Are Your Meds Making You Depressed?

Consider Approaches from the Naturopathic Medicine Toolbox

I was blown away earlier this month by the report of our 30% increased suicide rate since the turn of the century. Then last week came the JAMA study, indicting 200 commonly prescribed medications which we learned may cause the side effect of depression.

Douleur d’amour by William Adolphe Bouguereau

A third of adults take at least one of these medications. These are not rare and unusual meds, rather drugs commonly prescribed such as beta blockers, anti-anxiety medications, proton pump inhibitors, ibuprofen and other pain killers, and common blood pressure medications. The risk of depression increases if you are taking more than one of these pharmaceuticals, and many people are.

As a licensed naturopathic doctor for over three decades, I’ve helped many patients reduce or discontinue prescription drugs. I stay in close communication with the prescribing physician and then it takes a combination of careful understanding of underlying pathology, sustained lifestyle modifications, evidence-based natural medicines, and gradual, guided reduction of dosing. It’s important to underscore that many drugs are essential and brilliant and work perfectly well with little to no side effect profile. Or, side effects are managed because a worse problem is being treated effectively. That said, many of these commonly prescribed drugs that have the side effect of depression are given to treat ailments for which lifestyle and natural medicine have a powerful track record of efficacy.

The goal of naturopathic medicine is not to get patients off of drugs. The goal is to remove obstacles to health so that patients feel better. But pharmaceuticals, and especially several at the same time, also may put our patients at great risk for drug/drug interaction, drug/nutrient interaction and now, we have further evidence, depression.

With naturopathic medicine, it’s less about taking a medication to remove a symptom and more about taking an honest assessment of lifestyle factors such as diet, alcohol consumption, level and frequency of physical activity, stress reduction skills and more. Naturopathic doctors serve as teachers to their patients and work to address the root cause of problems. We offer many tools and therapies beyond prescription medication, which expands choices for patients. And for those who must be on pharmaceuticals, it’s worth noting that naturopathic medicine can be used side by side with prescription medicine while working to address underlying causes, to help prevent side effects and to help ease side effects that do arise.

Naturopathic medicine tools like the ones I describe below are effective AND much of the responsibility for change belongs to the patient. For a motivated patient, a naturopathic doctor can help open a whole new toolbox, and provide access to some of the most powerful and individually geared approaches for both preventive care and for addressing diagnoses including depression, insomnia, chronic infections and allergies, hormonal imbalances, cognitive decline, digestive disturbances, auto-immune disease, the list goes on.

Jack Douglass on Unsplash

So what’s in my toolbox for my patients with depression? The tried and true tools include:

Exercise — tailored to each individual, mindfulness meditation, talk therapy, bio- and neuro-feedback, addressing the gut-brain connection for a diverse and robust microbiome, a well tailored constitutional homeopathic remedy, botanical medicines to help with mood and sleep, and individualized dietary recommendations and nutritional supplements, based on my patient’s biochemistry and relevant laboratory work. I try to understand what social determinants of health are impacting my patient and see if we can find any leverage points to help tilt the scales more in their favor. With some patients I brainstorm, or we get on the Internet together to find support groups or other local or online organizations or resources to help my patient feel more connected, more engaged.

And mind you, many of my patients come through my clinic for other complaints like IBS, insomnia, eczema, fatigue, menstrual problems, arthritis, ADHD, but in the process of our medical intake, it becomes clear that my patient, on top of everything else, is also depressed. As a doctor, there is really no better feeling than helping a patient get through to the other side of depression, to see a patient feel lighter, calmer, more focused and pursuing life with a more positive outlook.

So now as always, I will carefully review which medications my patients take and problem-solve, with their prescribing physician’s input, around reduction of dosage or discontinuance of a drug when possible. We’ll shift our posture toward integrating natural medicine approaches as appropriate for each patient.

So, look in your toolbox. See what you have there. These FAQs on naturopathic medicine as well as this patient gallery, both from the Institute of Natural Medicine might be of interest to you. And if you think the skills and expertise of a licensed naturopathic doctor might be a good match for where you are right now, you can find one here.

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