As many of you know, yesterday was "Bell Let's Talk" day in Canada, a cause created by a large Canadian technology firm (Bell), dedicated to helping put an end to the stigma towards mental illness, and empowering those who do suffer to speak up and be heard. This is a GREAT cause, and I'm all for spreading awareness around ANY chronic illness, especially the invisible ones, and I think Bell is paving the way for this to happen.
As someone who has suffered from anxiety and severe depression (suicidal thoughts) for 22+ years, I completely understand what 1/3 of the population suffering from a mental illness goes through on a daily basis, and I sincerely empathize. I spent years suffering in silence before finally realizing that how I felt was not normal, and that I desperately needed something to help me end the mental pain. At 26, after trying many other drugs, I discovered cipralex (20mg / day), and after the first pill, I began to feel HAPPY, MOTIVATED, ABLE to CONCENTRATE, LESS ANXIOUS, and no longer HOPELESS and EMPTY, for the FIRST TIME in years. I did experience side effects from the medication (nausea, insomnia, low sex drive, unable to feel emotions as much as before) but I was willing to take them over the depression and anxiety. At the time, this drug was my miracle cure for my anxiety and depression, and I am forever grateful for finally learning that there was a better way to live my life.
Just 3 months ago, in November 2016, my fiance and I discovered that I was pregnant (yay!), and although I suffered from severe 24/7 nausea, my depression and anxiety symptoms began to slowly disappear, and eventually I didn't feel the need to reach for the Cipralex anymore. At my monthly IV appointment with my naturopathic doctor, I mentioned this fact to her, and she stated that many women find relief from their anxiety and depression during pregnancy, due to the increase in the sexual hormones, estrogen and progesterone.
Although I practice as a nutritionist, and have done countless hours of research over the last 20 years, I never discovered this one fact, that low levels of these hormones (or progesterone in my case) could cause depression. What an "AHA!" moment for me! I immediately felt a huge sense of relief because I had solved the depression and anxiety puzzle for myself! On top of that, I wouldn't need the cipralex any longer, which also meant no more awful side effects! Wow, the body never ceases to amaze me!
Unfortunately, my pregnancy ended in a miscarriage. Although this happens to 25% of pregnancies and to many women I know, I was hoping I would never have to be a part of this sad, depressing, statistic. Because I have suffered from health issues for 2/3 of my life, I always had a fear that getting and staying pregnant would not be easy for me, and when this happened, that fear rang a bit truer for me. Needless to say, after the miscarriage, I felt very down and depressed, and did what my body and mind needed in order to cope with the loss. We had already purchased a few items for the baby, including a rocker, a couple onesies and a handful of books (I'm a HUGE book lover), had gotten a BUNCH of hand me downs from my brother and sister in law, had announced it to family, were planning on having my dad paint the nursery, my fiance's mom and sister were chatting about shopping for our baby, my mom and I were making plans to go shopping, and my parents had even gotten us a gift for the baby.
Eventually, the increased progesterone and estrogen levels from the pregnancy left my system, and my depression came back with a vengeance. The worst day of my depression since experiencing the miscarriage just happened to be yesterday, during "Bell Let's Talk", and on day 21 of my cycle (the day progesterone should be at its peak) - what a coincidence (not)! Last night, after an incredibly hard day both mentally and physically, I decided it was time to take the Cipralex again, I just couldn't take the pain any longer. I feel so sad that I am having to take the medication again, but now that I have confirmed what is causing my depression (hormonal imbalance), I know what tests to have done and what treatment to request.
I have known for a couple of years that my progesterone levels have been god awfully low (based on what I learned in school and the research I've done), and my guess is, the issues began when I had my first period at 10 years old and experienced heavy, painful, irregular periods with extreme moodiness. Although I've known this for some time, I never got the chance to request the blood work from my doctor because I was so bogged down with working on reversing my fibromyalgia symptoms and managing my chronic back pain, that I put my reproductive health on the back burner. This is something I now strongly regret, and I'm sure many women before me have done it as well.
During a woman's cycle (we'll use 28 days as a guide, although many women have shorter and longer cycles), the first half (14 days) is called the follicular phase, which is where the body prepares for ovulation and estrogen levels are at their highest. The last half of the cycle (14 days) is called the luteal phase, where progesterone is produced by the collapsed follicle until either the period begins or until the placenta takes over for producing progesterone during pregnancy (progesterone = pro-gestation). Due to my low progesterone levels during the luteal phase of my cycle, the minute the 15th day hits (1 day after ovulation for me), I basically turn into a raging bitch, where I experience irritability, anger, depression, anxiety, and severe mood swings for 14 days right up until my period comes, and then I am right back to my old self. Pretty messed up eh?
Here are the top symptoms of progesterone deficiency:
1. Menstrual irregularities
- long cycles
- irregular cycles (my cycles are 24-30 days, so I'm not sure I would call them irregular)
- short luteal phase - time from ovulation to period is less than 10 days (based on my tracking, mine ranges from 10-14 days depending on the month)
- a diagnosis of polycystic ovarian syndrome
- ovarian cyst(s) - the ultrasound technologist discovered a cyst on my right ovary during the dating ultrasound for our baby, I never would have known it was there, when it started, etc. my doctor is currently monitoring it as a "watch and see approach"
- menstrual cramping (mine are quite severe and always have been)
- blood clots (mine are normally quite large - the size of a twoonie or bigger)
- spotting mid-cycle or before your full period begins (I spot 4-7 days before my period actually arrives - let's just say I have ruined many nice pairs of comfy Victoria's Secret underwear)
Progesterone is one of the primary hormones involved in achieving and maintaining a healthy pregnancy. It prepares the lining of the uterus for an embryo to implant. If you are having difficult conceiving or have suffered from multiple miscarriages (doctors in Canada won't check until you have 3), it is worth having your progesterone levels checked as they may be low
3. Skin changes
- acne - adult onset
- brittle nails - cracking, splitting, peeling (mine do this all of the time)
- dry cracked skin - skin on your heels or hands crack (the soles of my feet are disgusting - they are hard and crack so much!)
4. Depression, anxiety, mood swings
After age 30, most of us experience a drop in progesterone and one of the first signs of this lowered level is a shift in mood. Progesterone is responsible for stabilizing our mood, so if you are experiencing uncomfortable shifts in mood lately, please check your levels
- as you know, my depression, anxiety and mood swings are pretty severe during my luteal phase, and because I'm 32 I'm at an even greater risk for the drop in progesterone
5. Low libido, fatigue, foggy thinking (Less keen on sex, feel like having an afternoon nap, can't remember names or words as well as you once did)
- I've noticed lately since tracking my cycles in detail that my fatigue comes back a bit during my luteal phase
6. Slow metabolism, weight gain around the midsection, sugar cravings (as we age and progesterone drops, it can slow down our ability to burn fat)
- during the luteal phase of my cycle, my sugar cravings are THROUGH the roof, but during my follicular phase, I have NO desire for it!
- over the last few years I've had extra weight around my mid-section, which I've tried to keep in check through my diet and exercise, but it doesn't seem to want to leave!
7. Migraines, headaches, joint pain, allergy symptoms
- my back pain is much worse during the luteal phase of my cycle due to the added inflammation (progesterone is a natural anti-inflammatory)
- I only experience headaches or migraines during my luteal phase (a couple)
Over the last 14 months, I have done what I possibly can to try to fix the issue naturally through diet and lifestyle changes, as well as IV therapy, however, it is evident that this has not been enough, and I am in need of some extra help. It's finally time for me to take this problem into my own hands, and get my sex hormone levels checked ASAP. I have a blood work request from my doctor to have my estrogen levels checked on day 3 (next week), my progesterone checked on day 21 (in 4 weeks), and my follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH). My naturopathic doctor will check other levels such as my DHEAs, prolactin, testosterone, and thyroid (even though it was checked 2 months ago) just to be sure everything else looks okay. Just over a month from now I should finally have some answers, and will hopefully be working towards eliminating my 2 week per month mood swings, my depression, and ensuring my fertility is okay, and I can in fact carry a child to term. If my progesterone levels are in fact low (I don't doubt they are though), my naturopathic doctor should be able to prescribe me either progesterone cream or suppositories.
As a nutritionist, I truly believe in doing whatever we can to try to fix the ROOT CAUSE of the health issue(s), rather than covering up the symptoms with pharmaceuticals. The cipralex changed my life immensely in such a positive way, however, for some time I had been researching ways to reverse my depression and anxiety naturally. I can't wait to fix the root cause of my depression and anxiety!
For all of you out there currently suffering from anxiety or depression, I strongly encourage you to investigate into the root cause(s) of your health issues with a trusted naturopathic doctor and nutritionist. The causes could be STRESS, GRIEF, TRAUMA, MEDICATION, NUTRITIONAL DEFICIENCIES, LEAKY GUT, LOW AMINO ACID LEVELS, LOW PROGESTERONE, and many more. For some, it may take a while to get to the root cause of the issue(s) and then treat them (look how long it took me to figure it out!) so please BE PATIENT! Because it takes a while for the body to get out balance, it takes a while to fix the issues as well, but trust me, holistic methods DO work!
***Please note: please do not ever stop taking or taper off of your anxiety or depression medication without the care of your prescribing medical doctor***
I applaud Bell for working towards ending the stigma on mental illness, however, I truly believe it's now time to talk about more holistic ways of managing or reversing chronic mental health issues. This doesn't necessarily mean going off of the medication - it could also mean using natural means in conjunction with the meds. It's time to get to the root cause of these problems, in a similar way our grandparents did! Hint: For starters, we need to stop eating the inflammatory "SAD" diet, aka the standard american diet, as unhealthy as its name.
If you're open to chatting about your mental illness, I am all ears; I'm here to listen, support and guide you towards long-term health.
Yours in health,