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Overcoming the Blues

Depression: Clearing Brain Fog with Integrative Medicine

The American Psychiatric Association estimates that 1 in 6 Americans will have depression at some point in their life. The COVID-19 pandemic triggered an estimated 25% increase in depression worldwide, prompting many communities to rethink mental health.

Acorus Integrative is a strong advocate for treatments that address the root cause. We use functional medicine and Chinese therapies like acupuncture and herbs to help you find relief without relying on medications.


Medication is potentially effective for the treatment of depression. However, some people have unpleasant side effects or worsening depressive symptoms.

Remember, if you are currently taking medication: do not change or stop medication without your prescribing provider’s guidance. 

The practice of functional medicine and Chinese medicine requires collaboration with you and your care providers. Collaboration is important to meeting desired goals, whether it is a change in dose or a shift to more holistic treatment.

What is Depression?

Depression is a genuine medical condition which should be treated seriously. Some compare depression to sadness, but it is more complex state. Depression is a mood disorder. It is an intense emotional distress that can profoundly slow down your daily functioning and long-term wellbeing.

Symptoms of depression can vary widely. People often describe depression symptoms such as:

  • Persistent feelings of sadness, emptiness
  • Feelings of guilt or being worthless
  • Loss of interest in activities 
  • Reduction in sleep, energy, or focus
  • Changes in physical activities such as slowness, fidgeting, restlessness
  • Unexplained pain
  • Thoughts of suicide

Depression as a disorder is classified into different types, including major depressive disorder, seasonal affective disorder, dysthymia, and postpartum depression.

Notice that the symptoms can mingle with grief and sadness. Your providers may inquire about shifts in your life and confidence levels in order to distinguish between different scenarios.
Acorus Integrative asks the same questions, but takes it a little further. We also ask questions about other parts of your body. Your breathing, heartbeat, digestion, sleep, and more. These questions define the practice of holistic, integrative medicine.

Conventional Thought on Depression

Conventional theory states that depression is caused by unbalanced chemicals in the body. Levels of chemicals in the brain–neurotransmitters–need to be adjusted. This is when medications are discussed. 

The imbalance theory is a hotly debated. Contemporary neuroscience suggests there is far more factors to depression than increasing or lowering neurotransmitter levels. The neurotransmitter serotonin, a common target of antidepressants, can cause issues if its level is altered. Such issues include serotonin syndrome or withdrawal. 

Functional Medicine on Depression

Functional medicine looks at the chemical makeup of the body, and takes it a step further. Each body chemical and its interactions with other chemicals play a vital role in how our body functions. 

You can think of these interactions like assembly lines. If one of these chemicals is affected, the rest of the assembly line may be affected. What makes functional medicine so personalized is each case may not look at the same chemical or assembly line.

Serotonin. This neurotransmitter sits on same assembly line as vitamin B3 (niacin) and the elusive hormone melatonin. All three substances can play a role in causes of depression…and also sleep problems like insomnia.

A functional medicine visit considers all possible things that could change these substances. Dietary habits, malabsorption, environment, or since we mentioned sleep, life events like jet lag. 

Chinese Medicine on Depression

In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), depression is examined by the person’s main emotional states. A depression case in Chinese medical theory may show as feelings of anxiety, irritability, grief, fear, mania, or a combination. 

Traditional Chinese psychology divides the mind into five parts. Each part shows a particular emotion and is assigned to an organ system. This is why, if you mention irritability, you might hear the liver mentioned. It is no coincidence that serotonin is involved in several aspects of liver biology including its blood flow, nerves, and healing.

Chinese medicine is an integrative medicine, it looks at the relationships between the organs and the emotions. These relationships point to a root cause among the symptom branches. 

Following the previous example, the liver is examined in two ways. First, by its modern anatomic function. Second, by its traditional Chinese function of regulating the body’s energy and manifesting pathology by anger and irritability. 

Both functions affect other organs and emotions that make holistic treatment a necessity. 


Acupuncture works on these functions by stimulating the body tissue and nervous system in controlled intervals during the appointment. Acupuncture point selection, needle insertion, and needle handling personalize each patient’s treatment to their specific depressive symptoms. 

Acupuncture uses very thin needles. They are approximately ten times smaller than the hypodermic needle used for vaccines and blood work.

Chinese Herbs

Chinese herbal medicine complements acupuncture and is a stand-along technique. Herbs are more synonymous with traditional Chinese medicine than acupuncture in China. 

Herbs can treat depression in two main ways. First by maintaining acupuncture results. Second, in other ways such as strengthening, regulating fluid and metabolic activity, improving blood flow, and natural sedative processes. 

The Holistic Approach

Both functional and Chinese medicines provide distinct insights that are beneficial for individuals wanting a holistic approach to their mental health. Depression is a powerful, complex and unique condition to each person.

Remember that if you are concerned about depression, your experiences are valid and deserves care the is dignified, comprehensive, and personal.


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