If you want a high-value, low-risk way of treating your depression and anxiety, you need to know first, that Americans are the most heavily drugged population in the world when it comes to mental health medications.
12.7 percent of all Americans1, aged 12 and older are on antidepressant medications. And no, that isn’t a typo. Children who aren’t even out of puberty are on antidepressants. That’s a 66 percent surge since 1999. Why so many drugs, but still so much depression?
It seems these antidepressants aren’t really addressing the core physiological mechanisms causing the problem. If they did, then we wouldn’t see so many people still struggling with anxiety and depression while so many are also medicated.
There is a better way to address your mental health. Once you understand that the entire body is either contributing to or helping to cause your mental health issues, then it becomes much easier to treat them.
The Gut-Brain ConnectionThe microbiome is the bleeding edge of your mental health and wellness. Billions of tiny bacteria and parasites have evolved with us to create a symbiotic relationship. Some of them help promote out health, and others can destroy it. Our immunity even is tied inextricably to the microbiome, a term which essentially describes the flora that reside in our digestive tract from mouth to anus.
The other odd thing is that the microbiome has direct neural and hormonal interactions with our brain2 – so when our gut flora is off, our mood is likely to be off, too.
The microbiome’s health and balance also change how we react to stress. A psycho-pathology is created when the gut is chronically inflamed, which can lead to changes in serotonin uptake, dopamine, and GABA, among other brain chemicals that help to keep our mood stable and elevated.
It is also important to note that inflammation of the brain can also be caused by long-term chronic stress3, either that was “pre-loaded” from childhood, or after events4 such as divorce, death, job loss, etc. This can result in symptoms like severe depression and anxiety as well.
Some simple ways to support good gut health is to take probiotics, reduce refined sugar, get exercise, and reduce stress. Adding more leafy greens, and fiber will also help promote a healthy balance of your gut flora, so that it favors the “good” bacteria instead of hosting the “bad” bacteria.
The Brain-Adrenal Connection
Another important connection to acknowledge between your whole-body health and mental health is in the brain-adrenal connection. This is most often referred to as the HPA axis, or the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis.
This brain-adrenal connection is very neatly orchestrated under good conditions to regulate your mood, but once again stress, toxins, lack of exercise, and poor food choices which don’t support your brain’s health, all lead to depression and anxiety.
The HPA5 intertwines with the central nervous system and endocrine system so when it is not working right, neither do your hormones.
As Integrative Therapeutics describes6 it, the HPA axis, “is responsible for the neuroendocrine adaptation component of the stress response. This response is characterized by hypothalamic release of corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF). CRF is also known as CRH or corticotropin-releasing hormone. When CRF binds to CRF receptors on the anterior pituitary gland, adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) is released. ACTH binds to receptors on the adrenal cortex and stimulates adrenal release of cortisol.”7
When your body is constantly releasing cortisol, it tends to exhaust your adrenal glands, and soon you don’t have the energy to do anything. This is also a big component of the depressives that feel listless or lifeless.
Some simple ways to support the HPA axis is to sip on herbal tea like chamomile, eat plenty of healthy fats found in foods like chia, avocado, coconut, flax seeds, and hemp seeds, get gentle exercise daily, and load up on super-green foods. Rest and de-stress is another way to reset the adrenals so that your hormones can regulate themselves properly.
The Nervous SystemAnother contributor to depression and anxiety is nervous system exhaustion8. This is rarely diagnosed in the U.S. but there is tons of research on the topic. You can find this research defined as “neuroinflammation9,” or “Central Sensitivity Syndrome (CSS)10”.
When your nerve cells are inflamed all the way up and down the spinal column up into the brain, or those same cells are deficient in nutrients, signaling cannot happen as it should.
Your nervous system is “tweaked” towards stress, and then habituated toward this physiological state. Some people experience it as “brain fry” or simply exhaustion, but it is basically a state where the fight-or-flight response has been triggered in your nervous system so many times, that your brain doesn’t get the signals to calm down after a perceived stressful event, and simply stays in a highly-stressed state.
You may feel “brain fried” but it’s the whole nervous system that is inflamed. There are many conditions associated with this problem which often go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed including fibromyalgia, and chronic fatigue syndrome, bladder problems, chronic pain, irritable bowel syndrome, restless leg syndrome PTSD tension headaches and more.
These could all be indicators that your nervous system is inflamed and nerve signaling is off. Mis-wired nerve cells11 are directly linked to depression.
A few foods that you can eat to support nerve and brain health12 include green leafy vegetables, vegetarian sources of Omega 3 fatty acids (hemp, chia, flax), dark chocolate, broccoli, avocado, almonds, and pumpkins seeds.
If you haven’t already noticed, there is a common theme among these 3 systems of the body. If they don’t get the nutrients, rest, and care they need, then depression and anxiety can be the result. It isn’t just the brain that can cause depression, though. Your whole body needs vital nutrients and minerals to function at its optimum levels.