One in ten Americans today uses antidepressants. Is this part of the normal human condition? Have we been defectively designed so that we cannot be happy, or concentrate, or remember things without pills? Are these conditions due to a Cymbalta, Paxil, or Prozac deficiency? I think not! Depression is a medical condition that has both physical (biochemical) and emotional causes and consequences. Depression can occur in many different severities ranging from mild sadness or loss of interest, to suicidal thoughts or actions.
Symptoms of Depression
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
- Feelings of low mood and loss of interest
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and/or helplessness
- Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Irritability, restlessness
- Loss of interest in activities or hobbies
- Changes in appetite
- Persistent aches or pains, headaches, or digestive problems
- Persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" feelings
- Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
- Weight fluctuations
- Low libido
Almost 30 million Americans are suffering from depression for which they take antidepressants prescribed by their doctors at a cost of more than $10 billion annually1. However, studies suggest that these popular drugs are no more effective than a placebo. In fact they may be worse. In his book The Emperor's New Drugs, Irving Kirsch, a practicing psychotherapist and research psychologist, uncovered evidence that inadequate supervision by the FDA had allowed pharmaceutical companies to cherry-pick test results for publication and submission to the feds, suppressing unwanted outcomes.
However, when the data is seen clearly, there doesn't seem to be any difference whether study participants received the drugs themselves or the placebo. Researchers found that about 82% of the response to antidepressants had also been achieved by a “dummy pill." A recent review of 4 meta-analyses of the effectiveness of anti-depressants2 found that of the 4041 patients initially started on citalopram, only 108 of those who remained in the study for a full 12 months achieved full remission. This suggests that when it comes to antidepressant efficacy, we are looking at a 12-month remission rate of 2.7%.
Furthermore, there is a strong trend among psychiatrists to treat patients with multiple medications, using the cancer chemotherapy model of multiple agents with different mechanisms of action. There is also a growing use of these medications in the pediatric population. Given the low rate of full recovery and the side effect burden of antidepressants (e.g., metabolic syndrome, elevated cholesterol, loss of libido, possible osteoporosis), as well as the unknown consequences of long term use of these medications in adults and children, it is necessary to consider additional avenues of treatment, focusing on the causes of depression rather than covering the symptoms.
- Do you feel depressed, hopeless, disconnected from your life?
- Do you experience mood swings?
- Do you have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep?
- Are your relationships breaking down because you are mentally and/or emotionally absent?
- Do you feel tired, are unable to focus, or have brain fog?
- Is your memory is failing, so you can’t properly perform your tasks at work?
- Do you forget to meet friends or go to appointments, and then can’t figure out how in the world you forgot?
If you answered “yes” to any of the questions above, you are not alone. I’ll show you how Functional Medicine can help you feel calm, confident, and happy, be effective at work and maintain healthy relationships.
Functional Medicine Approach to Treating Depression
Depression is not the cause of your sadness and despair. It is just the label conventional doctors use to group people together for the purpose of giving them all the same drug therapy. The causes of depression may be very different from one person to another, although they may share the same symptoms. When someone complains of leg pain, his doctor would examine the leg and he may recommend some diagnostic tests (i.e., x-ray, MRI, blood test, etc). As you would imagine the causes or leg pain can be varied: burn, cut, fracture, tumor, referred pain from other parts of the body, etc. Do we treat them all the same? No!
Then, why do we treat all depressions the same? And why doctors do not routinely test the function of the organ they treat, the brain? Conventional medicine gives the same treatment for diseases with the same name, although the cause(s) of that disease may be radically different from person to person. Drugs like antidepressants do not cure this disease but only mask the symptoms, while causing side effects, or at best give partial relief.
You have another option: Functional Medicine, which focuses on identifying, preventing and/or treating the causes of each condition, because there is not just one thing that causes your brain suffer, but the accumulation of many things. Quite often, your symptoms are not all in your head but rather in your body. Therefore, the cure will not be found in a magic antidepressant pill but in rebalancing your body’s core functions by:
- Improving your nutrition
- Balancing your hormones
- Eliminating chronic smoldering inflammation
- Optimizing your digestion
- Boosting your detoxification
- Increasing your energy metabolism
- Quieting your mind
All these imbalances are connected to each other and are the causes of all illness. We cannot treat mental illness effectively by using only drugs or psychotherapy. We need to treat the body, because the body and brain are one interconnected system. We are not a sum of body parts. Functional Medicine offers us a fundamentally new way of thinking about illness, the human body, and brain. When you heal your body, you will heal your brain.
You do not need expensive therapies or medications in order to heal your body and your brain. Most often you need to improve your diet, start moving your body, and fix the imbalances mentioned above. By following our step-by-step instructions you can live life full of energy, vitality, pleasure, and happiness.
- Rush, AJ. STAR-D: What have we learned? Am J Psychiatry. 2007;164-201
- Pigott, et al. Efficacy and Effectiveness of Antidepressants: Current Status:Psychother Psychosom. 2010;79(5):267-79.
- Bourre, JM: J. Nutrition, Health & Aging: Vol 10(5) 2006: 377-385. Effects of nutrients (in food) on the structure and function of the nervous system: update on dietary requirements for brain: Part 1: micronutrients.
- Miller HL :et al.: Clinical and biochemical effects of catecholamine depletion on antidepressant-induced remission of depression. Arch Gen Psychiatry. Vol.53( 2):117-128.
- Spillmann MK. Et.al.; Tryptophan depletion in SSRI recovered depressed outpatients. Psychopharmacology (Berl)2001, May;155 (2):123-127
- Maes M.,et al.:Hypozincemia in depression. J Affective Disorders; 31(2):13Maes M.: “Lower serum zinc in major depression is a sensitive marker of treatment resistance and of the immune/inflammatory response in that illness” Biol Psychiatry: 42(5):349-358
- (1997). 5-140 (1994)
- Maes M.Et.al.: Lower serum zinc in major depression in relation to changes in serum acute phase proteins. J. Affect Disord 1999:56(2-3):189-194
- Methylenetetrahydrofolate Reductase (MTHFR) Genetic Polymorphisms (C677T variant) and Psychiatric Disorders: A HuGE Review: Am J Epidemiol 2007;165:1–13
- Coppen A, et al.: Enhancement of antidepressant action of fluoxetine by folic acid: a randomized, placebo controlled trial. J Affect Disord: 2000:60(Nov.):121-130
- Rutten: Epigenetic Mediation of Environmental influences in Major Psychotic Disorders Schizophrenia Bulletin; 2009: Vol 35