26% of Americans have mood disorders including depression, anxiety, bipolar, etc. Did you know that Functional Medicine uses a different approach to treating them? Instead of treating SYMPTOMS with medications, we discover and treat the CAUSE.
The CAUSE of mood disorders is multifaceted and includes biological, psychosocial, environmental, and lifestyle factors. Nutritional status is one of the key factors in proper brain development and normal cognitive function. Diet quality has been associated with common mental disorders, including depression and anxiety, and certain nutrients have been found to be particularly important.
What are mood disorders?
Mood disorders are a group of psychological conditions in which a disturbance in a person’s mood is considered to be the main underlying feature. Specifically, loss of interest or pleasure in normally enjoyable activities and decreased functional capacity are underlying presentations of depressive disorder across the entire depressive continuum.
In addition to quality-of-life and medical costs, lost productivity is estimated to cost U.S. employers over $44 billion annually with 81% due to poorer on-the-job performance.
To complicate the picture, more than half of the people with depression also have anxiety as a simultaneous condition. Anxiety and depressive disorders comprise major mental health concerns in U.S. adults, with 28.8% and 20.8%, respectively, experiencing these disorders during their lifetime.
How are they treated traditionally?
Mood disorders are diagnosed conventionally by a thorough physical and psychological evaluation.
Conventional treatment of mood disorders is based primarily on pharmacotherapy or psychotherapy, or a combination of both. Focusing on a deregulation of neurotransmitter signaling as the major cause of depression has been the foundation for the use of antidepressant drugs for the last 60 years. Some studies have found that the benefits of antidepressants, while helpful for a set of patients with more severe symptoms, may be minimal or nonexistent for patients with milder or more moderate symptoms. In addition, medication side effects are frequent, with almost 40% reporting one or more side effects from the commonly prescribed serotonergic medications; sexual dysfunction, sleepiness, and weight gain are the top three complaints.
Given concerns related to such pharmaceutical side effects, many patients have sought alternatives to pharmacological treatments.
What does scientific literature report about mood disorders?
The etiology of mood disorders is multifaceted and includes biological, psychosocial, environmental, and lifestyle factors. Nutritional status is one of the key factors in proper brain development and normal cognitive function. Diet quality has been associated with common mental disorders, including depression and anxiety, and certain nutrients have been found to be particularly important. For instance:
- Sufficient levels of specific amino acids, or substrates, such as phenylalanine, tyrosine, and tryptophan, are required for the production of mood-regulating neurotransmitters.
- Adequate levels of relevant vitamin (Vitamin B6, B12 and Folate) and mineral (Magnesium and Zinc) cofactors are required for critical enzyme function in neurotransmitter pathways:
- Several members of the B-complex vitamin family are intimately involved in brain function. Vitamin B6 is a cofactor for over 100 enzyme-catalyzed reactions, including many reactions involved in the synthesis or catabolism of neurotransmitters.
- Inadequate Vitamin B12 and Folate can contribute to mood instability; one study found that more than a quarter of depressed elderly women were deficient in B12.
- Magnesium levels are related to risk of depression and anxiety.
- Zinc status is also associated with mood disorders. Several studies have shown that Zinc levels are lower in those with clinical depression.
- Many individual nutrients, such as Vitamin D, have also been found to be associated with depression and mood disorders. Research has repeatedly found that low Vitamin D levels correlate with a greater risk of depression.
How can specialty nutritional testing performed by Functional physicians help patients with mood disorders?
Comprehensive nutritional testing can ensure a solid foundation, identifying nutrients needed to support critical enzyme function in neurotransmitter pathways that may support optimal mood. The level of functional performance of these critical enzymes can be reliably estimated by assessing the “upstream” building blocks and “downstream”metabolites in these relevant pathways:
- ”Upstream” nutrient building blocks, such as amino acids used in the production of mood-regulating neurotransmitters.
- “Downstream” metabolites, such as neurotransmitter breakdown products that can identify need for nutrient co-factors, such as Vitamin B12 or Magnesium.
Identifying and supplementing a patient’s targeted needs helps to personalize treatments that may alleviate symptoms associated with underlying nutritional imbalance.