A Naturopathic Approach To Mental Health


Do you suffer from anxiety, depression, attention or behavioral problems? Perhaps you have taken a prescription medication such as Xanax, Zoloft or Adderall and it helped at first, but it stopped working OR you had terrible side effects. At San Francisco Natural Medicine, we offer you an alternative to the allopathic psychiatric approach. There are many factors that can be involved, and usually it is combination of several things. Below are some of the key points.


Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers used by the nervous system to convey information throughout the body. Optimal neurotransmitter balance is required to maintain proper health. An imbalance may cause the brain and the body to produce too much or too little stimulation which produces neurological or psychological problems. Key neurotransmitters we examine include: serotonin, GABA, dopamine, norepinephrine, epinephrine, glycine, glutamine and histamine. SFNM has provided neurotransmitter testing for many years as a helpful diagnostic test.



The gut-brain-microbiome triad plays a large role in your mood and behavior. Your “gut instincts” stem from the enteric nervous system (ENS) which is composed of over 500 million neurons. This bi-directional communication system interacts with your gut microbiome, a community of microbes, that play a role in hormone and neurotransmitter regulation and inflammation modulation.

There are many functions these gut bacteria play; one such role is breaking down food in the gut. A recent study showed that a bacterial by-product from fiber digestion increased levels of serotonin. Gut bacteria also play a role in defense and immunity. Certain food components such as gliadin can be perceived by the bacteria as“harmful” and mount an immune response.  Ultimately this can result in “leaky gut syndrome.”


Ongoing physical and emotional stress can result in the adrenal glands producing too little or too much of the stress hormone, cortisol. This may manifest into symptoms of anxiety, depression, poor memory and difficulty focusing. Using a 4-point cortisol/DHEA test, we can rule in/out adrenal issues as a cause of symptoms.


A example of an extreme nutrient deficiency is scurvy, which is a severe vitamin C deficiency. However, even less extreme deficiencies of vitamins, minerals, macronutrients and amino acids can be detrimental to your mental well-being. Vitamins B6 (pyridoxine), B9 (folic acid), B12 (cobalamin), vitamin C and vitamin D are involved in the synthesis of neurotransmitters. Magnesium and calcium are involved in nerve cell communication. Evidence shows that depression is more common in people with omega-3 fatty acids deficiencies. One of the tests we can run at SFNM is a micronutrient test to determine these deficiencies.


Exposure to heavy metals such as lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium and tin can result in psychological and neurological problems. Lead piping and paint, mercury dental amalgams, fish consumption, eating canned foods and cosmetics are some of the sources of heavy metals in our daily life. Signs and symptoms may include irritability, anxiety, nervousness, shakiness, difficulty concentrating, headaches, confusion and psychotic behavior. We can diagnose heavy metal toxicity with a urine test.


Single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) are small changes in your hereditary DNA. In some people these minute differences can greatly affect mood and behavior. Family history of similar symptoms may indicate you have a SNP. Examples of SNPs are:

  • MTHFR is a key enzyme involved in serotonin, dopamine, and catecholamine production.

  • COMT is the enzyme responsible for degradation of catecholamines. If COMT is not metabolizing properly, catecholamines will build up, potentially leading to aggression, anxiety and anger.

  • MAO is another enzyme in the brain that degrades neurotransmitters.

At SFNM, we determine the root cause of your condition through careful history intake and laboratory testing in some cases. Our treatments may include botanical medicine and supplements, physical medicine, nutritional counseling, homeopathy and intravenous and injection therapy.