Countless people struggle with daily feelings of depression and anxiety, and if you happen to be one of them, the first thing you should know is that you are not alone. According to statistics from Mental Health America, nearly 20 percent of adults have experienced mental illness, with depression and anxiety being just two of the most common concerns. The National Alliance on Mental Illness finds that 8.7 percent of women and 5.3 percent of men have depression, and of people who have depression, 50 percent also have anxiety.
Exacerbating this problem is the limited treatment approach taken by traditional, symptoms-based medicine. All too often, well-meaning healthcare providers simply reach for their prescription pad rather than truly addressing the underlying problem.
Functional medicine offers an alternative path and an effective way to get to the heart of anxiety and depression. Here at Wisconsin Institute of Functional Medicine, we provide a whole-body approach beyond just treating symptoms, instead promoting whole-body health and wellness.
To learn more about how functional medicine can treat anxiety and depression, we invite you to schedule a consultation with Dr. Tracy Page.
What is Functional Medicine?
To better understand how functional medicine can address issues like depression and anxiety, it may be helpful to clarify what functional medicine is, and how it differs from more conventional healthcare.
Functional medicine represents an evolution of traditional healthcare, which better equips clinicians to address the unique concerns of 21st-century patients. Rather than focusing on a disease (e.g., diagnosing, treating, or managing a particular pathology), functional medicine represents a whole-body approach.
A functional medicine practitioner, like our own Dr. Page, will sit down with you, review your medical history, and listen to your questions and concerns. She will then consider interactions between genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors, assessing the different ways in which these factors can affect overall health and wellbeing. In many cases, the confluence of these factors plays a significant role in the development of depression or anxiety symptoms.
How Functional Medicine Addresses Depression and Anxiety
There are a number of ways in which functional medicine can help patients address their experiences with mental illness. To explain some of the treatment options, we will consider some specific problems that can lead to depression or anxiety.
Problem #1: Poor nutrition can exacerbate mental health concerns.
You may be surprised to learn just how many mental health conditions begin in your gut. For example, many of the foods most common to the American diet are pro-inflammatory, which can throw off the functioning of the immune system as well as your ability to sleep soundly and to properly manage stress. Additionally, food allergies can lead to metabolic conditions that register as depression. For example, those who have a gluten allergy may have undigested proteins in their body, which can alter brain function.
Solution #1: Get a personalized nutrition plan to optimize whole-body wellness.
All of these issues can be addressed with a better approach to nutrition. Generally, this means switching to a diet that is heavily plant-based and focused on whole, real foods. Such a diet is more likely to supply your brain with the nutrients, proteins, and healthy fats it needs to function optimally. Additionally, a functional medicine doctor may be able to help you identify food allergies and other issues that could be contributing to mental illness, and help you make the necessary changes to your diet.
Some simple dietary changes can heal your brain, and potentially help you mediate depression and anxiety more effectively.
Problem #2: Hormonal imbalances can have a significant impact on the way you feel.
The hormones play a significant role in regulating day-to-day functions, which include everything from metabolism to sleep cycles. As such, hormones can have a significant impact on your mood and on your energy level.
The problem is that, over time, many people experience hormonal shifts. Men may experience testosterone drops while still in their 30s, leaving them feeling low on energy or cranky in their disposition. And women can have imbalanced production of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone, whether due to pregnancy, menopause, or other life changes.
Any change in hormone production can have a serious impact on your energy level and on the consistency of your mood.
Solution #2: Seek hormone replacement therapy.
If hormonal imbalances are causing you to experience depression or anxiety, one way to treat the problem is with bioidentical hormone replacement therapy or BHRT. Essentially, this treatment method involves supplements that offset your natural hormone production, and help bring your hormone levels back into healthy balance.
A functional medicine doctor can conduct testing to determine your current hormone levels, potentially identifying the root cause of your depression and anxiety. And if hormonal imbalance is to blame, BHRT can be a simple, natural remedy.
Problem #3: A lack of peptides can interfere with your brain health.
Peptides are short-chain amino acids and proteins that exist naturally in the body. All living organisms have peptides, and the peptides can play a significant role in regulating different bodily functions. Ultimately, to achieve optimal whole-body health, it is crucial to have appropriate levels and concentrations of peptides throughout your body.
As we age, however, our peptide levels can be thrown out of balance. This can contribute to impaired neurocognitive functioning, problems with the immune system, and stress disorders. Additionally, peptide issues can cause hormonal imbalance.
Solution #3: Get peptide therapy.
Peptide therapy is a functional medicine approach that can restore your body to a healthy balance, and trigger improved functionality throughout your bodily systems. For those who are dealing with depression or anxiety, peptide therapy can naturally increase hormone production, improve cognitive functioning, and more.
Peptide imbalance is often overlooked as a contributor to mental health disorders, but a functional medicine doctor can provide you with individualized treatment options.
Problem #4: You are not getting sufficient exercise.
Lifestyle factors can play a significant role in exacerbating the symptoms of depression and anxiety. Specifically, there is ample evidence that a lack of regular physical activity can make these symptoms worse. By contrast, studies have shown that exercise can actually be more effective than pharmaceutical antidepressants.
Solution #4: Develop an exercise plan. Get up and get active!
So how exactly can exercise help you address symptoms of depression and anxiety?
For one thing, exercise releases endorphins, which are essentially the “feel-good” chemicals in your brain. Often, depression and anxiety are rooted in a chemical imbalance, so producing more of these feel-good cues can go a long way.
There are other ways in which regular exercise can help. For example, going out for a jog or taking a yoga class can help you take your mind off your worries for a while. Meeting exercise and personal fitness goals can boost your self-confidence. And, exercise can be a healthy alternative to other stress management practices, including alcohol consumption.
When you meet with a functional medicine doctor to discuss your concerns, you will be asked some questions about your lifestyle and fitness habits. If your provider thinks lack of exercise is part of the problem, they can work with you to develop an exercise plan that is just right for your needs and your current fitness level.
Problem #5: Vitamin deficiencies can contribute to mental health concerns, including anxiety and depression.
Often, depression and anxiety simply reflect a lack of proper vitamins. If you find yourself more depressed during the winter, it may be that you have a significant Vitamin D deficiency. A lack of Vitamin B12 can also contribute to mental health concerns.
Solution #5: Get an IV drip that replenishes your vital nutrients.
One way in which functional medicine addresses vitamin deficiencies is through IV therapy. This is one of the safest and most effective ways to get your body the vitamins and nutrients it requires. And because an IV drip can be absorbed directly into the bloodstream, this method offers a much higher bioavailability than what you would get from oral supplements or vitamin capsules.
A single IV therapy session takes less than an hour, and the effects can last for several weeks. Talk to your functional medicine provider about possible nutrient deficits, and see whether IV therapy may be right for you.
Problem #6: Insomnia and other sleeping problems can make depression and anxiety far worse.
Clinical research shows that there is a “remarkable relationship between sleep alterations and depression.” If you are not getting a solid eight hours of restorative sleep each night, then it is essentially impossible to maintain optimal mental health.
Solution #6: Seek a functional medicine treatment to help you sleep better at night.
When you consult with your functional medicine doctor, be upfront about any sleep disruptions you experience on a regular basis. Your provider may recommend any number of strategies to improve your sleeping habits, including simple lifestyle changes.
If lifestyle changes are insufficient for improving your sleep habits, then you may also want to consider other functional medicine treatments. For example, the inability to get a good night’s sleep may come down to hormonal imbalance or peptide issues. Both of these things can be addressed through whole-body treatments.
Healthy sleep cycles are necessary for maintaining mental health and wellbeing, but if your sleep cycles are off, there are plenty of remedies to consider.
Problem #7: Constantly feeling stressed is a surefire way to become depressed.
We live in an era of immense stress. Busy schedules, constant media saturation, and work-life imbalance can make all of us feel stressed out from time to time.
Stress is not a bad thing in and of itself, but if you do not have healthy ways to manage stress, it is almost inevitable that you will develop chronic depression or anxiety.
Solution #7: Develop a sound strategy for handling your stress.
When you meet with your functional medicine doctor, one thing you can discuss is your strategy for handling stress. Again, your doctor may start by recommending some lifestyle changes: meditation, yoga, journaling, or a creative outlet.
Also, keep in mind that some of the remedies we have already discussed can help you manage your stress more constructively. Exercise can provide you with an outlet, and with a rush of endorphins. Sound nutrition and ample sleep can also help you with stress.
Additional treatment options to improve your stress management abilities include hormone replacement therapy, testosterone replacement therapy, and more.
Making a Case for Functional Medicine
If you have ever discussed your feelings of depression and anxiety with your regular physician, chances are you were given the option of trying pharmaceutical interventions. While anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medications can sometimes prove helpful, all too often, they focus on symptoms at the exclusion of underlying issues. What this means is that while these medicines may make you feel better, they are not actually making you any healthier. It may also mean that you will need to take these medications indefinitely.
Functional medicine offers a better approach: A way to truly delve into the different factors that contribute to your depression and anxiety, and to address underlying issues that are robbing you of your good health.
For anyone dealing with depression and anxiety, functional medicine offers a chance to identify root causes and make lasting changes that do not merely mediate symptoms, but actually improve whole-body health. If you live in the Appleton or Green Bay, WI area and have questions about functional medicine treatments that can address your mental health concerns, we would love to talk with you. Dr. Page is here to consider your needs and help you develop a personalized treatment plan.
To schedule a consultation, contact the Wisconsin Institute of Functional Medicine at your next convenience.