There continues to be an ever-growing incidence of anxiety and depression in the United States. One in ten individuals suffer from depression and 2-4% of the population suffer from anxiety. Depression accounts for over $23 billion in lost workdays and the diagnosis of depression has risen 47% for younger millennials and early generation Z, with less than 30% receiving treatment.
The current pandemic only further exacerbates symptoms and increases the overwhelm many are feeling. Lifestyle and coping mechanisms are key during the pandemic. Unhealthy eating and alcohol consumption have increased significantly. Stress and overwhelm further deplete immune function and importance of social connection is key during this time in maintaining health.
Where Do You Start?
What are some of the causes and reasons that contribute to anxiety and depression? The most common causes are stressful life events, faulty mood regulation by the brain, genetic vulnerability, medical problems, social media and external influences. You need to address all factors completely to get to the root cause and underlying reason for illness. A combination of therapy plus treatment is critical for good outcomes.
Which Tests Should Be Run?
There are many natural ways to successfully treat anxiety and depression and move someone from hopeless to hopeful. Naturopathic doctors and functional medicine providers have access to specialty tests to help further address the functioning of neurotransmitters and adrenal glands. These functional tests help to identify areas that most need support in brain chemistry. For example, urinary neurotransmitter tests may identify functioning of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, norepinephrine, epinephrine, dopamine, GABA, and glutamate. This information helps to pinpoint which amino acids, herbals, and nutritional supplements can adequately improve symptoms and balance neurotransmitter functioning.
Additionally, functional tests on adrenal gland functioning is also key, as chronic stress is often a persistent factor for an individual struggling with anxiety. Functional tests for the adrenal gland are able to identify imbalances in cortisol, melatonin, DHEA-S, and salivary IgA. This can help to pinpoint if there is excess cortisol levels or depletion and can demonstrate if adrenal insufficiency is present. A naturopathic doctor can help to recommend supplements to regulate and balance adequate cortisol levels if deficient or in excess. When these factors are supplemented accordingly not only will lab values improve, but patients will report significant improvement in symptoms. Our office has done over a dozen case studies with use of neurotransmitter and cortisol testing that have shown both clinical and lab value improvements over the course of three months once supplements are used to support these areas of weakness.
Supplements to Support Neurotransmitters
One commonly known for depression and mood support is 5-HTP. 5-HTP contains l-trytophan which is a precursor to serotonin. Serotonin is related to mood regulation and can help support both anxiety and depression. Serotonin is important for cognition, mood, and behavior. Low tryptophan levels may decrease both serotonin and melatonin levels as your body uses tryptophan for both. For this reason, it is often recommended before sleep, though many benefit by taking during the day to help improve overall function.
B vitamins are critical to support, particularly B5 which supports the adrenal gland; B9, B12 and B6 help to support stress and anxiety levels. B vitamins work synergistically together and are often best taken as a complex. We expend B vitamins throughout the day as they help to support our energy cycle and they get depleted quickly with continued stress and anxiety. B vitamins can be consumed from dark leafy vegetables, whole grains, and fruits. Supplementation of B vitamins may be necessary and the amount should be carefully recommended by an expert in integrative medicine.
Lifestyle Recommendations to Reduce Anxiety
When I work with patients, I also recommend important lifestyle recommendations. Exercise produces endorphins that decrease stress and improve the ability to sleep. Meditation, breathing exercises and acupuncture help with anxiety and depression and are important to incorporate daily as they support long-term management of anxiety and depression. Some other helpful natural supports include teas like Passionflower tea, Holy Basil and Ginseng tea. These teas help to reduce stress and are adaptogens for the adrenal glands. They are gentle ways to support energy production in addition to helping balance stress and lead to lifelong positive change.
There are many nuances to managing both anxiety and depression for an individual. It is dependent on various factors that specialty testing can help to clearly identify. It is also dependent on genetic vulnerabilities, life experiences, and chemical imbalances. A comprehensive approach will lead to success in transitioning patients to a “hopeful” state. There isn’t a clear general answer based purely on disease condition and one needs to be evaluated carefully and monitored by a naturopathic doctor adept in working with patients who have anxiety and depression and skilled in use of herbs and nutritional supplements in conjunction with any medications.
Dr. Jaquel Patterson is a nationally recognized naturopathic physician, best-selling author and sought-after speaker. Her clinical expertise is in Lyme disease, autoimmune conditions, anxiety/depression, allergies, PANS/PANDAS, and women’s health issues. She runs a multi-disciplinary practice in Fairfield, CT and has been practicing for over 12 years. She completed her medical program from the University of Bridgeport College of Naturopathic Medicine and her undergraduate degree from Cornell University. She is also a Forbes contributor and serves on their expert panel.