Depression is a very serious and life altering medical condition that effects millions of Americans every year. This mysterious condition often has no observable cause. It is most often treated with serotonin reuptake inhibitors, talk therapy or light therapy. According to the American Psychological Association, there was a 64% increase in the use of medications to treat depression between 1999 and 2014, 16% of the adult American population were taking an anti-depressive drug. These medications improve the quality of life for many people by balancing neurotransmitters and improving mood and outlook. However, these medications are not without their side effects- weight gain, loss of sex drive, feeling flat or apathetic are common symptoms patients experience from SRI medications.
Unfortunately, depression is a condition that is poorly defined, and by that, I mean there is no definitive test by which to diagnose depression, and many times there’s no known cause. The Mayo Clinic defines the symptoms of depression as the following:
Although depression may occur only once during your life, people typically have multiple episodes. During these episodes, symptoms occur most of the day, nearly every day and may include:
- Feelings of sadness, tearfulness, emptiness or hopelessness
- Angry outbursts, irritability or frustration, even over small matters
- Loss of interest or pleasure in most or all normal activities, such as sex, hobbies or sports
- Sleep disturbances, including insomnia or sleeping too much
- Tiredness and lack of energy, so even small tasks take extra effort
- Reduced appetite and weight loss or increased cravings for food and weight gain
- Anxiety, agitation or restlessness
- Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixating on past failures or self-blame
- Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things
- Frequent or recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts or suicide
- Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches
With so many people diagnosed with depression each year, it begs the question, could some of these patients who are experiencing the symptoms listed above have a hormonal imbalance instead of depression?
As a practitioner who has worked in the field of functional endocrinology for the last 10 years when I review the symptoms of depression, I hear the words of many of my patients during our initial consultation. They describe to me that at 38 or 42 years old (sometimes younger), they suddenly feel undue anxiety, or great fatigue, or have lost interest in their normal activities. Many of my patients describe feeling tired all day, but when they lay down for bed their eyes are wide open and their brains are going at top speed.
When I hear my patients describe their experience, I look towards hormone deficiency symptoms first. Low progesterone in a man or a woman can cause sleep disturbances. Low testosterone in a woman or a man can cause undue anxiety and feelings of being over whelmed by everyday tasks. Great fatigue and weight gain, despite normal sleep and healthy eating, can be caused by a subclinical hypothyroid problem. Certainly not all depression is a hormone related issue, but I have seen many cases that could easily have been diagnosed as depression, and/or anxiety, that were successfully treated with hormone testing and hormone replacement.
I encourage anyone experiencing a new onset of symptoms that look like depression or anxiety to look a bit deeper before beginning a medication. A simple hormone test can tell us a lot and help us rule out causes that share similar symptoms as depression. Sometimes it’s not hormones, but treating the root cause of the issue is always the most elegant, safe and effective method of getting a patient back to being their best selves!
– Philip W. Faler, ND