For patients with a clinical diagnosis of mild to moderate anxiety or depression, Bothell’s Dr. Nicole Anderson draws on her chemical engineering background to explore the relationship between an individual’s neurotransmitters, mood, and emotions. She also closely examines a patient’s medical history, lifestyle, environment, and other factors to determine what could be contributing to their symptoms. Many patients who work with her to manage or treat anxiety and depression have tried antidepressants and found them to be only somewhat effective—or not effective at all. In these cases it’s especially important to determine which neurotransmitter chemical pathways are affected.
It’s important to note that anxiety and depression are complex conditions that do not have a universal solution, and Dr. Anderson works with each patient accordingly. She also works with mental health professionals who prescribe and manage complex medications when she feels that may be the best route.
Everyone feels anxiety from time to time. The emotion is a response to threatening situations that may require particular focus and alertness, as well as a rapid physical response, such as a “fight or flight” response. To accomplish this, certain glands release chemicals into the blood, causing heart rate and blood pressure to rise in addition to other physical changes.
Anxiety can become a disorder when someone experiences it for extended periods of time, or too frequently, whether because of external stressors or internal issues. Left unchecked, the constant stream of stress hormones can diminish certain systems’ ability to make the chemicals at proper levels. Constant high levels of these hormones can also damage other organs and systems.
Depression is more than just feeling sad or having a low for a short time. Sadness or similar “down” feelings are a totally natural part of life, but some people experience an inability to “come back up” out of emotional depressions, causing them to have a constantly low mood. Cases of chronic depression can lead to isolation, as well as loss of appetite, sleep, and interest in once-enjoyable activities, as well as other medical conditions.
Like anxiety, depression may be due to external circumstances, problems with hormones, neurotransmitter imbalances, or any combination of the three.
Anxiety and depression are more than just bad feelings after having a rough day. Dietary deficiencies, poor sleep habits, certain environmental factors, relationship difficulties, household and job stresses, trauma, and more can contribute to the chemical imbalances that cause chronic mood disorders. There may also be a genetic factor that prevents some people from making sufficient numbers of the neurotransmitters they need to properly regulate mood. Determining the cause or causes of anxiety and depression as best as possible is critical to creating a treatment plan, which may include hormone therapy, nutritional supplementation, counseling, medications, and other strategies implemented by Dr. Anderson in coordination with other professionals.
Many people who come to Anderson Natural Medicine with anxiety and depression are dissatisfied with how prescribed antidepressants and other mood-regulating medications have worked for them. While there are several potential reasons for this, Dr. Anderson often finds that the medication in question is designed to address only a single issue or a single chemical within the brain.
For example, serotonin is a neurotransmitter with multiple roles, including producing a “good feeling.” Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) are antidepressants that boost the brain’s serotonin levels by slowing the normal breakdown of serotonin by the neurons within the brain.
Serotonin production also requires specific amino acids and cofactors or “ingredients” to build the hormone. A brain lacking in those ingredients will never make a sufficient amount of serotonin to effectively improve mood.
Dr. Anderson has found that in many cases providing the necessary ingredients—which may include vitamins D and C, folic acid, minerals and more—can frequently help many people to reduce their anxiety and depression. By adjusting diet, introducing supplements, and making other lifestyle changes, neurons can often build neurotransmitters as needed and mood can improve.
Dr. Anderson cautions anyone looking for a quick fix that managing anxiety and depression takes some work, but it is possible—and successful treatment plans can be literally life-changing.