How to treat depression and anxiety naturally

Tessa Burns MartinAnxiety, Depression

If you suffer from anxiety or depression, have you ever wondered about its cause?
As a naturopathic doctor with an honours degree in neuroscience, I approach the treatment of anxiety and depression from a unique angle. In addition to focusing on psychological factors, I work with my patients to identify and correct any underlying physical causes. Often these are nutritional, hormonal, or inflammatory factors that have previously been undetected or overlooked through their course of treatment.
The medications that are used for depression are designed to work based upon the theory that depression results from deficient levels of serotonin and other chemicals within the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter (chemical involved in nerve cell communication) that amongst many other functions is involved in mood, sexual function, appetite and sleep. It is commonly regarded as the neurotransmitter most involved in feeling happiness. While serotonin deficiency has long been linked to depression, the question has remained as to what actually causes the serotonin levels to decrease. Exciting new research is showing that the low serotonin levels are likely due to changes in complex chemical pathways in the brain that are occurring as a result of chronic inflammation. This is exciting because it opens up a new realm to explore for treatments and better understanding as to the underlying cause of mood disorders.
So, what exactly is inflammation? Inflammation is your body’s natural response to protect itself against infections, toxins and irritants. When the immune system detects a threat to your health, it launches an inflammatory reaction by producing a variety of chemicals that are intended to eradicate the potential offender. Inflammation is natural and required to a certain degree to protect your health, but it can wreak havoc if it escalates to higher levels on a chronic basis. This chronic inflammation can lead to hormonal changes and alterations in neurotransmitter production within the brain. These changes can cause you to feel increased pain, fatigue, lethargy, and yes…even anxiety or depression!
I find that food sensitivities are one of the most common and often overlooked causes of my patient’s chronic inflammation. Food sensitivities are triggered when improperly digested foods cross the barrier of the small intestine and pass into the bloodstream. The immune system isn’t programmed to recognize food that is not completely broken down, and this triggers antibody production through an immune response. The production of antibodies and resulting inflammation can take hours to days from ingestion of the offending food, and therefore the symptoms of food sensitivities are delayed in onset and different in presentation than those resulting from food allergies. For example, a sensitivity to wheat may cause joint pain, fatigue and skin rashes occurring up to 2-3 days after consumption. Conversely, a peanut or shellfish allergy might cause hives and swelling of the throat immediately, often after the first bite alone. When it comes to food sensitivities, this delay in timing and difference in symptom presentation makes it very difficult to associate a particular food with specific health concerns. For this reason, most of the patients that I see had not previously suspected food sensitivities or their diet to be a culprit in their chronic health concerns.
In my naturopathic practice I assess patients with anxiety and depression for inflammatory reactions to food through laboratory testing and/or doing an Elimination Diet. Laboratory testing is a simple and effective way to test for food sensitivities and is done in-office via a quick finger-prick blood test. The test that I use evaluates for an immune response towards 184 different foods and is very informational. An Elimination Diet is the other option for identifying food sensitivities. It is a specifically designed dietary protocol that involves removing common food sensitivities from your diet and then testing them one by one for reactions. I find great clinical success with patients that complete an Elimination Diet because it allows them to physically experience how significantly foods have been impacting their body. I have witnessed dramatic health transformations in these patients, and it is a process that I wholeheartedly recommend that everyone try at least once in their lifetime! What if there is something in your diet that is causing or contributing to your anxiety or depression?
Dr. Kimberley O’Brien, B.Sc., N.D.
Dr. Kimberley is a naturopathic doctor with a practice located in the beltline region of Calgary at UThrive. Her practice focuses on digestive disorders, fatigue, stress and hormone imbalances. For more information please visit

“Cytokines, inflammation and pain”
“Inflammatory cytokines in depression: neurobiological mechanisms and therapeutic implications”
“Beyond the serotonin hypothesis: Mitochondria, inflammation and neurodegeneration in major depression and affective spectrum disorders”
“Is anxious-depression an inflammatory state?”