An often missed portion of our health care is mental health. As a naturopathic physician, I see hundreds of cases where people are self-medicating with alcohol, sugar, coffee, marijuana and other substances to keep one feeling ‘at center’. One may be taking anti-depressants, anti-anxiety, sleeping aids, and other pharmaceuticals, which all have their place to keep one out of mental health crises, however do not get at the root cause to treat the underlying imbalances in the system. Rather than placing judgments on ourselves that altered moods or cravings are present or being resigned to think ‘this is just how I am’, I see this as an indicator that balance is needed.
Symptoms of imbalances affecting the mental health include: anxiety, depression, obesity, poor sleep, food cravings, alcohol cravings, eating disorders, dependence on caffeine, sugar dependence, mood swings, poor focus/ADD, irritability, PMS symptoms, chronic fatigue, bipolar disorder, OCD, and headaches. Some main causes of these symptoms include: poor blood sugar regulation, nutrient deficiencies, thyroid disorders, adrenal and sex hormone imbalances, food allergies & sensitivities, celiac disease, toxicity, poor gut health, and prescription medication usage.
Tests we can use to evaluate the root cause of imbalance are:
1. Blood chemistry panel to evaluate for deficiencies/excess such as low vitamin D, poor iron storage, adrenal dysfunction, thyroid disorders, etc.
2. Neurotransmitter evaluation. By getting an accurate view of which neurotransmitters are affected–and there are over 10 we can test for–you’ll restore your system for the long run.
3. Food allergies: these can cause gut inflammation and throw our neurochemistry off balance.
4. Gut health – 80% of serotonin is created in the gut, as well as many of our other neurotransmitters. This test will also rule out bacteria, parasites or other causes of inflammation that can affect our mental health.
Immediate treatments that will assist you in improvement of moods:
1. Stop eating sugar. This can trigger anxiety or cause a significant crash and burn that can be mistaken for depression.
2. Eat regular meals that contain at least 20 grams of protein, a significant portion of vegetables, and healthy fats.
3. Stop eating processed foods and eat only whole organic foods. You want to avoid chemicals, preservatives, colorings and artificial sweeteners if you want the best chance for optimal brain chemistry. Your shopping cart is ideal if it is filled with fresh veggies, fruit, bulk legumes & grains, wild fish, organic meats, poultry, eggs, and dairy, extra virgin oils, nuts and seeds, and seasonings. If unsure what whole foods are, make an appointment with our Registerd Dietitian.
4. Get 8 hrs of sleep nightly for a week. Many people who survive on less sleep may feel unrefreshed when they initially begin getting adequate sleep, which will level off as you adapt.
5. Take a good quality B complex vitamin daily. We recommend Thorne B complex #6.
6. Regulate your vitamin D. Ideally, you get a daily dose of sunshine (during summer months in the northwest) or you are supplementing with ~5000IU of Vitamin D daily and getting your Vitamin D levels tested 6 weeks later.
7. Turn off your technology. This can severely interrupt with sleep, creative time, and live social interactions, which all feed our mental well-being.
8. Be social. We are creatures that thrive on social interaction, which naturally raises serotonin. Choose friendships & relationships that are fulfilling and bring you joy.
9. Get support in healthy emotional management. Most of us do not get to have healthy relationships with ourselves, others, and with stress until we’ve learned tools that assist us. Essential are techniques that change the wording that we speak to ourselves–consider techniques that utilize neurolinguistic programming. Strongly consider working 1:1 or in a group to gain these tools in a more solidified manner.
Make a naturopathic appointment now and we can sit down to determine the cause of your imbalances and get you on the path to having vibrant mental wellness for years to come.
Dr. Lisa Valent, ND LMP