The Functional Medicine Approach for Improving Your Mental Health

Mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, ADD, ADHD, and PTSD are on the rise. One in five children and adults will experience any of these mental afflictions in a given year.

Functional medicine offers a unique approach to mental health support. Instead of treating the symptoms, it treats the root cause of mental health.

What we get wrong about mental health is looking at the mind as separate from the body. Functional medicine uses the “whole person approach,” which means treatment isn’t focused on an isolated organ or system. Instead, it treats the whole person, including the body and the mind.

Using the whole-person approach, functional medicine attempts to restore health by improving function. It’s hard to imagine, but the brain and mental health have ties to nearly every system in the body. Brain health is dependent on the gut, hormones, the presence of inflammation, immunity, nutrition, metabolism, and overall toxin load.

So, it makes sense that to treat mental health with functional medicine, you would need to address all of the body’s systems.

At Boulder Holistic Functional Medicine in Boulder Colorado, the functional medicine approach for improving your mental health finds the cause to treat the symptoms. Keep reading to learn more about how each system supports your mental health and a few ways to improve your mental health naturally.

What is Integrative Mental Health?

Integrative mental health care is a multifaceted approach to mental health. It involves a blend of medications, psychotherapy, complementary therapies, and lifestyle changes – all meant to support your mental health.

Whether you have depression, anxiety, PTSD, ADD, ADHD, bipolar disorder, or any number of mental health conditions – integrative mental health care is a comprehensive approach that will mitigate symptoms and help you feel more like yourself.

Before you apply an integrative mental health care plan, you need to figure out which systems are working well and which need a little extra support.

A healthy brain depends on a healthy body. A functional medicine doctor analyzes your gut and assimilation, hormones and neurotransmitter communication, the presence of inflammation, and immune dysregulation. They will also examine your overall nutrition, energy metabolism, and toxin exposure.

The first step is to focus on your gut health by clearing out inflammatory foods and uncovering hidden food triggers. Next, you support the endocrine system and balance your hormones. You should also address the body’s toxin and infection burden, and implement targeted detoxification strategies to address the root causes, triggers, and drivers of these conditions.

If that sounds overwhelming, don’t worry. Boulder Holistic Functional Medicine can help you balance the body’s systems – starting with the gut.

The Gut-Brain Axis

Image of food inside the outline of a womens head to signify the gut-brain connection for mental health.

Many functional medicine doctors view gut health as one of the key foundations for mental health and brain health.

You may have heard your gut referred to as your “second brain.” Every person has a nervous system inside their intestines that uses the same chemicals and cells as the brain to tell us when something is wrong.

Recent research is helping to establish a connection between the gut and the brain. Most of you already know that physical symptoms like constipation and diarrhea can be the result of anxiety or stress. But many people don’t know that you can reduce anxiety and depression symptoms by supporting your gut.

At Boulder Holistic Functional Medicine, we routinely perform comprehensive stool analysis to evaluate the gut microbiome, support digestion, address infection, and restore gut barrier integrity. We also focus on rebuilding the gut microbiome to support immunity and help with neurotransmitter and hormone production and balance.

Nutrition & Mental Health

Hippocrates said, let food be thy medicine. The fact that nourishing your body with real food can also result in mental benefits is incredible.

In recent years, a surge of research has emerged on the effects of nutrition on mental health. The brain depends on nutrients to make neurotransmitters, and hormones for the nervous system to function optimally.

Boulder Holistic Functional Medicine performs micronutrient testing to address nutrition status and support healthy brain function. A few essential nutrients for mental health include iron, zinc, copper, magnesium, Vitamin D, antioxidants, and omega-3 fatty acids.

We also recommend food sensitivity testing to investigate potential food-related triggers that may affect your mental health. Food sensitivities and allergies have increased dramatically in recent years. Studies show that men, women, and children with food allergies are more likely to suffer from mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.

You should also plan to avoid certain inflammatory foods while healing from a mental health disorder. Foods that contain artificial dyes and flavorings, processed foods, unhealthy oils, and fast food exacerbate poor mental health.

On the flip side, some foods support a healthy brain. A few examples of foods that are good for your mental health include foods that represent every color of the rainbow, dark leafy greens, crucifers, healthy fats like those in wild-caught salmon, and some nuts and seeds.

Hormones and Mental Health

People used to think that brain function was pretty cut and dry – the brain was home to thoughts, dreams, and enough emotions to drive anyone crazy. But further study has revealed that the brain isn’t a standalone organ. It transmits signals to the rest of the body using hormones and neurotransmitters.

Most people know a few basic neurotransmitters – serotonin is “the happy hormone” and dopamine is “the reward hormone.” But there are other signaling hormones like GABA, glycine, glutamate, PEA, histamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine that play major roles in mental health.

Image of a women with clouds to signify link between hormones and mental health

Hormones are part of the endocrine system, which includes the thyroid, adrenals, spleen, and reproductive organs. Your thyroid helps to control your metabolism and energy levels. Your adrenals produce cortisol – the stress hormone – which is triggered during fight or flight situations. And your sex hormones help you grow, develop, and reproduce.

Thyroid, stress, and sex hormones are crucial for brain health. When you have too little or too much of one hormone in the body, the others compensate. So balancing your hormones can be complicated without help.

Lifestyle Changes for Mental Health 

Integrative mental health care emphasizes a holistic approach. Some lifestyle changes are necessary to support a healthy brain – namely, sleep and exercise.

Sleep is an underestimated aspect of a healthy lifestyle. With all the emphasis in American culture to go, go, go, most people rarely spend any time thinking about sleep. But sleep deprivation can adversely affect your mental health.

Tactics to help improve your sleep hygiene includes:

  • Dim lighting in the hours leading up to bedtime
  • Establish a solid sleep routine where you wake up and go to bed at the same time every day
  • Keep the room cold and use white noise to prevent loud noises from disturbing your sleep
  • Wear blue-light blocking glasses when you look at screens
  • Use a sleep-tracking device to analyze your sleep habits
  • See a functional medicine doctor if you have trouble falling or staying asleep

The second essential lifestyle change for mental health is exercise. Regular exercise is one of the most effective changes if you are looking to improve your mental health.

You don’t have to commit to an exercise challenge where you go to the gym every day for hours at a time to see mental health benefits. Start with 30 minutes of walking every other day. Some studies show that walking is as effective as medication for some people.

The functional medicine approach for improving your mental health doesn’t exclude medications. Many people need prescription medications to help them achieve balance. You can also support your mental health with nutraceuticals.

Boulder Holistic Functional Medicine in Boulder Colorado often recommends the following nutraceuticals: melatonin, 5HTP, GABA, magnesium, glycine, l-theanine, lemon balm, valerian root, Rhodiola, CBD synergies SL or AX. Let us know if you have any interest or questions about natural mental health support supplements. We are here to help.

Contact Boulder Holistic 

Break the chains of mental health using functional medicine

The functional medicine approach for improving your mental health may seem complicated, but the results surpass symptom-based medicine. Your mental health will improve and stay consistent – you will feel better in your body and mind than ever before!

The main advantages of a healthy lifestyle for a healthy mind are:

  • More energy
  • Improved relationships (with yourself and others)
  • Confidence
  • A longer, healthier life
  • Strong muscles
  • Better immunity (get sick less often!)

If you are interested in learning more about integrative mental health care or scheduling a functional medicine appointment, contact Boulder Holistic Functional Medicine in Boulder Colorado to schedule an appointment today!

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Boulder, CO 80302

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Dr. Amy Reidhead

Dr. Reidhead is a double board certified Chiropractic Physician and Family Nurse Practitioner. She is also a Fellow of the International Academy of Medical Acupuncture and holds a Bachelor of Science in both Nursing and Human Biology. She has spent the past 25 years honing her skills as a functional and integrative medical provider in Boulder, Colorado.

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