Treating the mind through the body: Supplementation in mental health
The mind body connection
The mind and body are closely connected through thousands of chemical messengers. When we have a mental experience the brain sets off a cascade of neurotransmitters and hormones that affects our body. For instance when we experience joy, our body produces the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin reduces blood pressure, stress hormone, anxiety and promotes growth and healing. Conversely, when we experience an emotion like sadness this can raise stress hormone, increasing blood pressure and eliciting negative effects on the immune system. Psychotherapy can therefore have a big impact on the health of our body by modifying mental outlook and thus inducing positive chemical messengers to the rest our body. An example is cognitive behavioural therapy, which has well documented success in the treatment of depression, anxiety and stress. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/ 31004323/
We can also treat conditions of the mind through our body. In pharmaceutical medicine, drugs like anti-depressants can block the breakdown of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin is involved in mood and therefore in some individuals boosting serotonin activity can improve mood and decrease anxiety. However, some short falls of pharmaceutical medicine is that it can often cause unwanted side effects and have a narrow therapeutic range; meaning that too little may have no effect and too much can be deadly. There are also issues with dependancy and addiction.
On the other hand nutritional and herbal supplementation can be an effective treatment for depression, stress and anxiety without the same safety concerns as drugs.
Supplementation for depression
Depression is both a physical and emotional condition. We know that depression can impact the reproductive system, immune system and our nervous system. Nutritional deficiencies can arise as a result of long standing depression and can be a precursor in the development of a depressive condition. Deficiencies in vitamin B12, vitamin D and protein are associated with depression. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/ 23377209/ In my Toronto clinic we can identify and correct nutritional deficiencies and make a big impact on depressive symptoms.
There is also a lot to be said about the impact of chronic inflammation on brain and mental health. Research has shown that chronic inflammation can increase susceptibility to depression. https:// pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32553197/ At the Toronto clinic we treat inflammation using supplements such as curcumin, omega-3 fatty acids and cannabidiol (CBD). These supplements can improve depressive symptoms through modulation of inflammation.
Furthermore many natural health products like CBD can also impact neurotransmitters (brain messenger chemicals) directly associated with depression. Through the interaction of cannabinoid receptors, 5-HT1A (involved in serotonin regulation) and neurogenesis factors CBD can act similarly to an anti-depressant medication but with less potential for adverse effects. At the Toronto clinic I offer cannabis education and counselling when cannabinoids would benefit a patients condition.
Supplementation for Anxiety
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States effecting close to 20% of the population every year. While genetics play a significant role in the development of an anxiety disorder, biological and environmental factors are pivotal as well. We know that there are often disruptions in serotonin and dopamine, cortisol and adrenaline in anxiety syndromes. A common class of drugs used in the treatment of anxiety are the benzodiazepines (Xanax, Valium, Ativan etc…). Although these medications can be very effective, they often have significant side effects (drowsiness, depression, constipation). Benzodiazepines can also be difficult to stop once started. One of the most significant mechanisms in which anti-anxiety medications work is through the GABA receptor system.
GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, meaning that it helps to calm the nervous system and muscular skeletal system. Benzodiazepines have a very strong effect on GABA receptors making them effective but also potentially dangerous.
Many nutraceutical compounds activate the GABA pathway but with a gentler effect than benzodiazepines. Pharma GABA (GABA produced by bacteria), Passionflower, St. Johns Wort, Taurine, 5-HTP and CBD all have well documented effects on GABA and Serotonin. At the Toronto clinic we use these compounds successfully in the treatment of anxiety syndromes with less potential for adverse effects.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/ 11679026/
Supplementation for Stress
Every single human being experiences stress throughout their life. Stress can be a healthy natural process in the right circumstances and at the right time. Stress becomes pathological when it is experienced chronically and without appropriate instigation. Long lasting stress can have detrimental effects on multiple biological systems including the immune system, endocrine system (hormones) and cardiovascular system. https:// www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5137920/
There are no specific pharmaceutical interventions in the treatment of stress. Benzodiazepines are the most common class of drug prescribed for debilitating stress and as I mentioned in the section on anxiety, benzodiazepines can have significant side effects and issues with dependency.
Since there is a wide spectrum of factors that can cause stress a “one size fits all” approach is not always effective. The naturopathic approach is fundamentally holistic and therefore takes into account mental, emotional and physical stressors. For instance a change in work schedule may be contributing to sleep disruption, leading to insomnia, poor work performance and nutritional disruption.
Furthermore, there is an entire class of nutritional and herbal supplements called adaptogens. Adaptogens have the ability to modulate cortisol (stress hormone) preventing peaks and dips in cortisol levels throughout the day. Overtime treatment with adaptogens facilitate a more balanced cortisol output avoiding periods of hyperactivity and burnout. To my knowledge there are no pharmaceutical drugs that act in a similar way. Some common adaptogens are: Ashwagandha, Rodiola and Siberian Ginseng. Vitamins like Vitamin C and Magnesium can help support adrenal function further helping the body to avoid burnout in periods of prolonged stress. At the Toronto clinic I use these adaptogenic compounds in conjunction with other treatments to provide a safe and effective treatment plan for chronic stress.
The mind can be treated through the body. Pharmaceutical interventions can be effective but often come with safety concerns around adverse effects and dependancy. There are many safe and effective natural approaches to mental health conditions through supplementation. At my Toronto clinic we specialize in developing an individualized plan to help achieve your mental health goals.