Thank you so much for this question. It is a situation I see over and over again. So many people, particularly women are feeling like something is wrong with their health but they don’t know what it is. They feel tired, run down, irritable, angry, depressed and anxious in addition to unwanted changes in their body like weight gain, low energy, thinning hair and dry skin. Many women also report to me that they are losing their memory and are having trouble concentrating.
A trip to the doctor is often fruitless because all the blood work that is typically run comes back completely normal. Both the doctor and the patient are often perplexed so a recommendation is made to reduce stress or start an anti-depressant. In many cases an anti-depressant will help the symptoms, but it is not addressing the causes of the issue.
With that said, there are some people who have a true chemical imbalance in their brain that may need to be treated with an anti-depressant. You know if you are one of these people if you have struggled with depression your entire life. However, if you have just developed these issues more recently in your adult life, chances are it is related to something else.
Why you feel this way:
The most common cause of these symptoms is related to changes that occur in female hormone balance after having children combined with a reduced ability of your body to make energy.
Imagine how you would feel emotionally if every morning you woke up before your alarm clock, feeling totally refreshed and energized and that feeling lasted all day. The stressors you normally face throughout the day would be so much easier to handle because your body would have the energy to deal with them properly. When you constantly feel tired or run down because your body cannot produce enough energy you will feel overwhelmed and overstressed by the responsibilities of your day. This leads to the anger, sadness and frustration you are feeling.
The Hormone Piece:
Female hormone balance can be a very delicate issue and disruption can easily occur after bearing children and after being under chronic stress, which usually occurs after bearing children. Conventional gynecologists will not typically recognize this as an issue unless significant symptoms are noted around the time of the period or if other problems are occurring in the female reproductive tract. In addition, the only treatments available are birth control pills or anti-depressants for a situation like yours. However I strongly suggest you talk with your gynecologist about your hormones if you have not already. He/she may be able to provide some valuable testing which may give some insight into your situation.
There are some natural tools you can use to help bring better balance to your hormonal system. I highly encourage you to consider these options particularly if you find that your depression symptoms get worse prior to the onset of your menses.
Vitex (also known as Chaste Tree):
This herb has been used for thousands of years to help females regulate hormones. It acts on the brain to balance the output of the two most important female hormones, estrogen and progesterone. It can be taken as a capsule or in liquid form and works best when taken first thing in the morning.
Evening Primrose Oil:
The essential fatty acids in evening primrose oil are thought to stimulate the production of progesterone. In many cases, chronic stress can deplete progesterone levels causing an imbalance between this hormone and estrogen. When that happens women are under greater influence from estrogen which is associated with symptoms that are similar to classic PMS symptoms (irritability, weepiness, agitation, frustration and food cravings). Typical does range from 500mg -1500mg per day.
Milk Thistle (or any liver support herb):
The liver is responsible for detoxifying and eliminating all hormones produced by the ovaries. If liver function is sluggish, excessive hormone levels can build up causing an imbalance in the system. By supporting liver function, the body is assisted in eliminating all un-needed hormones which helps to create better hormonal balance.
Improving Energy Production:
One of the biggest issues for women in this situation is thyroid function. If you have not had your doctor check your thyroid function you need to do that right away. If it has been checked, but you were told it was normal I suggest you check it again according to my standards.
Most thyroid tests will miss something I call sub-clinical hypo-thyroidism. I have written about this many times and you can read the full story on my Vitabase blog at http://www.vitabase.com/blog/energy/sub-clinical-hypothyroidism.aspx
Thyroid function is the most important factor when it comes to energy production and having a case of sub-clinical hypothyroidism can lead to many of the symptoms you are experiencing. As outlined in the above linked article you will need to have three very specific thyroid tests called TSH, Free T4 and Free T3. Use the parameters in the linked article to assess the results of the test to make sure your thyroid is working properly. Most likely you will need the assistance of a skilled practitioner to interpret and treat your thyroid because the endocrinology system can be quite tricky.
In the meantime, to support your thyroid you can increase your intake of foods that are rich in iodine. Kelp is one of the best natural sources of iodine and can be included in the diet or taken as a supplement.
L-tyrosine is an amino acid that is very helpful for the thyroid and can easily be taken as a supplement. It is also very helpful for certain types of depression so you may want to really consider this one.
The last system to consider is the adrenal glands. These organs are responsible for helping your body deal with stress and produce energy. Frequent short term and long term stress in your life can deplete their reserves and diminish the energy producing capacity of your body as well as reduce your ability to handle stress.
Vitamin B12 taken under the tongue in the form of Methylcobalamin can be a great way to support your adrenals in recovery from stress or fatigue.
Other B vitamins are also very important; specifically Vitamin B5 and Vitamin B6 so taking a B-complex can also be helpful.
There are some herbs that are also very supportive to the adrenal glands and can greatly improve energy levels and ability to cope with stress. Rhodiola, Ashwaganda, Holy Basil and Ginseng are among some of the best. I recommend finding a product that contains a mixture of these herbs and taking it first thing in the morning and then again around noontime. I would avoid taking them in the evening because they can be stimulating and may interfere with sleep.
If you can start with some of these basic principles I think you will find that things will start to improve. There are other natural products to consider for depression issues like St. John’s Wort and SAMe which can also be very effective. In my experience I have found that if the underlying issues outlined above are properly addressed than often times antidepressants (both natural and pharmaceutical) are not needed.