Why I Started Seeing a Functional Medicine Doctor for My Depression
posted on July 16, 2019 | by Amanda Holstein
When you’ve been struggling with something like depression on and off for 10 years, you get to a point when you need to ask yourself, “Is this ever going to improve?”. While I’ve been able to treat my depression in the short-term and live a year at a time without it coming back, that’s just not enough. I’ve been seeing a therapist for years and I will always continue with that approach because man it helps. But after increasing my anti-depressant medications a total of 7 times over the last 10 years, I started to wonder how much it was really helping. Was I just going to keep increasing my medication for the rest of my life? What happens when I reach the dose limit? Would I just continue to worry about the next time the depression would return? I had to try something else.
Luckily, I have a very persistent father who has also gotten on the Functional Medicine train. He’s been encouraging me to go for years and earlier this year I finally decided to give it a try. I made an appointment with Dr. Stephanie Daniel at Functional Medicine SF and decided to invest in my mental health and overall well-being. Because, I’m not gonna lie, it’s expensive and your insurance won’t likely cover it. But it’s worth it! Here’s everything I can tell you about my personal experience with Functional Medicine (clearly I’m not a doctor, so take what I say with a grain of salt!):
What is Functional Medicine?
Functional medicine is basically a scientific-based, holistic approach to medicine. Functional Medicine Doctors look at your entire body and lifestyle to get a better understanding of your health as a whole. They also rely on natural remedies, like food, supplements & lifestyle changes, to improve your health. They tend to believe, based on science, that the gut is responsible for a lot of our health issues, even depression & anxiety. Functional Medicine is becoming more and more popular and there’s a reason for it! You guys, it works. Here’s a great article that digs into the topic a bit deeper if you’re interested!
Phase 1: Lots and lots of tests
The first phase of my Functional Medicine experience was taking lots of tests so my doctor could see where my body was at. We also had a lonnggg conversation where she asked me everything from what I eat on a daily basis to whether I’ve lived in apartments that could have exposed me to mold. Basically, she needed to gather all the information she possibly could about my physical health, my lifestyle, as well as my mental health. She then used this information to create a wellness plan specifically geared towards me.
Phase 2: Diet change
This was the phase I was most terrified for. If you know me, you’re aware of the fact that my diet is reminiscent of a five-year-old’s. Mac n’ cheese, chicken nuggets, veggies dipped in ranch, PB & J, and Cinnamon Toast Crunch were just a few of my weekly staples. But about a month after seeing my Functional Medicine doctor for the first time, she had me cut out a ton of food that’s known to cause inflammation in the gut. She also added in a bunch of supplements for me to take daily based on the results she got back from the various tests. You guys, I haven’t eaten gluten, dairy, processed sugar, corn, soy, or peanuts in almost 4 MONTHS! Can you believe it?? Cuz I seriously can’t.
As for the supplements, she has me taking very specific brands and quantities of various supplements that you can’t necessarily just pick up at the drugstore. I think it’s because these are better quality and come in larger doses. Based on my personal needs, she has me taking Vitamin B-12, Vitamin D, Omega-3, Probiotics, Magnesium, and a digestive enzyme to take with meals. It’s a lot to keep track of and has definitely impacted my day-to-day, but it’s also working. Within two weeks, my energy had increased ten-fold, I was waking up in the mornings in a good mood, without an alarm clock, excited and energized for the day. I wasn’t falling asleep after lunch or needing my usual afternoon nap. My stomach aches were nearly gone. And my brain was literally functioning better — like I could think more clearly. It was pretty astounding. Jacob says I’ve been like a whole new person.
Phase 3: Detoxifying your gut
You think my plan so far has been complicated? Well, it gets worse. Once my bowel movements were regular (TMI, sorry not sorry), and I’d been on my new diet for a couple months, we started detoxifying my gut. What does that mean? Basically, more supplements! I have some I take between meals to help grab on to the toxins so they can flush out of my system more easily. They come in the form of pills, powders, oils — you name it. It’s a lot, but you really do get used to it. And when the results are that immediate, it’s hard to argue.
I am currently still in this phase. We did a few tests to see if all the toxins were out of my system, but it looked like I still had a ways to go. So she added more, yes more, supplements to help remove them from my system. She also suggested I get an air-purifier and go to a sauna every day (though that’s not really an option for me). We got the air-purifier though! And tried our best to remove as much of the mold in our old house as possible. In a few weeks, I’ll be taking those tests again to see how my system is doing. Wish me luck!
Once I’m free of toxins, I’ll be focusing on strengthening my gut so that it’s healthy, strong, and ready to handle what comes its way. I’m not exactly sure yet what that phase looks like, but I’ll keep you posted! After that, I’ll be adding back in some of the foods I’ve taken out to see how they affect me. My guess, though, is that I’ll be avoiding the three big ones (gluten, dairy, and sugar) for most of my life. Crazy coming from the girl whose Bat-Mitzvah theme was “Cereal”.
I’ve also still been taking my anti-depressants throughout this entire process. For one, she didn’t want me to change too many factors or we wouldn’t know what was affecting what. I also didn’t want to mess with that as I’m gearing up for my wedding. But the goal, at least in my eyes, is to slowly get off of those medications so that I can manage my depression with my diet & lifestyle choices instead.