Basically, anything sugary or that rapidly turns to sugar can contribute to blood sugar ups and downs, which often contribute to a mood imbalance.

Alcohol and refined carbohydrates also deplete the body of nutrients that help with managing stress, such as B vitamins and minerals like magnesium. Some people also have food sensitivities that can affect mood, such as sensitivity to gluten, wheat, or dairy.

Q: What diet choices would you recommend to help with mood?

A: I suggest cutting back on processed foods (like boxed foods and breads) and eating more whole foods. Whole foods are in their natural, unprocessed state and include fruit, beans, seeds, nuts, and vegetables. Eating a variety of whole foods will supply the raw materials needed to make chemicals that regulate moods.  I recommend juicing with raw vegetables, which gives an energy boost and detoxifies the liver and blood.

I do not recommend eating grains containing gluten such as wheat, spelt, barley, and rye. Research shows gluten can damage the lining of the intestines, and there is a relation between gut health and mood, which I will discuss later.

Sometimes I find a deficiency in amino acids (among their roles, they serve as brain chemical messengers). In this case I tailor a nutritional plan of amino acid- rich foods and supplementation. The plan depends on the person, but may include amino acids to increase serotonin or dopamine.

Q:What supplements do you recommend for almost everyone with mood or anxiety issues?

A: I put most people on magnesium, which relaxes the muscles, calms the body, and helps with sleep. I generally recommend B vitamins and vitamin D3. All of these impact mood. The body uses B vitamins quicker when under stress. Omega 3 is an essential nutrient, which is good for brain health. Sources of Omega 3 are fish oil, flax seed, hemp oil and seed, walnuts, free-range meats, and some vegetables.

Q: What herbs do you recommend?

A: I suggest calming herbs like chamomile, lavender, valerian root, and passionflower. Research shows the herb rhodiola to be an effective natural antidepressant. These herbs tend to be most effective in liquid herbal formulas.

Q: What role might toxins play in mood?

A: Toxins interfere with the way cells work and may contribute to mood swings, depression, and anxiety.

Research shows toxins also affect the health of our gut and we have serotonin receptors in the gut, thus the mood-gut relationship.

Toxins damage the lining of the gastrointestinal tract. And an overgrowth of yeast (called candidiasis), which may come from sugar or alcohol, produces toxins in the gut that may cause foggy thinking and contribute to depression.

Additionally, eating foods that we are sensitive or allergic to will cause inflammation in the gut and decrease absorption of nutrients needed for healthy mood.

Q: How would you help patients reduce their toxic load?

A: I recommend drinking only fluoride-free and chlorine-free water and using non-fluoridated toothpaste. This is because fluoride has been shown to disrupt normal biochemistry in the brain and to slow thyroid function, which may contribute to depression. And as I mentioned before, I suggest reducing or eliminating sugar (especially refined sugar in cookies, candies, and cake) and alcohol. I also recommend periodic detoxification, which should be done under the supervision of a naturopathic doctor.

In closing: There is no one magic pill or remedy for depression and anxiety. The cause needs to be addressed. Medicating symptoms often leaves the causes unaddressed, although sometimes medically necessary for a time, depending on each person.

Healthy lifestyles beget healthy bodies and brains. Exercise daily to help normalize hormones in the body and raise serotonin levels.

Identify toxic relationships, environments, and foods and choose healthier options. Laugh every day, as this alone has been shown to improve overall mood. Find a counselor you feel comfortable with and team up with a naturopathic doctor for a holistic and comprehensive evaluation.

To learn more go to doctordonna.net, cmbt.net or nannymeal.com.

Or call 301-631-2936 ext. 305.

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