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Chiropractic Care and Depression

As mental health concerns rise, many wonder what can be done to help.

Some have found success in managing their symptoms through chiropractic care. While this is not a "cure" for depression, there is compelling research on how chiropractic adjustments can affect the autonomic nervous system and the body as a whole. Let's take a look at how this therapy can be helpful for those suffering from depression.

Understanding Symptoms of Depression

It's common to sometimes experience feelings of sadness, which normally passes within a few days. Unlike other mood disorders, major depression is diagnosed and has persistent symptoms that might interfere with day-to-day functioning.

Each person experiences these symptoms differently, but here are some typical concerns:

  • Anxiety and stress

  • Extreme irritability

  • Fixation on past events

  • Insomnia or oversleeping

  • Lack of or increase in appetite

  • Lack of interest in things that used to bring joy

  • Lack of focus

  • Overwhelming sadness

  • Reduced energy

  • Thoughts of suicide or death

  • Weight gain or loss

Depression & The Autonomic Nervous System

Most of us have heard the term depression and understand what it means when someone discloses that they are suffering from it.

However, there is a very complex science behind Major Depressive Disorder (MDD):

  • MDD is the 4th leading cause of disability worldwide

  • It causes severe autonomic dysregulation

  • A typical observation in patients with MDD is loss of vagal or parasympathetic activation and an overactive sympathetic nervous system

Our autonomic nervous system is what maintains “homeostasis” aka “our normal.” This is made up of two different systems; the parasympathetic nervous system and the sympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic is our “rest and digest.” The sympathetic is our “fight or flight.” 

The majority of patients struggling with MDD have symptoms that can be traced back to an overactive sympathetic nervous system. These include; anxiety, continuous depressed mood, anhedonia, poor concentration, feelings of guilt, loss of appetite, insomnia, and frequent suicidal thoughts. A constant state of this results in our bodies being dysregulated and developing a new learned pattern that is hard to escape from. 

There is a term called “allostasis” which is actually what our body is in the majority of the time while it fights to maintain homeostasis in an ever-changing environment. Constant stress and demand (in this case, experiencing depression) for a prolonged period will lead to allostatic overload and eventually disease due to the constant sympathetic dominance and an eventually learned pattern developed by our bodies. The moral of the story is that there is significant evidence pointing to the fact that our autonomic nervous system impacts depression. 

Depression and Neurotrophins

There is also a significant link between depression and reduced neurotrophin expression. Neurotrophins are responsible for the growth, development, and maintenance of our nervous system. Further studies have found that a few specific neurotrophins can be involved in the pathogenesis of major depressive disorder.

  1. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF): regulates neuronal maturation, neurogenesis, synaptic plasticity, and survival, low BDNF has been improved with antidepressant medication.

  2. Nerve growth factor (NGF): acts as a modulator of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and contributes to maintaining the neuroendocrine and immune systems.

Here’s the cool part: Recent studies have shown that chiropractic manipulation releases various neurotrophins, some of which are responsible for depression. This means that adjustments to certain areas of the spine can activate the parasympathetic nervous system; rest and digest. The nerves that exit out of the upper cervical region and sacral region are parasympathetically driven. This means that adjustments to these areas can activate that region as well as release neurotrophins. 

How can a chiropractor help with symptoms of depression?

It is not in a chiropractor’s scope of practice to claim we can “cure depression.” However; there is some compelling research regarding the way that a chiropractic adjustment can affect the autonomic nervous system, therefore allowing regulation of the body as a whole. The following blog will discuss some of these studies and take you on a journey of how this could even be possible. To address depression symptoms, traditional medicine uses various medications and therapies. While therapy can be amazing and beneficial, anti-depressants sometimes come with a range of side effects that may not be right for everyone. It can also be devastating when a patient is no longer able to cope with or manage their depression with medications. Other therapuetic treatments may be useful in this situation.

For example, relieving spinal misalignments with chiropractic care can help the body function optimally, thus allowing the mind to better focus on what it needs to heal.

Misalignments in the spine can disrupt hormone and chemical production, both of which are necessary for good health. Without these natural hormones being produced, symptoms of pain, depression, and/or anxiety may become more present. Chiropractic care not only improves spinal health, but also musculoskeletal health which can relieve muscle tightness and tension that causes headaches and stiffness (sometimes it can be linked to those with depression symptoms). Alleviating these physical ailments can go a long way toward helping patients better manage their health conditions! Additionally, chiropractic treatments often help to release of beneficial hormones such as oxytocin and cortisol within the body. These hormones have the potential to improve your entire health and well-being. They can ease pain from inflammation, reduce stress, and boost emotions of social connectedness.

While this isn’t a cure for depression, recent research is showing that chiropractic adjustments are making a positive impact on the autonomic nervous system!

In Conclusion

Depression can affect anyone, and there are many treatment options available apart from medications and therapy. It’s important to note that 50-65% of patients with chronic pain are also diagnosed with depression. There is still a lot of research to be done, but it’s very encouraging and amazing to see such positive research regarding aspects of care that we do not see daily, which now can be explained by what we’ve already assumed - input to the nervous system! The benefits of chiropractic care can greatly improve your physical and mental health as a safe, effective, and science-based treatment.

We do not claim that this is a “cure” for depression, but rather another therapeutic option that’s available to help you better manage with your symptoms. Contact the doctors at ANH Wellness if you have any questions or if you'd like to learn more about how chiropractic treatment could benefit you!

By: Dr. Abby Kellogg

Chiropractor at ANH Wellness

Disclaimer: "The information including but not limited to text, graphics, images, and other material contained on this website is for informational purposes only. No material on this site is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment."

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