What if the cure for depression is OUTSIDE your brain? 6 strategies that work

What if the cure for depression is OUTSIDE your brain? 6 strategies that work

“My doctor wants to put me on an antidepressant,” my reader wrote. “Are drugs, and the side effects they bring, my only option?

Written by Mark Hyman, MD

Your brain is broken. You know it. You feel it. You hide it. You fear it.

We refer to our “broken brains” by many names – depression, anxiety, memory loss, brain fog, attention deficit disorder or ADD, autism, and dementia to name a few.

Conventional treatments often times don’t help, make things worse, or provide only slight benefit, because they just manage symptoms rather than deal with – and heal – the underlying problem. Rather than determine what actually creates that depression, many doctors immediately reach for their prescription pad. That explains why one in 10 Americans today uses antidepressants, while more than eight million children are taking stimulants like Ritalin.

People are given labels but these labels don’t tell you anything about the cause. Because you are sad, hopeless, have no interest in your daily activities, no interest in sex, the doctor says, “Oh I know what’s wrong with you. You have depression.” But depression didn’t cause those symptoms. It’s the name of those symptoms. Knowing the name doesn’t tell you anything about the cause.

This epidemic of brain breakdown shows up in radically different ways from person to person so that they all seem like separate problems. But the truth is that they are all manifestations of a few common underlying root causes.

I know this as both a doctor and a patient. I was a thriving, young doctor with a promising career ahead of me. Then, one beautiful late August day in 1996 my brain suddenly broke. I became disoriented, terrified, and descended into a spiral of helplessness and hopelessness. I felt like I had developed depression, ADD, and dementia all at once. I saw doctors and psychiatrists. Some said I had depression, others suggested chronic fatigue, bu no one could find the cause for my symptoms or agree on a diagnosis. Piece by piece, I was able to put myself back together.

A  radically different approach to depression

A typical patient who visits me for depression has already visited conventional doctors, who likely prescribed numerous drugs to address their condition.

These patients understandably feel frustrated because conventional medicine has failed to address their underlying symptoms and they aren’t feeling better. They’re tired of going from prescription to prescription with varying results and miserable side effects.

Like other health issues, I take a radically different approach to depression. I attempt to understand what creates it, because to call someone depressed says nothing about the underlying causes that create depression.

As a Functional Medicine doctor practicing for years to get people’s bodies healthy, I noticed an amazing side effect. As I treated their body, their depression lifted, their mood got better, their anxiety improved, all sorts of brain symptoms improved by fixing their body. I began to realize that we had our concept of depression all wrong.

The solution involves balancing the seven core systems in the body:

  1. Optimize nutrition
  2. Balance hormones
  3. Cool off inflammation
  4. Fix digestion
  5. Enhance detoxification
  6. Boost energy metabolism
  7. Calm the mind

When you fix your body, you fix your brain.

Connecting the dots

When you struggle with depression, here are some questions to ask yourself and then work with a Functional Medicine practitioner to solve:

Do you have low thyroid function?

Are you sick, tired and overweight? Maybe you have a thyroid condition. That can cause depression. Ask your doctor to check for the following blood tests: TSH, free T3, free T4, and thyroid antibodies.

Do you have a vitamin D deficiency?

You could be vitamin D deficient like 80% of Americans. That can cause depression. So have your doctor check for a 25 OH vitamin D test. Your level should be over 50.  If it isn’t, take 2,000 IU of vitamin D3 a day.

Do you have a folate, B6 or B12 deficiency?

Or maybe you’ve been eating the wrong foods and have acid reflux and have been taking an acid blocker for 20 years and can’t absorb B12. That can cause depression. I remember once there was a guy fixing my television at my house and he had read my blog and he said, “You know I tried adding folate, B6 and B12. I’ve been struggling for years with depression and it went away.” These vitamins are necessary to make your neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. So maybe a B vitamin supplement like Pure Encapsulations B-Complex Plus might be all you need.

Do you have food allergies or sensitivities?

Or maybe you have an allergy or sensitivity to particular foods. That can cause depression. Food allergies and sensitivities create a metabolic disorder that can lead to a whole host of “mental” symptoms, including depression. Gluten (the protein found in wheat, barley, rye, spelt, kamut, and oats) and dairy are major culprits. In fact, partially digested dairy and wheat particles (called caseomorphins and gliadomorphins) are found in the urine of severely depressed patients (as well as children with autism and ADHD). These odd proteins change brain function and can lead not only to depression but also psychosis and autism. Like gluten, casein, a protein found in dairy, also has negative effects that can lead to mood disorders and altered brain function.

Are bugs in your gut affecting your brain or immune system?

Or maybe you’ve taken a lot of antibiotics which altered your gut bacteria. And that can cause depression. Emerging research reveals a gut-brain connection. When it comes to the gut, most physicians and scientists miss what is right in front of us, because we are looking for solutions in the wrong place. Over the years I have seen emotional, psychiatric, and behavioral symptoms triggered by problems in the gut including leaky gut and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).  One female patient of mine struggled for years with depression, in and out of mental hospitals, on a whole cycle of psychiatric drugs, all with little benefit. She found herself free of depression after a course of antibiotics (metronidazole) we used to clear out bad bacteria from her gut. She said within 3 days the depression lifted and it was like “a veil had been lifted”.

Do you have mercury poisoning?

Or maybe you love sushi and have developed mercury poisoning. That can cause depression. I personally had mercury toxicity and I felt very depressed, very anxious, and very stressed.

Do you have a deficiency of omega-3 fats?

Or maybe you absolutely hate fish and have an omega-3 deficiency. That can cause depression. It’s likely, considering 99 percent of Americans do. Eat more wild salmon and sardines and take 1 to 2 grams of fish oil a day.

Do you have pre-diabetes or diabetes?

Or maybe you love sugar and have undiagnosed pre-diabetes or diabetes. That can cause depression.

Do you have hormonal imbalances?

Or maybe your hormones like from your thyroid, adrenals, or sex hormones are out of balance. And that can cause depression.

Of course there are real life situations that can cause depression like death of a loved one, divorce, loss of a job, chronic illness, physical or emotional trauma. Every possible factor should be considered in the treatment of depression.

It might not be in our head. It might be in our body.

From these perspectives, you can understand how I treat depression. Oftentimes, doing detective work and trial-and-error take a little effort and time, but remember the average anti-depressant drug takes six weeks to kick in!

6 strategies to eliminate depression

When you take away the bad stuff and put in the good stuff, the body has an amazing capacity to heal. While uncovering the causes of depression can require patience and diligence, I’ve found everyone benefits when they employ these six strategies:

  1. Eat whole, real food. Feed your brain and body with a nutrient-dense, whole, fresh, plant-based diet that includes plenty of protein and healthy fats. Your brain is about 60 percent fat, so it makes sense eating plenty of healthy fats (and including anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids) and protein can help heal your brain.
  2. Cut out sugar. If you’ve ever eaten something sugary, “crashed” a little later, and felt absolutely miserable, you know how sugar can contribute to depression. Become a detective and find and avoid hidden sources of sugar, which are more prevalent than you think.
  3. Exercise regularly. Exercise is as good, and even better than anti-depressants.
  4. Get enough sleep. Terrible sleep will only contribute to and exacerbate depression, so you want to aim for eight hours of  solid, uninterrupted sleep every night. Trouble sleeping since your developed hypothyroidism? You’re not alone. Here are some helpful tips to get better sleep.
  5. Control stress levels. Constantly feeling stressed out becomes a surefire way to become depressed or stoke the fires of depression. Find what calms you and practice it regularly, whether that includes meditation, yoga, or just walking your dog.
  6. Take the right nutrients. Many nutrients can alleviate depression and support optimal brain health, including omega-3 fatty acids found in the supplement Pure Encapsulations Cod Liver Oil, 5-HTP in Designs for Health 5-HTP Synergy, and magnesium in Pure Encapsulations Magnesium Glycinate. This doesn’t mean you should stop taking an antidepressant on your own. Work with an integrative practitioner to customize a treatment that works for you.

About Mark Hyman, MD

Dr. Mark Hyman is the Medical Director at Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Functional Medicine in Cleveland, OH, the Founder of The UltraWellness Center in Lenox, MA, regular contributor to the Today show, Good Morning America, and The Dr. Oz Show, and a ten-time #1 New York Times Bestselling author.

DISCLAIMER: If you are at risk for suicide, or other harm or injury, please do not try and treat it on your own. There is help. Please call 911 or seek other help (such as a hospital emergency room or doctor’s care).

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About Dana Trentini

Dana Trentini founded Hypothyroid Mom October 2012 in memory of the unborn baby she lost to hypothyroidism. This is for informational purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for consulting your physician regarding medical advice pertaining to your health. Hypothyroid Mom includes affiliate links including the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program.


  1. I’ve been looking looking information about depression on web. Bro’s illness is emotional and i will recommend this to him.

  2. I need info

  3. I believe there are different causes of Depressive disorder, But many people do in fact suffer from Clinical Major Depressive disorder which does require anti depressants. There is no absolute cure for depression, just as there is no absolute cure for Hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s. I would never tell anyone suffering from depression to not take their prescribed medication. However suggesting that they change their diet , exercise , and learn to manage their stress and meditate along with counseling is a great plan. I have suffered from depression since 1995 and have over the years lowered my dosage. My last decrease was shortly after finding that I had hypothyroidism. I have continued to take a very low dosage along with my other medications, exercise, diet changes counseling and so on. I would love to go off them completely, but it is not advised. In the past I went off them gradually and did well for several months, but sadly Depression is tricky, It comes unexpectedly . It also comes in cycles….. So you could have a period of time without symptoms, but they do come back if in fact you have Major Depressive Disorder. Many people have situational depression which is not the chemical imbalance that is found with Major Depressive disorder. As with all illnesses they affect each person differently and the approach to recovery should be treated as such. Always find the root cause.

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