Liz was a happy and healthy teacher who loved her job but also looked forward to retirement in another five years. And then, she wasn’t feeling so healthy and happy anymore.

Is it really depression, or could it be autoimmunity? Over the next few years, her energy level dropped and getting out of bed in the morning became an epic struggle. The thought of seeing her students’ bright, happy faces no longer excited her. She was never in the mood to share affection with her husband, and by the end of every day she felt exhausted.

Liz’s husband finally convinced her to see a doctor. When Liz explained her symptoms, she received a warm smile and a prescription for Prozac. Liz was shocked. She didn’t feel depressed or anxious, just tired. What was going on?

Liz’s story is a common one I hear from my clients all the time. The truth is that Liz likely suffers from an autoimmune hypothyroid condition. In many cases, the symptoms of autoimmune hypothyroidism overlap with those of depression. A Prozac or Paxil prescription won’t help fix the real health issue that Liz faces, and her symptoms are likely to only get worse over time.

The Connection Between Leaky Gut and Autoimmunity

Leaky gut – it sounds kind of gross, I know, but your gut is supposed to be a little bit leaky, or semipermeable. The vitamins and minerals in the food you eat need to get to the rest of your body. The job of your small intestine is to allow certain good particles to pass into your bloodstream to keep your body healthy.

Problems occur when the pores of the small intestine relax too much and lots of food particles – good and bad – begin to drift into the bloodstream. This is a leaky gut. The immune system notices all these intruders and goes on high alert. Inflammation sets in, setting off a domino effect of symptoms.

I like to think of the gut as the body’s second brain, because whatever happens in the gut affects the brain. You may be surprised to learn that many important chemicals that affect your mental health are actually primarily manufactured in the gut, not the brain. A prime example is the chemical serotonin.

Serotonin is a big player in your mental health. It helps balance your mood and make you feel happy. When the gut is leaky and inflamed, the main nerve that transports serotonin from the gut to the brain shuts down, cutting off the brain’s supply of the feel-good chemical.

The result? Depression!

Autoimmunity and Exhaustion

As if that wasn’t bad enough, in many cases, the body’s immune system will begin attacking the thyroid gland (a condition known as Hashimoto’s). The hormones produced by the thyroid play a big role in regulating the body’s metabolism, which explains why individuals with hypothyroidism so often feel exhausted, lack libido, and gain weight.

A Prozac prescription is not the answer in Liz’s case. It may give her a boost of synthetic brain chemicals, but it doesn’t address the underlying problem of her leaky gut and the autoimmune reaction it causes. This is where integrated medicine can really shine. Integrated medicine takes the entire body into consideration, focusing on causes not just symptoms.

Instead of just giving Liz medicine to boost her mood, an integrated practitioner would seek to understand what is happening inside of her body and would then take action to address the causes. If you are suffering from waxing and waning symptoms of exhaustion, depression, brain fog, or other symptoms you can’t explain, you may not actually be depressed. You may have a leaky gut!


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