Your medication may not be safe

Are all medications bad? No! Used short-term, they may offer triage to help the body heal while the root cause of what is happening is addressed.

However, it is important to understand how your medication works and why it is important to get to the root of the issue as quickly as possible.  Statins for heart conditions, metformin used to treat diabetics, and beta-blockers, also for heart conditions, all interfere with CoQ10 levels. CoQ10 is a vital part of a biochemical reaction in the cells that makes ATP which is the chemical that provides us with energy. If you are on these medications too long, you will eventually feel weak and tired. Often time, patients are given a medication on top of the old to address side effects caused by the depletion of vitamins and minerals that resulted from the first medication.

One of the most commonly prescribed medications for anxiety and depression are Prozac and Zoloft. These medications fall into a category called Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors or SSRI’s.

Serotonin is an amino acid that is important for pain perception. When in balance it also allows us to control food cravings and helps us feel satisfied after a meal. It is also the pre-cursor to melatonin which is an amino acid that helps us to sleep. So, when serotonin is insufficient we struggle with pain, metabolism and sleep.

An SSRI works by blocking the reabsorption of serotonin in the brain. That allows the serotonin to be recirculated so the body is “tricked” into thinking that it has more serotonin than it does. The production of serotonin shuts down rapidly and eventually there is little to none left and the body does not think that it needs to create more.

SSRI’s lead to changes in the brain function and, should you decide to withdraw from one, should be done very gradually and under a physician’s guidance. Side effects from the medication and the withdrawals include anxiety, nervousness, sleep trouble, diarrhea or constipation, and low libido.

Serotonin is formed from tryptophan which is an amino acid, iron, folate, and vitamin B6. One of the reasons that people suffer from serotonin deficiency, which leads to anxiety and depression, are low stomach acid which may be caused by age, medication such as proton pump inhibitors, or stress.  People may have a perfectly healthy diet but not absorb the nutrients into their cells. If the nutrients do not make it into the cells, they can’t do their job. Some people have been on a low fat diet for decades and because of this do not have cell membranes that allow the nutrients into the cells and toxins out as fat is necessary to create healthy cell walls.

Many people find relief from anxiety and depression by making changes to their diet and adding in supplementation. In today’s world, even fruits and vegetables do not have the nutrient content that they did even 50 years ago. Some foods that help boost serotonin levels are salmon, poultry such as chicken and turkey, fried eggs cooked in a little fat such as coconut oil, nuts, seeds, and organic soy. Supplementation that may help you find relief include iron, folate, a vitamin B complex, and tryptophan.

As Dr. Mark Hyman says, “Depression is not a Prozac deficiency.” Depression is almost always a nutritional deficiency which a good functional medicine health coach can help you resolve.

  1. The Anti-Depressant Fact Book: What Your Doctor Won’t Tell You About Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, Celex, and Luvox by Dr. Peter Breggin: De Capo Lifelong Books, July 2012.
  2. “Why Antidepressants Don’t Work for Treating Depression.” Dr. Mark Hyman, 19 May 2010,

10 ways to manage anxiety part I

Welcome to March, that funky month that suggests that winter is over but we haven’t quite come out of the cold and into spring. March is that month when you don’t know if it is going to snow or if you should throw on your shorts and go for a hike. It is also that month where many suffer the worst from anxiety, depression, or Seasonal Affective Disorder.

How we manage these things differs from person to person. Many choose to continue their hibernation. Some sleep the month away. And still others turn to medications to ease their problems.

Medications do not address the root cause of the problem and frequently make the problem worse. In the case of SSRI’s such as Prozac or Zoloft, to just name a couple, taking these medication cause serotonin, the “feel good” hormone, to stop being produced in as short as 3 weeks. Just a few of the side effects are changes in brain function, anxiety (wait! Isn’t that WHY we are taking it?), nervousness, trouble sleeping, and diarrhea or constipation. Withdrawing from an SSRI is extremely difficult and should not be undertaken without a physician’s guidance.

To quote Dr. Mark Hyman, “Despite what we have been programmed to believe, depression (and anxiety) are not a Prozac deficiency.”

Functional medicine helps you find the root cause of why you are depressed and anxious. Here are 5 tips to help you manage and reverse your state:

  1. Food sensitivities, which are different from food allergies, are frequently contributing to your anxiety. Gluten is an especially common culprit, as are dairy and soy. Partially digested wheat particles have been found in the urine of severely depressed patients. Eliminate all gluten from your diet for 2 weeks, reintroduce it, and journal any differences that you may feel. Gluten hides in products like soy sauce, salad dressings, and places that you would not expect to find it, so be sure to read labels.
  2. Insufficient sleep will always make us feel grouchy and anxious, especially if it has been a long-term problem. A good way to try to improve sleep is to treat yourself as you would a small child. Start your bedtime routine at least 30 minutes before bed. Take a warm bath, turn the lights down, play calming music, and read something light. Do not watch t.v., use an e-reader, or check or email. There is time for that later. Be kind to yourself. (There are more tips for a good night’s sleep here.)
  3. Increase your vitamin D. The best way to boost vitamin D is through direct sunlight. Unfortunately for those of us who live in New England, the sun is not strong enough here from October to April. Vitamin D can be acquired naturally through food such as cod liver oil which, thankfully, comes in a pill now, fatty fishes, egg yolks, and organ meats.
  4. High sugar diets also contribute to anxiety and depression. Sugar causes inflammatory events in our bodies which affect our brains.
  5. A diet low in protein, especially animal protein. The amino acids that create serotonin and other neurotransmitters come from protein and, unfortunately, our bodies do not have a pantry that it can go to if the amino acids start running low. We need to provide our body with the proper fuel to create those amino acids daily along with specific vitamins and minerals including iron, folate, and vitamin B6.

These are just a few things to explore when looking for the root cause of anxiety or depression.

As we come out of the winter, this is the perfect time to explore if your diet or lack of sleep may be contributing to how you are feeling.

It is also important to note that anyone who is experiencing these feelings needs to prioritize pleasure. We tend to take time off and do things fun in the summer. Treat yourself to something you enjoy in the winter too, and not just once in a while but daily. This is a key to good mental health.

NOTE: If you are suicidal, please call the Suicide Helpline at 1-800-suicide!

Missy Cohen, MPH, Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner has been working in Functional Medicine over the past decade.