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Depression & Natural Medicine – Part Two

Naturopath Lisa Fitzgibbon standing pulling faces in her practice's doorway


This information does not replace the current advice of your mental health professional, GP, or natural health practitioner.

If you believe you may suffer from this mental health condition, then please speak to someone about this — a trusted colleague, friend, or family member. They can help to support you and guide you to the appropriate level of professional health care.

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Talk to a trained counsellor at the Depression Helpline about how you are feeling or to ask a question.

Once upon a time... SSRI antidepressants were released into the market and everyone lived happily ever after...

Back in 1965, some ‘scientist dude’, by the name of Joseph Schildkraut came up with the Monoamine THEORY.

The theory stated that depression is caused by depletion in the levels of monoamines (serotonin, norepinephrine, and/or dopamine) in the central nervous system. Based on this theory, drugs that increased the level of 1-2 monoamines were released into the marketplace — and they’ve been there ever since.

And all the unhappy people were cured!

The end.

Yeah, right.

This particular story unfortunately doesn’t have a ‘happy’ ending for the majority of its characters.

What actually happened is that when Joseph (and his mono-coloured lab-coat), presented his theory he specifically stipulated that his findings were inconclusive1 But nobody bloody-well listened to that part, now did they! (It’s probably because they couldn’t hear him over the deafening ‘cha-ching’ sounds.)

The Monoamine theory was a valid  attempt by Joseph Schildkraut to explain the cause of depression.

I’ll discuss this more later, but first, a quick recap on part-one of this blog-post!

I might suffer from depression, but I won't suffer fools.

In my last blog-post I told you all about a ‘friend’ of mine who had really pissed.me.off. But, who also — on the bright-side — inspired me to write this series of blog-posts about this important topic.

What had happened was that I had informed this person that I suffer from depression (if I don’t manage it carefully through natural methods). And, this person basically slammed me for it. He clearly forgot that I write quite a popular blog about health, and that I also suffer from ‘bad-temper’ (if I don’t manage it carefully through limiting my contact with arrogant assholes 😇)

My ‘friend’ — you’re one of the reasons why some people are too scared to speak out about their suffering. The stigma associated with suffering from a mental illness is still very real — as is depression! Depression is a very real condition — it’s not something that you can simply talk us out of, or that we can talk ourselves out of. When you suffer from depression you physically can’t think more positively. No amount of talking or listening is therefore going to be very effective unless we address the underlying physical cause/s of this mental condition.

In part-one of this blog-post, I also told you that the worst thing about depression, for a lot of people, is not having anything to actually be depressed about — it’s the absolute pits. The thing that needs to be acknowledged about depression — is that you don’t actually need anything in particular to feel depressed about. That’s because depression is an inherent sadness/numbness that is a result of your brain being unhealthy; often due to long-term stress exposure.2

I also told you that the mainstream media won’t discuss depression in conjunction with natural medicine. This is because depression is a medical condition that only synthetic drugs can ‘fix’. (Or, that trained professionals such as Psychiatrists and Counsellors can support.)

This is a real problem because mainstream medication for depression has actually been proven scientifically ineffectual! (See the box below.)

Read part-one of this blog-post here.

Here in part-two, I will be discussing:

Conventional medicine does not practice what it preaches when it comes to treating depression.

When you’re looking for the drivers that cause depression, the search shouldn’t be limited to just above the neck. The whole body needs to be addressed. (In this sense, the brain and the head is literally the ‘tip of the iceberg’.) Functional Psychiatry is where it’s at.

The antidote to depression (as well as anxiety, stress, OCD, insomnia, and addictive behaviours) is to develop your mental & emotional resilience2 with the appropriate nutrition that your whole body requires.

In a nutshell, our most vulnerable people are being fobbed off with drugs that are based on bad science. This makes both my Naturopathic & my redheaded blood boil.17

Now the drugs don't work,
They just make you worse...

Conventional medicine is relying on inconclusive scientific research (from 1965) for the treatment of depression.

This would explain why so many people suffer from Treatment Resistant Depression — where a person does not respond to anti-depressant medication.

I find it incredibly perplexing that for a medical fraternity who are super hung-up on supplying evidence-based medicine, that modern medicine still can’t agree (after some 50-odd years) about how the most commonly prescribed anti-depressant, the SSRI, actually works. (Please see below.)

Note: These drugs are also ‘marketed’ to  sufferers of anxiety.

And, given this drug’s actual success rate, can we really say that it does even ‘work’? I mean, the research shows that only 2/10 people using antidepressants show clinical effects beyond those associated with placebo.3

Enormous numbers of randomised-controlled trials and studies show that SSRIs are only moderately superior when compared to placebo.4

Further to this, before you are prescribed this drug, you are not tested to establish whether you in fact have a serotonin deficiency. (This is probably because there is no test that can actually effectively establish this.)

Note: I like to refer to medication as ‘drugs’- like the Americans. This is because I think it more accurately describes these substances. A drug is a medicine or other substance which has a physiological effect when ingested or otherwise introduced into the body.

What happens if you don’t actually have a serotonin deficiency? Serotonin is only one of a number of other neurotransmitters that make up just 10% of brain chemicals (GABA and Glutamate make up the other 90% .)5

In fact, depression may not even be due to any type of brain chemical deficiency at all. In the field of Psychiatry, they have not been able to confirm a direct link between this mental condition and a brain chemical imbalance.6,7

Naturopath Lisa Fitzgibbon suffers from depression without the use of natural treatments

The most commonly prescribed anti-depressant is a real brain 'teaser'.

SSRIs are known to have a six-week therapeutic delay. This means that this medication takes this long to ‘kick in’ and achieve a significant mood improvement. This anti-depressant’s role is to boost the level of serotonin in your brain by allowing this monoamine to ‘hang around longer’ in the space between your neurons. (Your synapses.)

The curious thing about this, is that studies have shown that when you take this medication, your serotonin level peaks within hours of taking it.8 And then, over the six-week period, this level gradually declines until it’s actually back to its original level.

Let me be really clear here:
This drug takes effect just as this drug stops working.

Note: The various trade names for this type of drug include, but are not limited to: Citalopram, Escitalopram, Paroxetine, Fluoxetine (Prozac), and Sertraline (Zoloft).

There have been numerous other theories since 1965, to suggest how SSRIs may work. However, no one can agree. You can find these theories in the footer.9 I don’t know about you lot, but I don’t find this particularly reassuring. In fact, I find the whole thing down-right scary. Especially considering that it is the anti-depressant of choice for conventional medicine.

Black box warning!

A black-box warning is the most serious type of warning in prescription drug labelling.

‘There is an increased risk of suicide with SSRI use in children under 18 years of ages’!

You would want to whack that little nugget of information into a search engine on the internet, if you’re contemplating putting your adolescent child on this type of medication.10

Please note: The other side of this ‘argument’ is that this warning has unintentionally discouraged depressed patients from seeking treatment and doctors from prescribing antidepressants.

Let's get functional, functional.
I wanna get functional. Let's get into functional.

In defence of these scientific hypotheses, they have actually  revolutionised the mental health world. They have helped to reduce the stigma associated with mental conditions; that you weren’t actually inherently ‘mental’ — you just had a chemical imbalance.

However, it is the 21st century, and we now know that a person with depression may have experienced any number of factors that caused them to lose their mental and emotional resilience2. Therefore, when treating a sufferer of this condition you don’t just look at the site of the problem — you look to see what is happening within the whole body. And then, how this is impacting the brain.

That’s where Functional medicine comes in. And, in the case of mental health, this type of medicine is specifically referred to as Functional Psychiatry.

Functional medicine addresses the underlying causes of disease. It doesn’t look at treating body systems in isolation, it considers the inter-relationship of these systems. It also engages both the patient and practitioner in a therapeutic partnership. The practice of Functional medicine has evolved out of necessity because it better addresses the healthcare needs of the 21st century.

Note: I can’t help but say that Functional Medicine is just an unnecessarily confusing new term that ‘doctory types’ have come up with. We already have a term for this type of medicine, it’s bloody-well called ‘Naturopathy’. Naturopathy has been adhering to these holistic principles for centuries. Sheesh. Can’t they just admit we were right? :-/

Functional Psychiatry can achieve profound and lasting outcomes because it’s not simply focused on resolving depression. This approach aims to restore general health & wellbeing by looking at the whole person, in order to provide a better indication of the overall cause of the person’s ill health.17 For example, is the person also experiencing learning or concentration difficulties, memory issues, fatigue, muscle tension, aches/pains, irritability, and/or feeling ‘under-pressure’.

Depression is a maladaptive alteration in the structure and function of the brain. This ultimately results from the over-activity of neurotoxic factors (these are bad) and the under-activity of neurotrophic factors (these are good).

Note: These ‘factors’ are outlined below.

Suffice to say, depression is not a simple matter of a single brain chemical deficiency — that is so 1960s. There are many reasons why you may be experiencing a mental depression. Depression is actually a symptom of a health condition — it’s not ‘the’ health condition.

Please be aware that you can also suffer from co-morbidities (more than one health problem presenting at one time). This is where seemingly unrelated health conditions can be the underlying cause or compounding the depressive state: Thyroid dysfunction, IBS, Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome, pain syndromes, cardiovascular disease, high histamine levels, and pyrrole disorder.11

Note: It is beyond the scope of this blog-post to go into the details for each of these health conditions. I’ll aim to address these in subsequent blog-posts.

Also, having a lack of life’s essentials can also lead to depression: A poor diet, lack of exercise, loneliness, feeling unsupported, having a lack of purpose or meaning in your life, and not having any coping skills like meditation or mindfulness to calm your brain2.

Note: It is also beyond the scope of this blog-post to go into the details for each of these areas. 

Getting into the details

Neurotoxic factors that drive maladaptive structural & functional brain changes
HPA axis activation
(persistent stress)
Excessive glutamate production
Chronic inflammation

Chronic infection
Poor diet/nutritional deficiencies, and
Decreased mitochondrial function.


Neurotrophic factors maintain & restore brain health
Brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF)
Epidermal  growth factor (EGF)
Gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA), and
Mitochondrial energy production

Chronic stress is the root of all evil — and all affective disorders!

Prolonged stress would have to be, without a doubt, the biggest driver of affective disorders (depression, anxiety, OCD, insomnia, and addictions). Examples of prolonged stress include: work demands, complex relationships, incessant worry over tragic world events, and severe (or multiple) nutrient deficiencies.

If you continually output cortisol (the stress hormone) in response to, well, life — then this hormone essentially sets the brain on fire — and causes the brain to shrink! (This maladaptive process is literally creating brain damage.) Studies show, that those suffering from depression and anxiety have a measurable reduction of volume in both the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex.12,13,14,15

Back in the 1960s they were aware that elevated cortisol was linked to depression. However, while the drug they used to suppress this hormone was effective, the drug itself wasn’t as marketable as the SSRI.16

Note: To provide justice to this important subject area, I will write a specific ‘stress’ blog-post in the not-to-distant future.

A Freudian 'tip':

“Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self esteem, first make sure that you are not, in fact, surrounded by assholes.”
— Sigmund Freud

Naturopath Lisa Fitzgibbon suffers from depression without the use of natural treatments
Good one, Siggy! ;-)

I get so emotional, baby...
Every time I think of yoo...

Note: This next piece was from a Facebook status that I posted 21/7/2017 – after I received an overwhelmingly positive response to part-one of this blog-post:

It will be my 42nd birthday tomorrow.

You’d think that at my age I would have pretty much experienced ‘it all’, right? Well, apparently not…

I’ve been in a bit of a strange state since I publicly announced (on my blog) that I suffer from depression in an effort to help ’the cause’. To be honest I’ve been feeling quite overwhelmed & teary – but in a good way.

You have to understand that I’m not normally an emotional person as I’ve always protected myself by wearing my mask – my ‘hard-hat’ if you like. My unofficial ‘motto’ has always been: Don’t let the ba***rds see that they’ve upset you.

While I knew I had to put this blog-post out, I was quite scared that people wouldn’t understand – and that they would judge me. Because, just from a Naturopath’s perspective, a lot of people don’t expect you to: get ‘colds’, carry extra weight, experience stress/anxiety, or to look tired – let alone have a mental condition!

But, my goodness, since your outpouring of support, encouragement, and acceptance on my blog… Well, I’ve been feeling all sorts of emotions that I’m simply not used to experiencing. Now, this is going to sound REALLY corney, but it’s the only way I can really describe it: it feels like my heart is literally swelling. (I didn’t realise that this was an actual thing you could experience? I mean medically – sure. But emotionally? Wow!)

I’ve been absolutely blown away by your kindness (via comments, ‘likings’ and ‘sharings’).
It means a lot that you would take the time to acknowledge me.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
(This has been my most significant blog-post to date.)

Behind the scenes, I’ve also received a number of personal emails from people thanking me for writing this blog-post (because it has either provided them with relief, or it has helped them to understand certain things about depression). I’ve also had people share their account of depression with me x

More ‘corn’? (While I’m on a roll and everything…)

All I have ever wanted to do with my life is to help people in an honest and real way. Whether that be at OOMPH (by listening and seeking to understand) or through my blog (by offering people another perspective or alternative option, or just by making them feel something: to be interested; amused; motivated; or, just to laugh.) And, over the last few hours, it has finally struck home with me – that, I am actually doing it! Hence me feeling quite sookey xo

I feel like I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing.
And that my friends, feels bloody amazing.
Take that depression. Take that.

Love to you xox

Natural Medicine can be used to encourage mental & emotional resilience

While the actions of the following nutrients are not limited to the brain, they are the most important nutrients you require to create a better brain.

You might be surprised to see that a lot of these nutrients appear to be basic, everyday supplements. But, I can assure you that they are absolutely vital.

These supplements perform hundreds of different supportive functions in our body, therefore providing excellent coverage in mood disorders (including anxiety, stress, OCD).17

  1. B vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B5, Folate, and B12)

    B-Group vitamins are very important for energy production because they are involved in the Kreb’s Cycle and Electron Transport Chain. (They play an important role in mitochondrial function.)

    B-group vitamins also prevent brain decline, as they can promote the positive rewiring of the brain as well as reducing brain inflammation.

    They also help to create neurotransmitters.

  2. Magnesium

    This mineral reduces inflammation (particularly in the brain). Magnesium reduces anxiety & depression, it induces sleep, and it provides energy by promoting mitochondrial function.

    Magnesium has been shown to promote positive brain changes by significantly increasing BDNF in the Hippocampus and the PFC.

  3. CoEnzyme Q10

    This vitamin is antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, stress-protective, and supports energy production by not only protecting the mitochondrion but also by correcting mitochondrial defects.

    CoEnzyme Q10 is also a structural component of the Electron Transport Chain. (Which creates energy in our body.)

  4. Acetyl-L-carnitine 

    This amino acid is neuroprotective and transports fats into our mitochondria to burn for energy.

  5. Medicinal Herbs

    Rhodiola, Siberian Ginseng & Korean Ginseng
    These herbs reduce inflammation and oxidative stress. They also protect the brain by reducing glutamate neurotoxicity, and by supporting mitochondrial function.

    Curcumin (from Turmeric) and Crocin (from Saffron)
    These spices reduce inflammation and increase BDNF. They are so effective that they are now being used to treat severe depression!

    Passionflower, California Poppy, Zizyphus, Kava and Jamaican Dogwood
    These medicinal herbs help to induce GABA. This is one of your most abundant neurotransmitters, which calm the brain,  therefore protecting it.

    Griffonia simplicifolia AND ST John’s wort
    You’ll find some Naturopaths & Medical Herbalists have moved away from prescribing herbs such as Griffonia simplicifolia (5HTP) and St John’s Wort for depression – unless the patient is suffering from other symptoms that would actually suggest a neurotransmitter imbalance (migraines/headaches, and comfort eating; craving carbs).

    These Naturopaths & Medical Herbalists are now only using these herbs to wean people off antidepressant drugs. This is because when you are ‘drugged’ your own natural production of serotonin drops. Therefore, if you try to come off these without any support, you will feel emotional unstable.

Natural medicine can augment Treatment Resistant Depression

Specific nutrients can be used to help make SSRIs work.

The following can prove effective in augmenting your drug: Certain B-group vitamins, Vitamin D, EPA, Folic Acid, Magnesium, Zinc, N-acetylcysteine (NAC), and certain herbs & spices.

Please talk to your Naturopath about which nutrient/s would be suitable for your particular case — and at what therapeutic levels, and for what length of treatment time. We will also assess the compatibility of your specific nutrient requirements with your drug.

Lisa says:

Why yes, my fee does include a happy ending... thanks for asking.

Whether you’re contemplating taking a drug for your depression, you’re currently taking a drug for it, or wanting to come off your antidepressant medication — let me help you find the most effective solution for you.

I can work in with you, your doctor and/or counsellor to support your mental and emotional resilience.

Note: Here, at your appointment, I can also provide you with any references you require to support the natural medicine that I prescribe for you.

You might say that it is very narrow minded To simply focus ON ONE OR TWO NEUROTRANSMITTERS IN THE BRAIN.

Make an appointment with Lisa

Lisa Fitzgibbon is a degree qualified (2006), experienced and registered Naturopath & Medical Herbalist. She runs her own private practice – OOMPH in Grey Lynn, Auckland, New Zealand.

Lisa has been involved in the Natural Health industry for 16 years. She draws on her professional training and experience, as well as her own personal experience to bring you realistic, holistic health advice.

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