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Addressing Depression with Nutritional Therapy

Updated: Oct 21, 2018

Orthomolecular medicine, with Nutritional Therapy being a main approach, is regarded an effective treatment in reducing symptoms of anxiety, depression and other mental health concerns.

The primary aim in orthomolecular medicine (otherwise referred to as orthomolecular psychiatry in the treatment of mental illness) is to restore optimal biochemical balance in the body and brain. It is accepted that biochemical imbalances are often the root of mental health problems including OCD, addictions and mood disorders, and research in this domain show positive results in restoring the required balance in natural and organic ways - without the need for psychiatric medication or pharmaceuticals. Using nutrition, superfoods and targeted supplementation, balance and wellbeing can be achieved - and all without adverse side effects or concerns about a growing dependence on prescription medication.


Depression is a condition that makes functioning on a day to day basis very difficult. Of course, its normal to have some degree of sadness, particularly in relation to recent events or circumstance, however, depression can become increasingly problematic if the sense of despair or hopelessness does not seem to lift.

Symptoms of depression:

Sense of helplessness & hopelessness



Changes or distrurbance in sleep - having problems getting to sleep, staying asleep or feeling tired alot of the time

Changes in eating habits - either eating too much or having no appetite

Difficulty concentrating or thinking

Withdrawal - wanting to spend less time with friends or doing activities you once enjoyed

Loss of interest - in seeing friends, work, sex, hobbies or self-care

There are obviously a wide variety of factors that contribute to depression and to some extent, sadness and low mood is normal - albeit not so readily accepted in many societies. Early childhood experiences can be a factor in depression, family history, psychological and cognitive issues can also cause low mood, as can low or restricted activity and biochemical imbalances. If you are concerned about your (or a loved ones mood) it is always best to speak to a mental health professional in order to talk about what is going on and to discuss what may help. Often talking therapy is very useful and effective in helping to manage depression.

Orthomolecular & Nutritional treatment of depression

From an Orthomolecular perspective, depression is regarded as a concern of neurotransmitter imbalance and deficiency. In particular, a neurotransmitter called Serotonin, that is long understood to play a key role in mood and depression. People with depression have low levels of serotonin. SSRI anti-depressant medication was designed to attempt to maintain levels of serotonin in the brain by blocking the reuptake of serotonin, so that more of this neurotransmitter remains in the synaptic cleft. Basically, this method recirculates old, already poor, low levels of existing serotonin. This kind of medication does not actually increase levels of serotonin or boost its production. SSRIs therefore, leave users open to long-term dependency and not to mention numerous undesired side effects and longer-term health problems.

In order to more effectively treat the underlying issues of depression for the long-term, it is vital to address this biochemical imbalance. Firstly, it is important to consider why low levels of serotonin exist. Low levels of Serotonin can be caused by a number of factors including; diet, nutrition, physical inactivity, genetics, alcohol and substance abuse, as well as life stressors, stress and psychological trauma. Psychotherapy can help with depression and the underlying causes of it. A variety of 'talking therapies' are useful for depression and it may a huge benefit to find one that feels right for you. In addition, a number of other natural methods and lifestyle changes can help.

A natural remedy for serotonin production

Biochemical restoration through proper nutrition, healthy eating and lifestyle can easily help boost the production and levels of serotonin and help alleviate feelings of depression and help improve mood and energy.

In order to boost the production of serotonin naturally, a helpful biochemical environment should ideally be created. Activities that support to feel rested and that activate a rhythm are helpful - such as walking, swimming or yoga. OK... when you feel depressed, this may be the last thing you feel like doing, but if there is any way you can push yourself to even muster a short stroll each day, or maybe even twice a day, it will have a positive effect on serotonin levels. We actually dont need much to feel a positive difference.

A crucial building block for the production of serotonin is an amino acid called L-Tryptophan. Without enough of this, serotonin levels will remain low. We also need a good source of Vitamins, particularly B Vitamins and magnesium. L-Tryptophan can be increased through good nutrition and is found in complex carbohydrates like brown rice, potatoes and whole grains. (Have you ever noticed people how cut these out on a low or zero carb diet will experience changes in sleep and mood? This is due to the biochemical changes from their nutrient intake). In the correct environment, Tryptophan is then converted to 5-HTP and subsequently serotonin. Some people believe taking 5-HTP supplements alone will help, but it is important the correct biochemical foundations are in place. 5-HTP should be used with caution and not without proper medical supervision, especially if you are already taking other medications.

Mood disorders and depression often have a biological basis. However, that does not mean treatment has to require psychopharmaceutical medication. In the first instance, if you are concerned about a depressed mood or symptoms of depression, it may be worth speaking with a therapist to discuss any psychological issues to the way you feel as well as consulting a nutritional expert with knowledge of mental health and mood to see if you can help yourself with diet, nutrition, natural supplementation and lifestyle changes.

Often, with a natural and holistic approach to treating depression you can feel better, and feel better more quickly than when taking prescription medication - and without the concerns of side effects or undesired dependency. It is important to recognise that holistic natural approaches may not be suitable for everyone, or in very severe cases, but in my opinion, nutrition, lifestyle and psychological therapy should always be addressed as a first consideration in managing depression and other mental health concerns.

Dr. Sarah Davies is a psychologist trained in nurtitional therapy, focused on healing mental health through a range of holistic and natural ways.

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