Fourteen years ago, when I began the deep dive into my health, and finally started to resolve what had been a lifetime (albeit a short one so far) of health issues - expressed as: constant colds/flu, regular motility issues or inability to digest food; inner ear infections; anxiety, insomnia, and deep depression; the science and research that has now made its way to the edges of the conventional medical environment, was extremely fringe. A source of good information was difficult to find and, for the most part, only available through holistic health practitioners.
So this is exactly where I began my healing, I saw practitioners that offered food allergy testing, nutritional guidance, cortisol level analysis, and the natural solutions to what was believed as the root cause of my symptoms. As my inflammation began to subside, so did the lifetime of persistent maladies I had come to know as ‘normal’.
KNOW WHERE TO START
We now have incredible practitioners from the conventional paradigm, and natural health realm, joining to offer a functional approach to health and healing. It really is an incredible time for the future of health and wellness; if you know where to look. Unfortunately there is still a great delay in this information filtering through to patients following the conventional paradigm; as the data has shown, a 17 year time lag exists between what the latest science is demonstrating and what is being practiced. (1)
For most people visiting a doctor for the treatment of anxiety or depression, out dated medicine is still being practiced. As Dr Kharrazian so aptly puts it: “People are not getting the science, they’re getting a mainstream, pharmaceutical model.” For this reason, and many others, one has to engage their own health compass if they are to successfully navigate, the sometimes rough terrain, of present day healthcare. It is our responsibility to heal ourselves; to live a life of vibrant health and wellness. Even the most progressive practitioners can only act as a facilitator, the final responsibility lies with us.
INFLAMMATION & HAPPINESS
The presence of inflammation in the gut and the brain could perhaps be the most commonly missed cause of anxiety and depression, yet not the only one; something we will cover in the next installments.
I find this to be such a fascinating subject for inquiry. How massive an influence on our lives is our mental state? It really is fundamental to how we perceive ourselves and our lives; and what we are able to provide the world while we’re here. There is no question that those who are in a position to operate with optimal brain function, offer much more to the world than they could ever offer, drenched in a life of mental disorders. On a more direct level, happiness and the flow-on effect this has on those around us is measurable. Look no further than the data demonstrating that a mother’s happiness has a powerful correlation to the cognitive and emotional intelligence of their child. (2)
The importance of resolving even minor inflammatory states as early as possible cannot be overstated. The research is now pointing to inflammation as a precursor to metabolic diseases and neurodegenerative disorders. (3) Taking some simple steps to listen to the body, and seeking expert help can be a life changing pre-emptive decision; where we navigate ourselves away from disease, before the fact.
To introduce the basic concepts behind this let's talk about the gut-brain and brain-gut connection; how this connection works, what it looks like when it's not working, and eventually (in later modules) introduce some simple techniques to begin to resolve/rebuild the connection.
The brain is connected to the gut as such: signals from the frontal cortex move down through the pons, to the vagus nerve; the major nerve connecting the brain-gut. This nerve sits near your uvula, and as Dr Kharrazian has discovered, can be activated through gargling, singing and tongue scrapping inducing the gag-reflex (more on this later). From the vagus, communication travels to the enteric nervous system in the gut; there is a two way flow of information from gut-brain and back again.
DEPRESSION & THE GUT
In depression triggered by inflammation of the gut, we see cytokines (cell signalling messengers) transfer information through the nervous system (vagus nuclei). The result of this signalling is the turning on of the immune system of the brain; the microglia, and we now have a brain on fire – brain inflammation. Glial cells, unlike the body's immunity, are extremely hard to turn off; there is no natural mechanism to turn off this process. Glial cells will eventually die off, but before they do they replicate; the resulting cycle is one that induces neurodegeneration and the symptom known as depression. (4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9)
The good news is that we can turn off this inflammation through diet and lifestyle choices. Some examples of natural remedies include turmeric, quercetin, krill oil, lutein and resveratrol. By avoiding inflammatory foods such as GMOs, grains, sugar, processed foods and dairy, we can reduce and eliminate the recurrence of the inflammatory states that lead to brain inflammation. (10)
In the next section we’ll talk about the combination of symptoms that usually present with depression, their possible causes and changes that can be made to begin to resolve these states. We'll go deeper into the gut-brain relationship, and explore the auto-immune factor in the cross-reaction of inflammatory foods. As we progress we will also cover: the treatment options offered by the conventional and nutritional models, and where both can fail; the reason gluten, and most grains, wreak havoc in our diet (especially if sensitivity is suspected); why these new proteins, found in most grains and GMOs, cause inflammation, and why they should be avoided.
The final installment will offer a general nutritional guide to support mental well-being and health; there will always be variations in diet from person to person, and I don’t believe in a one size fits all approach. However, there are foods we should avoid, and foods we should include in any well-rounded diet; we’ll cover these, as well as useful supplements when dealing with inflammatory symptoms and/or recovering from a traumatic life event.
Part Two is now available here!