It's no doubt the world is pretty crazy right now and mental health concerns are on a steady rise. COVID, lockdowns, natural disasters, war, climate change, politics, food shortages, it's a bit of a nightmare out there.
The past few years has seen an increase in mental health support via GPs, psychologists, counselling, and help lines (e.g. Lifeline). Did you know that naturopaths can be a great addition to your mental health support team?
You probably know by now that 'just thinking positive' probably isn't going to fully address your anxiety or depression. Mental health concerns and disorders generally have underlying causes &/or factors that worse the condition. You might not have ever thought about how your diet, lifestyle, microbiome, digestive function and hormones can play a role in mental health but there is a growing body of evidence to support these links.
There is a LOT that naturopaths look for when addressing mental health issue so I will keep it to the basics.
Our body produces neurotransmitters which are chemical messengers that control our mood, appetite, motivation, and more. Heard of serotonin? Yep that is a neurotransmitter. We want good levels of most of our neurotransmitters (esp. serotonin, GABA, and dopamine) which help to reduce depression and anxiety.
We need specific nutrients to build the neurotransmitters in the first place, so if you are lacking in these then there is the chance of low neurotransmitter production.
This is a really interesting one you might not have considered. Specifically looking at gluten in schizophrenia, it has shown to trigger psychosis. Now this sounds extreme but remember the research is specifically in schizophrenia (where there is an element of psychosis). The research found the consuming gluten when gluten-intolerant (Coeliac or non-coeliac) can create widespread inflammation. This inflammation can trigger immediate physical symptoms, including altering brain function. Have you ever eating something you know you are intolerant to and noticed changes to your mood, anxiety, energy, or physical symptoms?
If you are someone with a menstrual cycle chances are that you have experienced PMS. Maybe you have experienced mood swings and anxiety worse around the luteal phase of your cycle? This is because hormones (esp. sex hormones) have the ability to enter the brain and alter its functioning. Keeping a balance in hormones (especially for women) is essential for addressing mental health issues.
For men, testosterone imbalance (too high or too low) can also cause issues in this area. Thyroid hormones also play a role in mental health and is very under-looked. Unexplained anxiety is one key feature of hyperthyroidism, and depression is very highly linked with hypothyroidism.
This is one of my favourite areas of research. If you don't know what the microbiome is, it is essentially a colony of organisms (mainly bacteria) that live in our digestive tract. The microbiome provides immune support against pathogens and bad bugs, help to breakdown undigested fibres, support nutrient production, and can also support our mental health.
Our microbiome can directly and indirectly alter brain function and the production of neurotransmitters. Gut microbiome changes due to stress, poor diet, and toxins has been linked with anxious and depressive behaviour.
In fact, our beneficial bacteria species Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium have the ability to alter our mood, and can produce GABA (anti-anxiety neurotransmitter).
I often do microbiome stool testing with my clients to see where levels are at which is so beneficial.
Methylation is a chemical reaction that occurs to ensure proper functioning of different functions in the body. Under and over-methylation has shown to be a factor associated with mental health conditions such as depression, OCD, addiction, and anxiety.
Heavy metal toxicity has been linked to mental health issues. Specifically mercury toxicity has been linked with depression. Also overlooked is zinc : copper ratio which is also associated with mental health issues especially anxiety.
Hair tissue analysis is great for assessing heavy metals and is something I use in my practice.
Stress and Cortisol
Stress influences our HPA-axis (hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal glands) which is essentially the connection between the brain and adrenal glands. The HPA-axis also determined our individual ability to cope with stress (mental, emotional, physical). When we are stressed our adrenal glands produce cortisol 'our stress hormone' (we do need some cortisol for normal functioning). Research has found that people with depression have a dysregulation in their HPA-axis loop and can cause too much or too little cortisol. People with PTSD or multiple ACEs (adverse childhood events) have shown to have a reduced HPA-axis function.
This is just a few things that naturopathy considers when treating mental health. Naturopathy is based on treating the whole person and looking at underlying causes. Complex mental health conditions most definitely require added treatment from GPs and psychologists/psychiatrists but naturopathy can play an amazing added benefit.
How naturopathy can benefit mental health:
assessing and addressing underlying cases and factors worsening the condition/issue
providing evidence-based nutritional support
providing evidence-based plant/herbal medicine support
supporting medication side-effects (e.g. anti-depressants, lithium etc.)
education around healthy diet and lifestyle to support mental health
Mental health support is one of my biggest passions in clinical practice. I have experience treating people with anxiety, depression, Bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and OCD.
Feel free to contact me for a FREE discovery call to see if you think you may benefit from naturopathy.