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  • Writer's pictureDr. Gupta

Functional Medicine focuses on the gut-brain connection to relieve depression

Feeling depressed? You're not alone. Around 17.3 million Americans suffer from depression which can lead to feeling hopeless, sad, empty, or disinterested in things you once enjoyed. And this number is likely to increase significantly with the Covid-19 pandemic. If you're among them, you may be worried about what taking anti-depressants will do to your body. Fortunately, there are a number of alternative treatments for both anxiety and depression that Functional Medicine can help resolve by treating you as a whole rather than managing your symptoms.

Disclaimer: This article does not suggest people on SSRIs or other anti-depressants to stop taking their medication. Functional medicine can help patients either to:

a) avoid getting on an SSRI anti-depressant in the first place OR

b) gradually taper off the medication after the root cause has been identified.

Always consult your doctor before reducing or going off any medication.

Keep reading to learn more about some of the things you can start doing that will help you overcome depression and anxiety.

Lifestyle Changes

There are many simple things you can change about the way you're living your life that can help you fight off depression and anxiety. Let's take a look at a few of these so you can start feeling better.

1. Get Enough Sleep

We can't stress enough how important it is that you get enough sleep every night. For most adults, that means between seven and eight hours every night. Sleep helps your body recover and repair itself.

It's also crucial to note that getting too much sleep can also have a negative impact on your physical and mental health. For that reason, you should make sure you're not sleeping more than nine hours at night. This includes when you're "catching up" on lost zzz's from a previous sleepless night.

To make sure you're getting enough sleep, create a bedtime routine that ensures you're in bed at least eight hours before your alarm goes off in the morning. Go to bed at the same time every night, and include relaxing things in your bedtime routine like a warm bath, soft music, relaxing yoga, and chamomile tea.

2. Exercise More Often

Exercise is another essential part of your mental health. As you get your muscles working, your body starts releasing endorphins. Also known as "feel good" chemicals, these help your muscles manage pain during the workout but they also help to boost your mood even after you're done exercising.

Find exercises or physical activities that you enjoy and do them for at least 30 minutes on three days per week. Things like running, walking, swimming, dancing, and even yoga are all options that will help you find something that excites you so you're more willing to follow through with your exercise routine.

3. Spend Time with Loved Ones

Humans thrive on human interactions and connections. Even if you're an introvert, it's important for you to have people in your life that you connect with emotionally.

Spend time with people that you love. Share your thoughts and feelings with them to gain support and ask them to help you on your journey to a healthier mind. They might even have similar struggles so you can work together and keep each other accountable for the changes you're making.

4. Practice Positivity

It's easy to have a negative outlook on life. When depression and anxiety are added on, it becomes even harder to see any silver linings amongst the storm clouds.

However, it's important that you take a moment whenever negative thoughts crowd your mind to find something positive to think about, even if it's something small you have to be thankful for.

5. Change Your Expectations

One thing that can cause disappointment and worsen depression is when you don't reach your goals. That's why we recommend lowering your expectations and making sure all of your goals are attainable.

You may also want to break bigger goals down into smaller ones. This helps you gain momentum and feel encouraged as you meet each of your smaller goals on your way to your big goals. It will also help increase the chances of you reaching your big goals.

6. Get More Sunlight

Vitamin D plays an essential role in mental health. The best way to get it is to trigger your body to create it. This occurs when you expose yourself to direct sunlight.

For that reason, you should be spending at least 15 minutes outside on a sunny day. On cloudy days, you'll need more time than that. Also, people with darker skin tones will need to be outside for more time than those with lighter skin tones.

7. Start a Journal

One of the best ways to improve your mental health is to start a journal. This will allow you to track your moods, make goals, and see how your life is changing for the better over time.

You can also use a journal to keep track of food and how that affects your mood. It's a great way to make dietary changes that are specific to you and your body.

Diet Changes

"You are what you eat" is a truer statement than many people realize. Diet not only affects how much you weigh. It also has an impact on your mental health.

As numerous studies suggest, there is a connection between what's in your gut and your mood. For that reason, it's important to make sure you're creating an environment where good bacteria can thrive.

Different types of food can also directly impact your mood based on what they contain, providing another reason to make these dietary changes if you're feeling hopeless and want relief. For this section, we're just going to look at some foods you should add to your diet and those you should start removing.

Foods to Eat

There are a few reasons these foods are on this list. They promote gut health, provide vitamins or minerals that help boost your mood, or help your body perform at its best which will help you feel better overall.

It's also important to eat in moderation, as obesity may increase your risk of depression.

Here are some of the best foods for depression:

  • Whole grains

  • Dark leafy vegetables

  • Fruits and fresh fruit juices

  • Oily fish

  • Eggs

  • Milk

  • Yogurt and kefir

  • Liver and other organ meats

  • Beans

  • Oyster

  • Nuts and seeds

You may also want to try adding these supplements to your diet to help alleviate depression symptoms:

  • Selenium

  • Vitamin D

  • Omega-3 fatty acids

  • Vitamin A

  • Vitamin E

  • Vitamin C

  • Vitamins B-9 and B-12

  • Zinc

Foods to Avoid

These foods can make your depression and anxiety symptoms worse. As you'll see, many of them also contribute to weight gain which can worsen depression.

Limit your intake of these foods or remove them completely from your diet and you should start to see improvements in your mood. As you change your diet, keep in mind that it takes time for this to work, so it will take a few weeks for you to start noticing a difference.

Here are some foods to avoid to boost your mood:

  • Alcohol

  • Corn oil

  • Safflower oil

  • Red meats

  • Saturated fats

  • Sugar

  • Processed foods

  • Caffeinated beverages

One of the best ways you can make these dietary changes is to replace some of the things on this list with those on the "foods to eat" list. For example, if you usually have a sugary or greasy snack mid-afternoon, replace it with a handful of Omega-3 rich walnuts.

Medical Interventions

If you're not sure where to start with making changes so you can overcome feeling hopeless or you've tried these things and are still feeling sad, you may want to look into medical interventions.

Functional Medicine is designed to work to treat the root of the problem and builds up whole-body health rather than only treating your symptoms. These are three of the ways Functional Medicine can help you if you're dealing with anxiety or depression and want professional help.

1. Improve Gut Health

One of the ways Functional Medicine can help you is by checking your gut health and letting you know exactly what you need to be doing to correct any problems that may exist there.

As we already mentioned, gut health is an essential part of mental health. However, if you don't know if the problem is a lack or excess of certain bacteria, parasites, or a leaky gut, it's hard to know what dietary changes will have the biggest impact on your overall mood.

For this reason, it's essential to have your gut evaluated and get some professional direction to help you get your gut health to where it needs to be.

2. Balance Hormones

Nearly everything in our bodies is controlled by hormones. This includes how you feel. If your hormones are imbalanced, that could be why you're feeling hopeless.

A Functional Medicine doctor can help you balance your hormones. The first step is an evaluation to determine where the problems are. Then, you'll get supplements and other advice that will help guide you through the process of getting your hormones properly balanced so you can feel better physically and mentally.

3. Get a Consultation

Functional Medicine professional. This can help you get tested for various physical conditions that could be causing or contributing to depression.

Tired of Feeling Hopeless?

Now you have a list of alternative options for treating depression and anxiety. As you can see, feeling hopeless isn't something you have to be stuck dealing with. You can overcome it by making some changes and seeking medical help.

If you would like to discuss your options and find out what may work best for you, book a free call with Dr. Gupta today.

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