Pavilion Family Medicine

A Functional Medicine Approach to Depression

Article from Dr. Mark Hyman and  Originally posted 09/18/15 on

If you struggle with feeling hopeless, sad, or otherwise mentally fragile, you’re not alone. More than 100 million Americans – that’s literally one in three – struggle through life with a depression.

Pharmaceutical companies are quick to pick up on this broken brain problem, but conventional medicine cannot cure it.  With its symptom-based medicine approach, conventional medicine tackles depression completely wrong. Rather than determine what actually creates that depression, many doctors immediately reach for their prescription pad.  That explains why one in 10 Americans today uses antidepressants, while more than eight million children are taking stimulants like Ritalin.  These statistics are not normal.

A Functional Medicine Approach to Depression

The solution involved balancing the seven core systems in my body.  These seven imbalances underlie the causes of all illness:

1.  Optimize nutrition
2.  Balance hormones
3.  Cool off inflammation
4.  Fix digestion
5.  Enhance detoxification
6.  Boost energy metabolism
7.  Calm the mind

Connecting the Underlying Dots

The Functional Medicine approach to depression is quite simple. You eliminate things that cause imbalances in core systems and provide your body with the things it needs to heal (like good food, vitamins, minerals, omega-3 fats, and hormones, when necessary).

With that approach, your body will repair and heal very quickly.  When you struggle with depression, here are some questions to ask yourself and then work with a Functional Medicine practitioner to solve:

Do you have low thyroid function?  Ask your doctor to check for the following blood tests: TSH, free T3, free T4, and thyroid antibodies.

Do you have a vitamin D deficiency?  This is especially likely if you’re depressed during winter. So have your doctor check for a 25 OH vitamin D test. Your level should be over 50. If it isn’t, take 2,000 IU of vitamin D3 a day.

Do you have a folic acid or B12 deficiency?  Ask your doctor to test your homocysteine and methylmalonic acid levels to check for those deficiencies. And take an extra 800 mcg of folic acid and 1,000 mcg of B12.

Do you have a deficiency of omega-3 fats?  It’s likely, considering 99 percent of Americans do. Eat more wild salmon and sardines and take 1 to 2 grams of fish oil a day.

Do you have food allergies?  Food allergies create a metabolic disorder that can lead to a whole host of “mental” symptoms, including depression.

Do you have inflammation?  The Standard American Diet contains a host of pro-inflammatory foods. To treat depression, we must learn how to get rid of the causes of inflammation and restore the normal immune balance through our food and nutrients, as well as our exercise, sleep, and stress management habits.

Are bugs in your gut affecting your brain or immune system?  Work with your Functional Medicine practitioner to determine and eliminate gut issues including leaky gut, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), and other gut issues.

Do you have hormonal imbalances?  Out-of-balance hormones like insulin and cortisol can detrimentally impact depression. A real, whole, unprocessed foods diet combined with lifestyle factors like stress control can help balance hormones.

From these perspectives, you can understand how to treat depression. Oftentimes, doing detective work and trial-and-error take a little effort and time, but remember the average anti-depressant drug takes six weeks to kick in!


These materials are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. 
All material on Pavilion Family Medicine Medial Blog is provided for educational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise or other health related program.