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Identifying The Root Causes of Mood Disorders & Depression

Written by

Deborah Freudenmann BHSc

Depression is a common illness worldwide, with more than 264 million people affected. In 2020 and now 2021, as we deal with the pandemic, racial injustice, loss of income, heightened stress levels and uncertainty, those numbers just keep going up. According to a study from September 2020, the prevalence of depression symptoms in the US was more than 3-fold higher during the pandemic compared to prior COVID. Specifically, individuals with lower social resources, lower economic resources (lockdowns), and greater exposure to stressors reported a greater burden of depression symptoms.

Struggling with depression? You’re not alone. 

Embracing a functional medicine approach to mood disorders such as depression may provide some positive outcomes.

Since depression is mostly related to emotions and behaviours, mood disorders and depression are considered to be mainly mental health issues. However, it is important to understand that though the manifestations of these conditions occur at the emotional level, their causes are often linked to physical and biological abnormalities.

Here is a brief discussion about why it is important to identify the physical causes of psychological disorders and how physical abnormalities can put you at a risk of developing mental health disorders like depression.

The pathogenesis of mental health disorders

It is unfortunate that there is a lot of stigma attached to the diagnosis of mental health disorders. Patients who suffer from depression or mood disorders often hesitate to discuss their concerns for the fear of being judged or mocked.

Most people think that if a person is suffering from depression, he or she must be having serious issues in their personal life, career, academics, or so on. With the current pandemic, this is very likely and has thus increased the rates of depression to unprecedented numbers. Biological conditions like inflammation, degeneration, hormonal imbalances, and oxidative stress can also contribute to the development of mood disorders.

It is also not uncommon for people to believe that mental health is something that cannot be changed but can only be managed. Such beliefs and misconceptions can create a negative attitude towards individuals with depression. 

Hence, it is important to be aware that just like diabetes, hypertension, and cancer, even depression can have physical factors as its root cause. And unless these root causes have been identified and corrected, it can become difficult to support the complete recovery of the individual.

This marks the need to assess the role of physical causes and the underlying abnormalities that can lead to mental health issues and the most effective ways to correct them.

What are the common root causes of mental health disorders?

Imbalances in the gut-brain axis

The gut and the brain are in constant bi-directional communication with each other through the gut-brain axis. The healthy functioning of the gut is critical for ensuring the brain is able to perform its functions efficiently.

Similarly, the appropriate signals from the brain can support the functions of the gut including digestion and absorption of foods and the maintenance of gut flora.

Imbalances in the gut-brain axis could result in the deficiency of essential nutrients, and hormonal disruptions which can raise the risk of depression, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and mood disorders.

Gut health and microbiome

The microbiome and the balance of healthy bacteria in the gut can influence the neurochemistry of the nervous system. It can also affect the cognition functions of the brain and in turn, have a positive or negative influence on the behaviour of the person. It can also modulate the person’s response to stress.

Gut bacteria also play an essential role in the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin (the feel good hormone).

Blood sugar dysregulation

Fluctuations in the blood sugar levels can be the root cause of mood disorders like bipolar disease.

A sharp rise in the blood sugar levels immediately after the intake of sugars can trigger positive emotions while a dip in the blood sugar level may make the person sad and grumpy.

Hence, it is important to maintain stable blood sugar levels, especially by addressing insulin resistance, to avoid mood swings and prevent bipolar disorders.

Methylation impairment

Problems with the methylation cycle may also be related to autism, mental illness such as depression, food allergies, asthma, and the development of heart disease.

Methylation can be supported by adequate magnesium, Vitamin B12, folate and activated B6, or by supplementing TMG (Trimethylglycine).
SAMe (activated methionine) directly donates methyl groups (methyl groups turn on serotonin and thus melatonin production) and therefore works as an antidepressant.

The odds of having depression were 36% greater if a person had two copies of the MTHFR SNP.

Nutritional deficiencies

From a nutritional perspective the parent molecules for neurotransmitter synthesis are the amino acids L-Tryptophan and L-Phenylalanine. Both pathways require several cofactors. Tryptophan is the direct precursor for serotonin synthesis and L-Phenylalanine is the direct precursor for dopamine, noradrenaline and adrenaline synthesis. A cofactor deficiency in these pathways can directly lead to depression, behavioural changes and mood disorders…

Nutrients always play a multifunctional role and deficiencies are evident in many different pathways and body functions.

Deficiency of nutrients like B vitamins, magnesium, zinc, vitamin C, vitamin D, omega 3 fatty acids, CoQ10, and amino acids are commonly detected in patients with mental health disorders like depression as well as neurodegenerative diseases.

Therefore, it is important to eat a nutritious diet or use nutritional supplements to protect yourself against the risk of these conditions.


Several studies support the role of inflammation and immune deregulation in depression. Elevated levels of inflammatory cytokines have been found in patients suffering depression.

Cytokines are substances, which aid cell-to-cell communication in immune responses and stimulate the movement of cell towards the sites of inflammation, trauma and infection.

Some of the cytokines that escalate the immune response–such as interleukin 1, interleukin 6, and tumor necrosis factors–tend to increase depression.

High toxin load

Toxicity of the healthy tissues due to the accumulation of heavy metals and harmful metabolites, coupled with the inefficient detoxification processes can affect neurological health.

Toxic metals such as mercury, lead, cadmium or arsenic in the brain can cause the following symptoms: weakening of the blood –brain barrier, altered neurotransmitter levels, destruction or demyelination of the myelin sheath, increased oxidative stress and destruction of glutathione and other protective proteins.
It is no wonder that a toxic metal overload can cause clinical depression.

Avoiding your exposure to toxic metals and undergoing natural detoxification could cleanse your body system and restore healthy functions of the nervous system thus reducing your risk of depression.

A note on PEMF

PEMF has been shown to up-regulate various neurotransmission processes. It would only make sense that pulsed electromagnetic fields would in fact have significant beneficial effect on depression and other psychiatric disorders caused by neuro-chemical and hormonal imbalances. Not to mention addressing other root causes such as high toxicity and underlying inflammation.

PEMF therapy also stimulates the opening of ion channels in the cell membrane increasing membrane permeability. Thus, this allows better circulation of oxygen and nutrients into the cells; and, carbon dioxide and waste products out of the cells.


Mental stress due to causes such as the loss of loved ones and job insecurity, coupled with physical stress linked to chronic diseases like arthritis, diabetes, stroke, and cancer can contribute to the risk of depression significantly.


Psychological disorders can just be the symptoms having root causes that are linked to the functions of the vital organs of the body. Evaluating the physical health in terms of the presence of inflammation, oxidative stress, physical or emotional stress, and microbiome imbalances that alter our neurochemistry could help to identify the primary cause of these diseases.

Moreover, methylation impairments, nutritional deficiencies, toxic exposure, and poor detoxification can also contribute to the development or worsening of depression and mood disorders.

Identification and correction of these underlying pathologies are vital for restoring the balance and allowing the individual to recover faster. 

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