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A Naturopathic Guide to Depression

Updated: Dec 3, 2023

Fortunately, naturopathic medicine has a great deal to offer to help with depression.


· What is depression?

· What are the symptoms?

· What are naturopathic treatments for depression?

What is Depression?

Defining depression is not necessarily a straightforward task as even in a medical sense we use the term in a variety of ways. Depression can be a temporary state and is to be expected in times of great loss or disappointment. When the feeling – or lack of feelings – persist over a longer course, this usually results in an actual diagnosis of major or minor depression. This can be its own diagnosis, or it can also be part of a larger condition such as bipolar disorder and/or schizophrenia.

What are the symptoms of depression?

Common symptoms of depression include:

  • Depressed mood: For children and adolescents, this can also be an irritable mood

  • Diminished interest or loss of pleasure in almost all activities (anhedonia)

  • Significant weight change or appetite disturbance: For children, this can be failure to achieve expected weight gain

  • Sleep disturbance (insomnia or hypersomnia)

  • Fatigue or loss of energy

  • Feelings of worthlessness

  • Diminished ability to think or concentrate; indecisiveness

What are the potential causes of Depression?

A direct cause and effect relationship does not exist with respect to depression since virtually every aspect of our lives can be a potential factor, including circumstances both in and out of our control. Genetics can play a role, as can events in life, learned behaviors and coping mechanisms. There are also plenty of organic factors like vitamin and nutrient deficiencies, inflammation levels, and the health of other organs in the body such as the adrenals and thyroid.

Getting a Comprehensive Evaluation of Depression:

Practically all of our new patients complete the Patient Health Questionnaire 9 (PHQ-9) which is a screening questionnaire for depression. Whether it is what’s bringing you in to the office or not, as physicians it’s important information.

Lab work is also utilized as we look for a variety of nutrient deficiencies which play a role in depression. B vitamins (especially B6 and B12), thyroid and adrenal hormones, essential fats (omega 3 fatty acids), and even vitamin D (the ‘sunshine’ vitamin) are all likely to be looked at as part of a thorough workup.

Common Prescription Treatment for Depression:

Antidepressant medications are prescribed commonly, if not excessively, worldwide. More than 13% of the country is on an antidepressant medication. That’s over 45 million Americans! And its use is continually on the rise despite questionable effectiveness, especially as a standalone treatment.

The pharmaceuticals act by preventing your body from clearing certain neurotransmitters, most often serotonin, thereby keeping levels of these substances elevated. While serotonin alone is the most common target, there are other neurotransmitters and medications can target some of the others along with or in place of serotonin.

Naturopathic Treatments for Depression Symptoms:

If it’s common in the world, it’s common in our office. And fortunately, naturopathic medicine has a great deal to offer to help with depression.

Dietary Recommendations:

By addressing digestive issues – often a big contributing factor to depression in their own right – we can alter the environment within the digestive tract to one that is more favorable to an optimal bacterial balance. Since our gut bacteria produce the precursors to our neurotransmitters, keeping them in balance can help you feel in balance! Learning about your individual food intolerances can provide a great direction for how to adjust the diet. Don’t be surprised if your doctor also puts emphasis on reducing the intake of both refined sugar and alcohol.

Lifestyle Recommendations:

  • Moving your body – 3-5 times a week for 30 minutes has been shown to have excellent benefit. But even shorter periods of exercise can help

  • Meditation, yoga, and breath work

  • Maintaining a regular sleep schedule · Support your adrenals

Supplements and Herbal Remedies:

As our neurotransmitters are built from amino acids, precursors can be supplemented via these amino acids. For example, tryptophan is sold as a supplement called 5-HTP which increases serotonin. Other neurotransmitters, like GABA, can be supplemented directly just like

  • Fish oil

  • Vitamin D

  • B-vitamins, especially B12 and B6

  • Magnesium

  • St. John’s Wort

  • Ginkgo

  • Passionflower

  • Valerian


While the treatment puts a large focus on circulation and detoxification, there is direct communication with the nervous system as well as improving the function of the digestive system (hello microbiome!). The body also produces endorphins in response to the cold portions of the treatment which can elevate mood far beyond the duration of the treatment itself.


Disclaimer: The entire contents of this website are based upon the opinions of physicians at Pacific Clinic of Natural Medicine, unless otherwise noted. Individual articles are based upon the opinions of the respective author, who retains copyright as marked. The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. It is intended as a sharing of knowledge and information from the research and experience of our physicians and their community. PCNM encourages you to make your own health care decisions based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified healthcare professional. If you are pregnant, nursing, taking medication, or have a medical condition, consult your health care professional before using products based on this content.

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