Clinical depression, or major depression, is a mental health disorder characterized by persistently depressed mood or loss of interest in activities, causing significant impairment in daily life.
Most people are unaware of how frequently depression occurs with Chronic Disease. A study in 2004 found an association between the presence of a mood disorder, and the presence of anti-TPO antibodies. It has also been observed that a slight reduction in thyroid hormone secretion (such as that found in subclinical hypothyroidism) may affect mood as well. Thus, it’s possible that the depression you are feeling is related to your thyroid.
About one in 10 U.S. adults are affected by depression, which can impact their mood, thoughts, physical health, and behavior. Depression affects more women than men, and the symptoms and severity of depression can vary from person to person.
The most common type of mood disorder reported in people with thyroid antibodies is obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). OCD is also more common in pharmacists and Type A’s, so I am intimately familiar with it. 🙂
The amazing thing that I’ve learned with functional medicine is that many of the same root causes, triggers, and strategies that help Chronic Disease, can also help depression. In fact, 81 percent of the participants in my Chronic Disease Self-Management Program reported an improvement or resolution of depression!
While there are many different root causes, strategies, and solutions for depression, I want to focus on a few low hanging fruit that can help a person with depression, whether used in conjunction with antidepressants, or on their own.
These include common nutrient deficiencies, dietary changes, lifestyle changes, and supplements that have been shown to boost mood.
I have found that many people with Chronic Disease who are experiencing depression are reacting to a food that they are sensitive to. Some of the most common food sensitivities that can lead to symptoms of depression are gluten, dairy, grains, soy, nuts and seeds. Sometimes, eliminating these foods from the diet can bring enormous relief to a person’s mood and mental state. In fact, 60 percent of the people with Chronic Diseases who I surveyed, reported symptoms of improved mood by eliminating gluten, 59 percent by going grain free, and 45 percent by giving up dairy. I recommend starting with an elimination diet to begin to uncover the foods that are problematic for you.
Additionally, balancing blood sugar levels is one of the most important components in reducing anxiety for people with Chronic Disease, and can have an impact on symptoms of depression as well. When insulin levels swing from high to low, it’s like being on an emotional roller-coaster that can cause some of the extreme emotions that are characteristic of mood disorders. Of the people with Chronic Disease that I surveyed, 61 percent reported improved mood with a low glycemic index diet, while 65 percent experienced improvement on a sugar free diet.
Nutrients for Depression
Addressing nutrient depletions can be a game changer when it comes to relieving depression. Often times, a deficiency in a key nutrient results in many of the symptoms associated with depression, and supplementing with a quality supplement can make all the difference in improving mood.
Nutrient depletions that are often seen in people experiencing symptoms of depression include:
Treating hypothyroidism without treating the adrenals is one of the biggest reasons people continue to feel exhausted despite receiving treatment with thyroid hormones, and it can lead to symptoms of depression.
The adrenal glands release hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, that impact many important functions throughout the body: among them, stress tolerance and mood.
In cases of chronic stress, the never-ending presence of stressful, yet non-life-threatening situations, can lead to the constant activation of the stress response. To help meet the demand for cortisol, your body will decrease the production of other hormones normally produced by the adrenals, such as progesterone, DHEA, and testosterone.
Eventually, with enough chronic stress, your body becomes overwhelmed and desensitized to the usual feedback loop, and stops sending messages to the adrenals to produce more hormones or less hormones, no matter what’s happening. We call this adrenal fatigue.
If you think stress could be at the root of your depression, you may want to look into supporting your adrenals. As a starting point, I recommend the ABC’s — Adaptogens, B Vitamins and Vitamin C.
Adaptogenic herbs support the body’s ability to deal with stressors and are thought to work by normalizing the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Some herbs, such as Ashwagandha, can help normalize thyroid hormone levels, as well as support the body’s stress response. Of the readers I surveyed, 77 percent said they’re mood improved when they took adaptogenic herbs. Stay tuned for an upcoming article on using adaptogens for Hashimoto’s!
The B vitamins and vitamin C become depleted during high cortisol production. Pantothenic acid (B5) and biotin deficiency, in particular, have been linked to decreased adrenal function in animals and humans. Meanwhile, vitamin C helps to regulate cortisol and prevent blood pressure from spiking in response to stressful situations.
If your TSH is elevated or suppressed, you may need to initiate or adjust thyroid hormones. The ideal TSH for most people is between 0.5-2 μIU/mL. Levels that are too high or too low indicate an imbalance of thyroid hormone levels and have been associated with various symptoms, including depression and anxiety.
Taking a T3 containing medication, in particular, has been shown to reduce symptoms of depression. You may want to read my articles on understanding your thyroid labs and taking thyroid medications for more information on how adjusting thyroid medication dosages can help optimize your thyroid hormone levels and elevate your mood.
There are many types of therapies, exercise, and activities aimed at reducing depression — the important thing is finding one that will work for you. This may take some experimentation, but a few of my favorite forms of mental health therapy include:
Please note that, if you are currently taking prescription anti-depressants, it is important not to stop taking your medications without the oversight of your physician or therapist.
Going back to my lucid dream… I did things differently this time during that doctor’s appointment. I stopped him mid-sentence and said, “No, Doctor, I don’t need antidepressants. I came in because of my physical symptoms.” I may have thrown a swear word or two in there somewhere. And it was liberating!
Now that I’m a rebel with a cause — a Root Cause Rebel — my voice is getting stronger, and my pathological politeness is getting weaker with each and every day.
So if you’ve ever been told that it’s all in your head, or that you need antidepressants, or that you should just settle for the status quo, say it with me, my fellow Root Cause Rebel: “No, Doctor, I don’t need antidepressants!”