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By Dr. Justin Marchegiani
There are millions of people that suffer from anxiety and depression. Natural remedies for anxiety and depression tend to be the last option most people utilize instead of the first!
The main solutions available from conventional medicine are dangerous medications with common side effects (including potential increased risk of suicide) and are proven by research to not be as effective in the long term.
Why would you want to be on a medication long term but not fix the underlying problem? You would never drive your car with the check-engine light on that you’ve covered with a piece of tape. This wouldn’t make you feel confident and happy that you have a long-lasting solution.
Some psychotropic medications may be necessary in the short run to prevent a dangerous episode from occurring, but with a broader understanding of how the body is connected, it’s easy to see the long-term solution is still being ignored.
Everything Is Connected
The question I have for you is this: Do you want to treat the effect or fix the cause of your mood imbalances? Below we are going to address five common factors that can contribute to anxiety, depression, and other symptoms of moodiness.
The food you eat, especially the quality of the food, is very important to achieving optimal health. It’s nearly impossible to be healthy and suffer from depression and anxiety long term. It’s normal to feel sad when someone in your family passes or when you lose a job. My main concern is the long-term depression and anxiety that goes on unaddressed with the only option whispered being a pharmaceutical one. The symptoms of depression and anxiety are typically signs that something’s out of balance in your daily life.
The Quality of Food We Put in Our Body Has a Direct Effect on Our Health
Fat-soluble nutrients are very important for blood sugar stabilization and are building blocks for our brain. Did you know that 70% of the solid portion of our brain is made from cholesterol and saturated fat? Cholesterol makes up the raw material that lines our neurons, called myelin. This cholesterol padding around the nerves helps conduct our nerve impulses and is important to maintaining healthy cell membranes. Our cell membranes need to be flexible, too, so they can communicate with other cells in our body. Without healthy saturated fats and cholesterol in our cell membrane, our cells don’t have the ability to communicate with other cells optimally.
Eating refined vegetable oils or fake trans fats puts stress on our body. These fats are magnets for free radicals, which cause damage to our DNA. These trans fats also make our cell membranes stiff and hard, which decreases the ability for cells to communicate to other cells.
Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil, especially EPA fat, are shown to help with depression. These fats are also important in reducing inflammation. Half the cells in our brain are microglial cells, which are specialized immune cells found only in the brain. The more inflammation and stress we have in our body, the increased chance we have of turning on our brain’s immune system. Unlike our body’s immune system, our brain’s immune response doesn’t turn off very easily. That’s why a traumatic blow to the head can have deleterious side effects unlike any other area of the body.
A common sign of inflammation in the brain is brain fog. Eating a healthy, nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory, low-toxin diet with adequate amounts of anti-inflammatory cholesterol and fatty acids can be very helpful at optimizing brain health and keeping inflammation in the body and brain at bay.
Adequate consumption of protein is very important for brain health. All of our neurotransmitters are made from protein or amino acids. We need amino acids to make beta endorphins, serotonin, GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), and dopamine. Without consuming or absorbing enough of these amino acids, mood-related issues can occur. It only makes sense if we are deficient in raw material. Let’s use the example of building a house—the house won’t get completed no matter how hard you try. When we’re missing essential building blocks, our body systems (hormones, digestion, detoxification to name a few) tend to bear the burden.
Adequate stomach acid is very important for healthy digestion and the breakdown of protein into amino acids and the ionization of minerals. We need a low pH (acidic) in our stomach to trigger the domino cascade of digestion that occurs in our small intestine, pancreas, and gallbladder. Without an acidic pH of chyme (ground-up food in our stomach mixed with hydrochloric acid, or HCL) released from our stomach into the small intestine, our body’s ability to further break down, assimilate, and absorb fats and proteins becomes impaired.
Minerals, like magnesium, have a very relaxing or calming effect on our nervous system and are needed for over 300 enzymatic reactions in our body. Magnesium is one of those minerals that tends to be deficient in our food supply. If we have low stomach acid, it’s going to be even more difficult for us to get enough magnesium without proper supplementation of HCl combined with a highly absorbable magnesium supplement.
“Impaired digestion of protein has been suggested by a few studies. Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth in hypochlorhydria probably leads to putrefactive breakdown of the metabolically useful products of protein digestion, thereby reducing their availability for certain essential pathways. The possible lowering of tryptophan, tyrosine, and phenylalanine in the blood may be a precipitating factor in depression in hypochlorhydric patients.”
The Infection Connection
Chronic infections, like H. pylori, are also shown to have an effect on depression by decreasing hydrochloric acid production as well. It’s possible that many people’s digestive issues are caused by a combination of a chronic infections that may also be driving low stomach acid production. The more you learn about functional medicine in the body it’s impossible to ignore the constant connection between other body systems.
3. Adrenals and Blood Sugar
Eating high amounts of refined carbohydrates and/or sugar can give us a false sense of comfort by altering our mood. The reason why sugar makes us feel good is it shuttles more of the amino acid tryptophan across our blood-brain barrier. This amino acid gets converted to serotonin in our brain, which is the feel-good neurotransmitter. The problem with doing this long term is that our cells become insulin resistant and we need more and more sugar to get the same effects. The more sugar we eat also increases the amount of inflammation in our brain, a double whammy!
“The ingestion of a high-carbohydrate/low-protein meal facilitates entry of tryptophan into the brain.”
Our adrenal glands’ main job is to help create energy and stabilize blood sugar. The more we have ups and downs in our blood sugar due to a poor diet and refined sugar, the harder our adrenal glands have to work to buffer out the highs and lows. Cortisol levels that are chronically high due to stress can create mood, memory, and depressive symptoms.
Chronic adrenal stress affects our hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. This is essentially the feedback loop from our brain talking to our adrenals. Chronic stress can disrupt this feedback loop. This is very similar to an analogy of a thermostat in your house breaking. The thermostat is there to help regulate the temperature in your house, just as the HPA axis is there to help your body regulate stress in your life.
The better you can manage your physical, chemical, and emotional stressors, the better you feel and perform. One simple thing you can do is eat high-quality protein, fat, and healthy carbohydrates for your metabolic type. This takes a tremendous amount of stress off your adrenal glands. When your sympathetic nervous system (fight-or-flight system) isn’t chronically turned on, your body finally has the ability to use your parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) to repair and heal.
Exercise has powerful antidepressant and mood-altering effects by stimulating the production of a compound known as beta-endorphins. Beta-endorphin is a compound synthesized by our body that consists of 19 amino acids (protein is needed to make this). This is why diet and digestion is so important for mental health!
The typical runner’s high that most marathoners experience is that exact thing: a release of beta-endorphin. My recommendation is to be careful of excess aerobic exercise as it can stimulate increased cortisol levels and cause your body to break down at an accelerated rate. This type of exercise can be very addicting because of this great endorphin rush. My recommendation is to perform higher intensity, short-duration exercise that will help mitigate cortisol stimulation and increase anabolic hormones, such as HGH (human growth hormone), which actually help build your body back up.
Some people with adrenal fatigue need to dial in their exercise specific to their energy levels. When your adrenals are fatigued, your body’s ability to repair from exercise decreases, so it’s important to make sure the exercise intensity, duration, and frequency is specific to your level of adrenal fatigue.
It’s known as far back as 1933 that our body’s internal toxins can actually cause bouts of depression.
According to a study in the journal of brain behavior and immunology, inject of an endotoxin can increase feelings of depression and social disconnection (see graph below).
I understand the toxin is being introduced via a needle and may not be introduced the same way in the real world but I think it’s important to note that these toxins can influence our mood and emotions. The study also showed that these toxins create mood changes via cytokines which are a product of inflammation.
Science is starting to show inflammation plays a very important role in chronic disease. We can modulate inflammation by managing our stress and diet which helps put the controls of our health back in our hands!
Conventional medicine commonly ignores these factors and based on my clinical experience, when patients gut bacteria improves as well as their diet so does their mood and emotions.
The reabsorption of toxins from our fecal material can be a major stressor on our body. If we have a healthy gut, our body should evacuate stool in about 20 to 24 hours from when the food was originally eaten. If this time frame becomes delayed, our body has an increased chance of absorbing toxins (mycotoxin and endotoxin to name a few) from our stool. These toxins can be very dangerous and stressful on our body.
“In books such as The Conquest of Constipation, The Lazy Colon, and Le Colon Homicide physicians on both sides of the Atlantic warned that the contents of the colon were ‘a burden, fermenting, decomposing, putrefying, filling the body with poisonous substances’ and creating ‘sewer-like blood’; that auto-intoxication ‘is the cause of ninety per cent of disease’; and that ‘constipation shortens life.’”
Adequate production of HCl and a decrease in consumption of inflammatory foods, such as grains and pasteurized dairy, can help eliminate constipation. Some people’s constipation may be caused by a chronic infection or thyroid condition. If you are having any of these health issues, feel free to click here!
There’s a laundry list of external environmental toxins that can affect our health. Here are just a few: organochlorines, heavy metals, bisphenol A, benzene, persistent organic pollutants, and dioxin.
If you have a couple hours to kill, do a Google Scholar search and type in any disease you like followed by any of the above toxins. There is a good chance that you’ll find a connection. These toxins affect our body’s ability to methylate, essentially turn on and off specific genes and run our detoxification pathways (cytochrome P450 oxidase—phase 1 and phase 2), which help our body eliminate these toxins.
Many of these toxins are estrogen-like compounds (xenoestrogens) and can cause cell proliferation (increased cell growth, like in cancer). Hormones are chemical messengers and are essentially molecules of emotion. Any woman can empathize with the mood changes she may experience around menstruation. These mood changes are caused by hormonal fluctuations. You can imagine the potential hormonal changes we may experience due to all these fluctuations of xenoestrogens in our environment.
Environmental chemicals also have the capacity to destruct our glucocorticoid hormones (cortisol). Evidence suggests that organotins (antibacterial or antifungal pesticides) inhibit the enzymes that help form cortisol. Cortisol is important for stabilizing energy, blood sugar balance, immune support, electrolyte balance, and blood pressure levels. Fluctuations in our blood sugar can create cravings for refined carbohydrates. Eating refined sugar can set our blood sugar up for a roller coaster of disaster, creating states of excitation followed by depression. If you ever felt the highs and lows after consuming a candy bar, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
There is a family of herbs that is known as adaptogens. These herbs have the ability to adapt to someone’s physiological state. If someone is in a state of excitation, these herbs help bring them down. If they’re in a state of depression, the herbs can help bring them up. These herbs have the ability to help balance adrenal stress and immune modulation, support healthy sex hormone levels, and balance blood sugar.
Below are a few of my favorite adaptogenic herbs:
1. Ashwagandha, or Indian ginseng
2. Eleuthero, or Russian ginseng
3. Panax, or Korean ginseng
4. Macca, or Peruvian ginseng