As an active practicing Naturopath for over eighteen years, I have found that the health of the mind and body is elaborately linked. Just as our thoughts strongly influence our physical health, our individual physiology affects our mental and emotional well-being. The foods we have a tendency to eat, our digestive health, the toxins in our environments, our hormones, lifestyles, experiences, beliefs and attitudes all play important roles in our physiology and biochemical make-up. As a philosophy, holistic mental health recognizes this beautiful web of inter dependency and that is why there is more to mental health than a chemical imbalance.
What is the distinction between holistic mental health treatments and psychiatry?
It is important to mention that holistic approaches for adults and children with mental health issues can be used in conjunction with psychiatric medication, but unlike pharmaceuticals, holistic mental health treatments usually have the “side effect” of improved physical health and a richer emotional experience. Rather than suppressing or covering up symptoms with a drug, the goal of treatment is to address underlying causes and work towards integration and balance.
My Approach To Mental Health Restoration
As a Naturopath treating many clients with mental health issues, my focus is to support the many facets of the body and mind’s function and to restore its balance. As a registered primary care Naturopath, I am clinically trained in the art and science of natural therapies. In addition to conventional diagnosis, laboratory testing and pharmaceutical medications, the scope of naturopathic medicine includes nutrition, counselling, homeopathy, botanical medicine, physical therapies, and mind-body approaches. Naturopathic training does encompass the same basic bio-medical sciences as conventional medical training, but the approach to health and disease differs considerably. It is the philosophy of naturopathy that clearly differentiates this medicine and directs how we approach each patient.
There is no one treatment for mental health in clinical practice and this will look different for each person and will be guided by conversation and individual interests as well as physical exam, laboratory analysis and functional tests such as ORGANIC ACIDS TESTING, NEUROTRANSMITTER TESTING, ADRENAL/CORTISOL SALIVA TESTING and/or COMPLETE STOOL ANALYSIS when appropriate. I have found the following therapies to be key factors in mental health recovery.
Some patients would benefit primarily from counselling, and people with this focus can be helped enormously. Others are either interested in a blend of counselling and naturopathic approaches (which, in my opinion, works better in clinical practice) or seek care strictly for holistic medical support. I am not a counsellor, but the approach that has a strong emphasis on self-awareness and mindfulness would be the holistic approach that can go well with naturopathic treatment. From what I have experienced small, mindfulness-based therapies are a particularly effective approach for depression, anxiety and addiction issues, and can lead to increased clarity and a sense of contentment.
The foods we eat have a direct impact on the chemistry of our bodies and brains and, therefore, on our mood, thoughts and behaviour. Our brains require the correct balance of amino acids, fats, vitamins, minerals and glucose in order to function properly, and individual needs can vary drastically. I work with all patients, children and adults, to uncover their unique nutritional needs through history-taking, diet analysis and lab testing, and then help individuals address underlying biochemical imbalances through shifts in their diet and nutritional supplements. Food allergies or sensitivities can play a significant role in mental health, as well, and the removal of these foods from the diet can have a profound impact on one’s healing. Orthomolecular medicine is a field of medicine that has applied these nutrition-based therapies in the treatment of conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, anxiety, depression, Parkinson and Alzheimer’s and is very effective for these conditions.
Homeopathy is a gentle yet powerful system of healing based on the principle of “like cures like.” People have observed since ancient times that a substance that causes an illness or symptom can, in very small doses, cure the same problem by stimulating the body’s intrinsic healing ability. Through an in-depth interview, I strive to understand a person’s unique physical, mental and emotional experiences and, after careful study, select the appropriate remedy suited to that person’s constitution. Homeopathy offers a safe and elegant treatment that is a natural complement to counselling and can be used alongside conventional medications and other naturopathic treatments. As a truly holistic and individualized form of medicine, it is particularly well-suited to psychological and psychiatric concerns. Although identifying the effective remedy can sometimes require patience and perseverance, the results of successful homeopathic treatment are profound and long-lasting.
Restoring Digestive Health
Many mental and emotional concerns have their origins in the gut. It is important to identify and treat conditions such as hypochlorhydria (low stomach acid), Candida overgrowth, gut dysbiosis (a bacterial imbalance in our digestive tracts), parasites, inflammation, leaky gut (increased permeability of the intestinal wall), and food allergies as they have direct effects on brain function. I use Complete Stool Analysis in practice to find imbalances in the gut which play a significant role in many neuropsychological conditions. Conversely, our emotions strongly influence our appetite and digestion. The nervous system and the digestive system are intricately linked by a constant exchange of chemical and electrical messages including nutrients and neurotransmitters. Anything that affects one realm is likely to affect the other, and I have found that addressing gastrointestinal health is often foundational in one’s mental health recovery.
Blood Sugar Balancing
The sugar in our blood is called glucose, and this is the primary fuel for our bodies. Being one of the most sensitive and demanding organs, our brains require a constant supply of this glucose to perform its never-ending functions. A healthy body is able to regulate the blood sugar to provide a consistent energy source for the brain; unfortunately, this function is commonly impaired. Hypoglycemia is a condition in which the body can’t sustain constant glucose levels and can be a causative factor in attention and behaviour issues, anxiety, panic attacks, rapid-cycling bipolar disorder, insomnia and addiction. Elevated blood sugar over time not only leads to diabetes, heart disease and obesity but also mood and behavioural disturbances, decreased mental functioning and dementia. Many psychiatric medications put people at additional risk for blood sugar problems only exacerbating this problem. Balancing your blood sugar is an important component of disease prevention and general health and will also support your mood, energy, metabolism and mental functioning.
Amino Acid Therapy
Supplementation with amino acids can help optimize neurotransmitter levels. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins that our bodies transform into neurotransmitters such as serotonin, melatonin, GABA, dopamine, epinephrine and norepinephrine. These are the messenger molecules that allow our nerve cells to communicate and have a direct impact on our mood, learning, attention, pain and pleasure perception, sleep, energy, and thought processes. Most psychiatric drugs manipulate our body’s ability to process these neurotransmitters in an attempt to alter the levels of these important chemicals. Instead of, or in conjunction with, antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications, we can give the body the amino acids it needs to make more neurotransmitters and avoid the negative side effects of the drugs. Neurotransmitter testing is available and can help guide the treatments. Targeted amino acid therapy is a powerful tool for addressing a wide variety of mental health concerns and provides a safe and effective alternative to these medications.
Our hormones are produced and controlled by our endocrine glands and include chemical messengers such as thyroid hormone, cortisol from the adrenals, insulin from the pancreas, and estrogen, progesterone and testosterone from the reproductive organs. As parents of adolescents who are entering puberty know, hormonal change has a profound effect on behaviour. Imbalances or disturbances in any of these interconnected systems can alter the way our brain functions. For example, thyroid dysfunction is an often-overlooked, underlying cause of depression, anxiety, poor memory and fatigue, and PMS is a well-recognized cause of mood swings, depression, anxiety and sleep disturbances. Helping the body regain its delicate hormonal balance can have far-reaching effects for the mind. In clinical practice I can measure hormones using saliva and it can be done in the comfort of one’s own home using a kit.
Detoxification / Heavy Metal Chelation
We are exposed to an extraordinary amount of toxins through our food supply, the air we breathe, and even our tap water. Toxic exposures affect the health of our brains. When the body encounters more toxins than it can effectively process, it stores these chemicals in fat cells, and our brains are largely made up of fat. Some people are good detoxifiers/methylators. Others with autism, ADHD, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, depression, chronic fatigue, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are often not. Supporting detoxification and the safe elimination of toxins can be a key component to mental health recovery. I assist patients with appropriate detoxification strategies whether that is a gentle cleanse, a more intensive detox protocol or heavy metal chelation. In clinical practice, The Organic Acids Test will identify detoxification and methylation issues using a urine sample.
Mind / Body Treatments
Mind/body treatments engage the power of your mind in your own process of healing. Therapies such as breath work, meditation, memory reintegration, relaxation strategies, and Emotional Freedom Techniques help patients move towards a state of awareness and peace. Reflecting on and connecting with one’s own spirituality can also be an effective stress-management tool. Learning to consciously calm the mind and relax the body has a powerful effect on our neurotransmitters, hormones and immune system, and ultimately our health and sense of well-being.
Foods that support brain and mental health
- Walnuts, almonds, other nuts and seeds
- Salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel, herring, trout
- Ground flax seed
- Brightly coloured fruits and vegetables – eat the rainbow
- 70% cacao and higher dark chocolate
- Green tea (stone ground from whole tea leaves)
- Berries: acai, blueberry, cranberry, blackberry
Herbs and other alternatives that support brain and mental health
- Fish, cod liver or krill oil (if you could only have one thing, this would be it)
- L-theanine, Gaba or kava kava for calming and reducing anxiety
- Turmeric, curry and other antioxidants
- B-complex vitamins
Substances that are bad for brain health
- Artificial food colouring
- Artificial sweeteners
- Sugars: cane sugar, soft drinks, corn syrup
- Hydrogenated/partially hydrogenated fats and trans fats (fried foods). Saturated fats are fine, it’s the hydrogenated and trans fats that are bad. I actually highly recommend organic coconut oil
- Nicotine, Marijuana, all other controlled substances
CASE STUDY………ANDREAS’ STORY!
Andrea came to my clinic with a myriad of symptoms ranging from anxiety, depression, insomnia, fatigue and Irritable bowel syndrome. Her periods were irregular and although she had no trauma in her life, these symptoms started to be present since she was 13 years of age. The last 12 months saw her feeling more anxious than ever.
She was a perfectionist, very intelligent and her brain would not stop buzzing at bedtime, making it hard for her to sleep. She grew up in a family that didn’t show much love and affection and it was hard for her to express her feelings.
She ate for comfort and when she felt “down”, she would go for the junk food to make her feel better but all it was doing was put on more weight which made her feel more inadequate.
She was getting frequent migraines and suffered from Thrush and itchy skin.
She had seen a psychiatrist and was on anti anxiety and anti depressant medications which made her feel “disconnected”.
The Functional Medicine Approach!
I needed to look at Andrea’s biochemical status and because money was an issue for her, she agreed to do an ORGANIC ACIDS TEST which uncovered a myriad of issues.
The test showed a high degree of fungus in the gut, adrenal fatigue, methylation and detoxification issues, and neurotransmitter imbalance.
With all these biochemical issues, I had to tread warily and not overwhelm her by doing a fungus eradication program which she needed, but would have made her worse.
So I started to address her adrenal/nervous system by giving her GABA at bedtime and an Amino Acid called Tyrosine together with some Nuero Calm to bring down her anxiety and allow her to function a little better. I also gave her a Homeopathic remedy called Nat Mur at bedtime as she demonstrated this constitution type from her history. ( The Nat. mur. type may be professional and career minded. Like to read, are academic and tend to be high achievers.)
I explained to her that we needed to address the adrenal and detoxification issues, but getting rid of the fungus in the gut was imperative for her mental well being in the long term. I wanted her in the beginning to just focus on cutting sugar and junk food until she was ready to embark on an anti fungal protocol.
After 2 weeks, Andrea reported her sleep was much better and her anxiety had dropped by 50%. She wasn’t getting any headaches and was feeling optimistic that I could help her.
She agreed to embark on an anti fungal protocol where she was given a specific diet and anti microbials to get rid of the high fungus level in her gut.
This had a profound effect on her. She reported her anxiety had pretty much gone, her mood was very stable, her sleep was great and she had lost weight which made her feel fantastic.
We continued to support detoxification and methylation and after 12 weeks, Andrea was a changed lady.
She was off medication, eating a wholesome diet, taking some targeted supplementation to keep her gut/adrenal/nervous systems balanced and she could focus on her studies to be a lawyer. Her periods were regulated and her whole persona had changed for the better.
It was a pleasure working with Andrea because she had faith in me and the process and she was sick of feeling unwell and was prepared to do anything that would correct her system.
SUCH IS THE POWER OF HOLISTIC FUNCTIONAL NATUROPATHIC MEDICINE!