Happy Fall everyone!  I’ve decided to start another series.  Mood disorders are a major epidemic in the US and I wanted to provide some natural perspectives on this. So, welcome to part I of mood imbalances, let’s get started.

Mood imbalances are a major issue in the United States. For example, did you know that according to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately one in four Americans ages 18 and older suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year? This means that 57.7 million people are suffering from “broken brains”. In fact, just one category of mental disorders, major depressive disorder, affects 1 in 10 people and is the number one cause of disability for adults and teenagers age 15-44.

What’s going on? Why, according to an article by USA today, has the number of Americans using antidepressants doubled in a decade, while the number seeing psychiatrists continued to fall? Part of the reason seems to be that antidepressants are not only the perceived “cure all” of mood disorders; they are now being prescribed by doctors for many off label uses. These include Irritable Bowel Syndrome, fibromyalgia, and chronic fatigue syndrome.

To tell you the truth, these off label prescribers may not be so off the mark. In my opinion, it’s just the method they are using that may not be the most effective? Am I suggesting that antidepressants could benefit people with chronic pain, gut imbalances, and the like? Yes, I am. Shocked?

No worries, as a Naturopathic Doctor and a student in functional medicine, it is my job to find out why the neurotransmitters have run amuck to begin with! Pillin’ and Prayin’ may save 20-30% symptomatic relief, but it isn’t my style (thanks Dr. Moss for that term!).

Here are two possible reasons for brain malfunctions that I will discuss in this article:

1. Neurotransmitters

2. The Gut-Mood Connection

Neurotransmitters: A Prozac or Nutrient Deficiency?

Really, I’m not trying to ruffle any feathers and I’m not suggesting that Prozac isn’t a helpful medication for some people. I have seen where an SSRI has literally switched a bright light on for people who have been in a dark cloud for years, when properly prescribed. Use of antidepressants may be necessary for a time; in fact it is an option I do discuss with my clients. However, it’s important to be aware that these medications are not addressing why someone has the imbalance to begin with and can have serious side effects. For example, SSRIs simply keep serotonin from being broken down, they don’t make your body produce more serotonin.

Dr. Mark Hyman, MD and Julia Ross, MA, FMT are two practitioners who address the importance of neurotransmitters and their precursors. In order to make these important neurotransmitters, cofactors such as zinc, B-vitamins, magnesium, and vitamin C are needed.

Do you think our diets of chemicalized, processed, additive ridden, fast frankenfoods provide the same nutrition as an organic diet with high quality supplements in a natural nutritive form to better fit the receptor sites of the brain?? Maybe that question was a little sarcastic, but let me put it this way: A recent study by the Journal of Argonomy found Organic food to contain:

More dry matter, minerals (iron and magnesium) & antioxidants (phenols & salicylic acid)

Meat which contains less saturated fat and more polyunsaturated fat

50% less nitrates

… with 94-100% of organic foods containing no pesticides

So, what you eat does affect your body and how your feel.

Other causes of neurotransmitter imbalances and resulting deficiencies are many and include: toxic chemicals, heavy metals, food sensitivities, infections, hormonal imbalances, and the next topic of the Gut-Mind connection.

The Gut-Brain: How our bodies are more than the sum of their parts

Specialization is a key factor for doctors to not get bogged down by all the medical information out there. It can get overwhelming. It does for me. I’m constantly keeping up to date on all integrative techniques as well as general and chronic care issues. In fact, this is my second job behind the scenes that takes as much time as the consultations!

What we learn in integrative and naturopathic medicine is that the body is connected. Symptoms in your muscles may not necessarily be the source of your pain. It’s just the body’s communication that something has gone awry. In fact, most diagnoses in my mind are symptoms of an underlying SYSTEMIC malfunction. The Brain and mind are not an exception to this rule.

Remember my article on the Gut Brain Connection that mentioned that 95% of your serotonin and 60-80% of your immune system resides in your gut?? In fact, the gut has a specific name for its own nervous system (enteric nervous system) and immune system (the GALT-gut associated lymphoid tissue). This enteric nervous system interacts with many different enzymes and hormones (leptin, ghrelin, insulin, ect) to send feedback to the brain; whereas, the GALT helps manage your immune system’s reactions.

What happens when the gut barrier, only one cell thick, gets damaged from various toxins, food sensitivies, and the like? The immune system gets de-regulated, feedback to the brain gets distorted, and absorption of nutrients and assimilation decreases. This lowers the production of neurotransmitters and causes many other systemic issues.

This “intestinal permeability” issue is gaining more attention in mainstream medicine and is getting lots of attention as the cause of many auto-immune issues in functional medicine. It brings me back to my learning as a student in Naturopathic school: “When in doubt, treat the gut!”

So, in summary for this week, mood imbalances are more than just a pill deficiency. It is important to look at the cause of this issue. Maybe for some, a simple change in diet to organic, whole foods from chemicalized, homogenized, pasteriurized, frankinsized, and processed foods will make the difference. Maybe someone has a chronic “leaky gut” issue in which mood disturbance is just one symptom of many others. Or, maybe another underlying cause, such as hormonal imbalances is to blame….stay tuned for next week.

In health,
Dr. Sarah

Weight Loss follow-up & Flu vaccine link.


Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth edition (DSM-IV).4

APA on Mood Disorder Stats

PMID: 19049819, PMID: 19046994

Dr. Trent Nichols, MD. Optimal Digestion.

Dr. Mark Hyman, MD. Ultramind Soultion.

USA Today. Americans on Anti-Depressants. 8-3-2009.

Julia Ross, MA. DFH Clinical Rounds. Depression & Neurotransmitters. 2004

Journal of Argonomy. May 2009.