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A naturopath’s perspective on depression

16 February 2017 Cathy Vanzanden

A naturopath’s perspective on depression

We all have days when we’re feeling a bit down, sad or not in the mood to be social. However, people with depression can experience these feelings constantly, for long periods of time, and sometimes without any apparent reason. If these feelings last more than two weeks and coincide with a loss of interest in work, hobbies, social events and a withdrawal from close friends and family, then depression may be present.  

Depression has the highest burden of all diseases in Australia affecting 1 in 5 women and 1 in 8 men in their lifetime, and yet in a recent national survey, more than half of those who had a depressive disorder in the previous 12 months did not receive any professional help. 

Symptoms of depression can include lowered mood, reduced self esteem, loss of interest and enjoyment in life, reduced libido, bowel disturbance, disturbed sleep and fatigue. Feelings that may be experienced include guilt, irritability, frustration, overwhelm, disappointment and sadness. Some of the factors that may contribute to depression include stressful life events, endocrine abnormalities such as thyroid imbalances, drug and alcohol use, serious illness, food allergies, chronic stress, genetic predisposition, cancer and side effects of medications.

There is a stronger association with nervous system disorders such as anxiety and depression in patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), with up to 70% of people with depression or anxiety also reporting digestive issues.

How naturopathic medicine can help

It is recommended you speak with your medical professional if you are concerned about depression, however here are a few naturopathic remedies that may help improve your condition in conjunction with professional treatment.

  • Omega-3 fatty acids improve symptoms of anxiety and depression via their anti-inflammatory properties. 
  • Magnesium is required to control inflammation, reduce nervous tension, mood swings, irritability and manage stress. 
  • Folate and the B vitamins are needed for the synthesis and metabolism of neurotransmitters, with deficiencies in these nutrients linked to mental health issues.
  • It is important to eat real food on a regular basis to stabilise blood sugar levels. Blood sugar irregularities have a major impact on our mood and behaviour. It’s a good idea to limit or eliminate any “white” products such as white flour, white sugar, white pasta, white rice etc. These refined carbohydrates (including soft drinks) create a sugar spike, which then causes your energy and mood to crash within the hour. These foods also deplete your body of essential nutrients for mental health such as your B vitamins and magnesium.
  • Herbal medicine offers significant support for mental health issues with herbs such as St John’s Wort providing effective relief in the treatment of depression, with relatively minor side-effects in comparison to synthetic anti-depressant medication. Rhodiola reduces stress-related symptoms such as irritability, cognitive dysfunction and fatigue due to its ability to regulate the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and inhibit cortisol secretion. Ginkgo biloba is also a useful herb in the treatment of depression and minimises the side-effects of pharmaceutical treatments for depression. An individual herbal mix can be formulated to address the whole picture, including addressing any digestive and immune issues that may also be present.
  • Flower essence therapy can be an effective way to address underlying emotional, psychological and spiritual disturbances that may be contributing to the depression, and an individual flower essence prescription can be formulated.  

Other tips to cope with depression

1. Exercise of any type is helpful to encourage circulation to the brain and provide enkephalins and endorphins, the body’s natural mood boosters. Start with walking 15 to 20 mins in the morning, which also improves serotonin, the “happy” neurotransmitter.

2. Avoid alcohol, cigarettes and recreational drugs, as these substances create disturbances in the neurotransmitters and receptors in the brain, which can contribute to imbalances. 

3. Yoga and meditation can be helpful to encourage vitality and connection to the self, as well as to learn to control the negative thought loops that occur with depression.

4. Social connection is incredibly important to our wellbeing. Even though you may not feel like socialising, reach out to those friends or family members that you know will be supportive. It’s okay to talk about the things that are troubling you. If you don’t feel that you can speak with family or friends, there are a number of support organizations that provide support 24 hours a day. 

5. Know that this moment in time will pass, and even though the world seems like a dark place, it won’t always be this way. Change is inevitable. People and jobs come and go. The river of life is constantly flowing, and there will be relief from the pain you are experiencing at some point.

6. Connect with nature. Our way of life is so far removed from where we are meant to be. We are constantly linked to computers, smart phones, television, living indoors, breathing in chemicals from man-made furniture and don’t always have the connection to the earth that we need to survive. Get into the forest, go to the beach, or even a short walk in your local park to get your feet on the ground and recharge.

7. Go out in the sun for 15 minutes every day. Vitamin D deficiency is linked with depression, and even though it is important to be sun smart, we still need the rays for our health and wellbeing.

8. Try to have a little fun. Embrace your silliness, dress up, dance, watch funny movies or comedy. Laughter also boosts endorphins and helps to lighten the load.

9. Use supportive self-talk. Be kind and loving towards yourself. You are a child of the universe and deserve to be here. You are loved and special exactly the way you are.

Where to find additional help and support

Cathy Vanzanden

About Cathy Vanzanden

Cathy Vanzanden is an Endeavour College of Natural Health graduate and Naturopath. She is passionate about the healing power of plants, not only on a physical level, but also an emotional, mental and spiritual level. Cathy has developed an Authentic Wisdom Vibrational Mists range, which evolved from combining her love of aromatherapy, flower essences and yoga philosophy. Visit her website for details on mobile naturopathic consultations and flower essence therapy.

View all articles by Cathy Vanzanden

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