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How Your Body Can Automatically Improve Depression
By Mark Hyman, M.D.

CAN YOUR BODY AFFECT  your mind?

By making different food and lifestyle choices, can you rid yourself of depression, boost your mood or even improve more serious conditions such as ADHD, autism and more?

In my experience, the answer is YES and I’ll show you precisely how in just a second.

But first, let me tell you about one of my patients, Sarah.

She’s a very vibrant, smart young woman of 18 who had just finished high school with honors and was admitted to a top university.

Even more exciting, her passion for theater and acting had recently landed her the lead role in a real movie.

The future ahead of her was bright and full of possibilities.

So why had Sarah’s distraught mother brought her to see me?

Well, over the previous few weeks, she had sunk into a debilitating depression.

It had gotten so bad that she wouldn’t go out, didn’t respond to friends’ calls, and couldn’t even get out of bed to watch television — which is pretty bad for a teenager!

Sarah couldn’t concentrate or read. Worse, she couldn’t learn the lines for her movie, which was the opportunity of a lifetime, and was to be shot in just a few short weeks.

There was every reason that Sarah should have been at the highest moment in her life.  Everything was going right.

Everything — except that she found herself in a debilitating depression, unable to cope with life’s simplest tasks, like getting out of bed and getting dressed.

The psychiatrist focused on her mental state, but I know that the body is connected to the mind, just as the mind is connected to the body.

What was happening?

Her mother had already taken her to a child and adolescent behavioral psychiatrist, who confirmed the depression.

His solution?

To start getting out and walking for five minutes a day — and then return the following week to consider options such as antidepressant medication.

But the movie was to be shot in two weeks and Sarah was about to leave for college in three weeks.

Desperate, her mother brought her to me.

I look at depression a little differently than other doctors.

You see, in medicine we are trained to see certain problems as “psychosomatic” — that is, problems that are “all in your head.”

It means that your mind can affect your body.

These problems include irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), muscle aches and pains, headaches, and premenstrual syndrome (PMS).  They have no physical basis or proof that we can see on an x-ray or other screening test.

Unfortunately, this is often because we don’t understand the more-subtle underlying imbalances that actually cause these problems.

However, I believe that there is an unexplored area of healing and medicine.

I call it “somato-psychic medicine.”  That is, that your body can affect your mind.

And in Sarah’s case, this was the problem.

The psychiatrist focused on her mental state, but I know that the body is connected to the mind, just as the mind is connected to the body.

I asked myself if Sarah’s apathy, depression, and fatigue had something to do with what was happening in her body.

First, I looked for clues.

I am a medical detective, searching always for patterns and connections and links between symptoms and the answers hidden within the WHOLE story of a person’s life.

So I didn’t just ask Sarah about her mental symptoms — I wanted to know everything.

And I uncovered a lot.

I learned that she had had low-grade allergies and sinus congestion for years.

Over the last few years, she had worsening IBS with bloating and constipation, and her periods were terrible, preceded by very bad PMS with fluid retention, sugar cravings, salt cravings, headaches and irritability.

She had developed severe muscle pains and aches, headaches, poor memory and concentration, and insomnia.

She was cold all the time, felt short of breath, anxious, and just generally miserable.

A few months before, Sarah had tried to lose about 15 pounds she had gained by eating very well and exercising regularly.  But she was very discouraged because all her efforts led to no weight loss.

Clearly, something was wrong.

To confirm my thoughts, I ran some tests for nutritional deficiencies and imbalances in her digestive, immune, and hormonal systems.

That’s because I no longer treat “diseases” like IBS, PMS, depression, and headaches. Instead, I try to understand the underlying imbalances that lead to the symptoms, which are only clues to something deeper.

So what did I find with Sarah?

I found that she had a vitamin D deficiency, which can cause thyroid problems, depression, and muscle pains. And she had a magnesium deficiency, which can lead to muscle pain, headaches, constipation, fatigue, and insomnia.

She also had an omega-3 fat deficiency — something well known to be associated with depression.

Her thyroid wasn’t functioning properly, which is why she had so many symptoms like fatigue, depression, constipation, muscle pain, PMS, and problems losing weight.

She also had food sensitivities to gluten and dairy.  These contributed to her IBS, allergies, and sinus congestion.

So did I give her an antidepressant?

No.  Remember, depression is not a Prozac deficiency.

But when the underlying imbalances in her immune, digestive, and hormonal systems were corrected and her nutritional status was built up, her body was able to recover.

What did I do?

I had Sarah improve the quality of her diet and stop eating the foods she was sensitive to, like gluten, dairy, eggs, and yeast.

I got her eating real, whole foods, not junk, refined, and processed foods.

I told her to have three regular meals and at least one afternoon snack at about 3 or 4 pm.

I encouraged her to eat lots of veggies and protein, such as chicken, salmon, hummus, and nuts, with every meal. I asked her to snack on nuts.

Then I helped Sarah get her digestive tract back on track by giving her a special antibiotic to clear out the overgrowth of bacteria in her small intestine, which had caused the bloating. She followed that with an antifungal drug to treat the yeast in her system (she had a fungal scalp infection, too).

Next, I started her on Armour Thyroid medication to improve her thyroid.

And I gave Sarah some basic nutritional support — a multivitamin, calcium, magnesium, vitamin D, fish oil, acidophilus for her digestive tract, and herbs to help her PMS.

I told her to start exercising slowly, to get into a regular rhythm of going to bed by 11 pm, and to get at least 8 hours of sleep.  To ease her insomnia, I had her take a relaxing Epsom salt bath with lavender before bed every night.

I also asked her to see a physical therapist and neuromuscular therapist to work on her neck and muscle pain.

There’s no doubt about it. Sarah was on the accelerated “get better right away” program!

So how did she do?

Well, in two weeks, she came back a different person!

She wasn’t taking antidepressants, yet she was happier and more alive than she had been in more than a year.

She lost 15 pounds in two weeks.

Her energy, concentration, and focus were fantastic.

Her digestive problems and muscle pain were gone.

And she was sleeping very well.

Renewed, Sarah learned all her lines, did her movie, and went off to college vibrant and alive — quite remarkable considering she was nearly in a catatonic depression only a few weeks before!

So what’s the secret to the astoundingly fast improvement?  Heck, even antidepressants take six weeks to start working.

It’s simple.

Just by getting rid of the things that cause imbalances in core systems (in this case, the immune, digestive, and hormonal system), and by giving the body things it needs to heal (like good food, vitamins, minerals, omega-3 fats, and hormones when necessary), the body will repair and heal very quickly.

This principle is simple and central to the medicine I practice, which is called systems medicine or functional medicine.

Are you depressed or have other mental health issues and looking to get better?

Here are a few things to think about and explore.

You still may need therapy or medication, but don’t assume these will cure the problem if you have any of these underlying issues:

1. Do you have low thyroid function?

  • Ask your doctor to check for the following blood tests: TSH, free T3, free T4, and thyroid antibodies.

2. Do you have a vitamin D deficiency?

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

3. 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.

4. Do you have a deficiency of omega-3 fats?

  • It’s likely — 99 percent of Americans do. Eat more wild salmon and sardines and take 1 to 2 grams of fish oil a day.

5. Do you have gluten allergies?

  • Consider testing for gluten antibodies.

6. Are bugs in your gut affecting your brain or immune system?

  • If you have irritable bowel syndrome, supplement with probiotics.

Try taking these steps and see if your health improves as Sarah’s did and you may find that your “mental illness” wasn’t so mental at all and was really caused by nutritional issues.

And remember, you can both change your mind to change your body, but you can also change your body to change your mind!

For more information on how the body and mind are connected and for a complete system that will help you heal your brain by healing your body first, see my book The UltraMind Solution.

Now I’d like to hear from you:

Have you had any experiences of correcting a physical problem and noticing that your mental health changed as a side effect?

Have you noticed that a change in the foods you eat or the supplements you take changing your attitude or mood?

If you’ve gone to your doctor or psychiatrist for any mental health problems, what was your experience?  Did they look into nutritional issues at all or simply recommend you take drugs?

Have you noticed that different foods affect your mood, and if so, how?

Please let me know your thoughts by adding a comment below.

To your good health,

Mark Hyman, M.D.



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