Happy New Year to all! Last month, an interesting article appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), which noted that approximately 1 out of 6 US adults reported taking at least one psychiatric medication for at least a year or more. Usually the drug was an antidepressant (i.e Zoloft or Celexa), an anti-anxiety medication like Xanax or a drug like Ambien for sleep. The findings were based on 2013 government data, which assessed 242 million adults. Though these medications can be helpful in certain situations, they are certainly not without risk. What was concerning in this data is that over 80% of those taking these medications are using them on a long-term basis. Most of these antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications are recommended for shorter use and carry a number of serious risks, like withdrawal effects, panic attacks and suicidal thoughts. I also expand upon the seriousness of these medications in my previous post “Antidepressants are even more dangerous in kids”.
The New York Times also covered the story. A professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, Dr. Mark Olfson, noted that the new data reflects a growing acceptance of and reliance on prescription medications” to manage common emotional problems”. At the same time this article was released, I was reading a book by Dr. Kelly Brogan titled “A Mind of Your Own“. She is board certified in psychiatry, psychosomatic medicine, and integrative holistic medicine, and is specialized in a root-cause resolution approach to psychiatric syndromes and symptoms. Consider there is another way to “treat” your depression or mental illness by exploring a functional medicine looking at the root cause. I feel so strongly about her approach, I think everyone who is considering taking an antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication should read her book before starting the drug . I’ve highlighted some of the important take-away messages below:
- Most of the antidepressants on the market don’t even work that well to begin with. Dr. Brogan goes into exceptional detail about how antidepressants were FDA approved and the lack of data found to support their use. This quote from the British Medical Journal in 2013 summarizes it best: “Unfortunately the balance between benefits and risks, it is an uncomfortable truth that most drugs do not work in most patients.”
- Dr. Brogan provides an easy to understand explanation of the “the gut-brain connection”, and it’s high correlation to those suffering with depression and mental illness. If one does not have a healthy gut, then you cannot expect to have a healthy brain. For more reading, I’ve published an article on “The Gut-Brain Connection in Complex Kids” as well as a blog post “All Disease Starts in the Gut“. Dr. Brogan calls out the major gut disruptors: gluten, dairy, GMOs, artificial sugars, and drugs like antibiotics, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (i.e. Motrin) and proton pump inhibitors like Nexium.
- Common environmental toxins can cause depression-like symptoms. Consider the drugs noted above, as well as others like birth control, vaccines and fluoride. Additionally, as I point out in my “Take Control of Environmental Toxins” post, there are a multitude of other toxins to consider eliminating from your life.
- It all goes back to Hippocrates: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Dr. Brogan states “Food isn’t just fuel, it’s information”. She stresses a natural diet, free of processed food and emphasizing whole foods, healthy fats, promoting probiotics and eating mindfully.
- Dr. Brogan highlights other incredibly important lifestyle factors one must address when holistically treating depression, including meditation, sleep and exercise. These tools are often overlooked and underappreciated for the value they bring to optimized health. I’ve written more on the “Importance of Sleep“.
- Consider important testing and supplementation in your treatment protocol, which can be guided by a Functional Medicine Practitioner. For example, did you know that patients with thyroid disease often present with depression?
- Most importantly, she provides a “30 day plan of action” which can easily kick-start anyone interested in improving their mental health. The program simplifies the principles noted above, complete with easy-to-follow recipes included.