Sad Mood Epidemic in The Art of Healing Magazine
Date: 1 March 2017
Publication: The Art of Healing Vol 1, Issue 58 Mar/May 2017
Author: Vanita Dahia
Title: Is an imbalance in brain chemicals responsible for our sad mood epidemic?
Brain chemical imbalance is responsible for moods. Happy and sad brain chemicals also known as neurotransmitters are players of excitation or inhibition allowing for action or rest. All neurotransmitters play together in sync much like an orchestra. When a neurotransmitter is out of balance, it will throw the whole orchestra out of sync and can manifest as mood changes. Vanita Dahia explains.
Do any one or more of these statements describe you?
- Do you feel irritable, nauseous, isolated or depressed
- Have you tried anti-depressants and they are not working or not working as well for you?
- The antidepressants you are on are causing you to have bad side effects
- Your depression / anxiety is affecting your relationships and/or work
- You no longer take pleasure in activities you once enjoyed
- Your libido, appetite and sleep patterns are disrupted
- You worry excessively and have problems concentrating or staying focused
- You are gaining / losing weight faster than usual
You may not be alone! Each one of us experiences a wide array of emotions affecting thoughts, behaviour and health. With life becoming more pressured and fast-paced, the development of mood disorders and associated mental health decline are on the increase: 1 in 5 Australians aged 16–85 years now suffer from some form of mental illness, and the rates for medically diagnosed anxiety and depression have tripled over the last 10–15 years.
Mental health disorders are now legally recognised as a disability under the Mental Health Act.
If left untreated, the effects of chronic stress, anxiety or depression can become quite debilitating, leading to progressive cognitive decline and physical/mental disability. However, like many other disease processes, there are multiple underlying factors involved in the development of mood disorders.
Depression is society’s deep cut that we are content to put a band-aid on and pretend that it’s out there. Anywhere in the world, one person takes their own life every 30 seconds.
So how can we overcome this? Is it the way we treat these diseases which is at fault? And are we all too often just in a state of denial … that this is not really happening to us. Or are we all feeling it but just not sure what to do or how we can help each other?
A mental health volunteer in Africa had once reported that Westerners isolate and counsel in a sombre setting and drug their patients to a state of numbed normalcy, as opposed to the African culture of drumming, dancing and integration into the community.
Social media is a good place to see what is really happening in our society. How often do you see a social media post saying ‘I’m going through a really tough time?’ or ‘I’m struggling?’
Someone once expressed that; ‘Depression is like having a grey veil for which you see the world in a haze of a sad mood. If only someone could take away this veil so I could experience the real happiness inside.”
Choices of Treatment
There is a wide array of treatment options available for people with mental health issues which include taking pharmaceutical medications, using psychotherapy and cognitive techniques, and looking at the person’s neurobiochemistry.
Biochemical nutrient therapy is a natural method of balancing the neurotransmitters in the brain by normalising the concentration of nutrients, amino acids and vitamins needed for neurotransmitter synthesis and to regulate epigenomic activity. Neurobiochemistry works with all organ systems in the body.
Biochemically, happy and sad brain chemicals can effectively be balanced with consideration of:
- disturbed neurotransmitter biochemistry, particularly affecting GABA, glutamate, dopamine, noradrenaline and serotonin pathways
- hormonal imbalances involving thyroid, adrenal and sex hormones
- nutritional impairment – either by poor food choices, gut dysbiosis or malabsorption
- environmental factors including both heavy metal and environmental toxin exposure
- genetic factors involving polymorphisms in key genes regulating neurotransmission pathways
The Function of Serotonin
Serotonin is an inhibitory neurotransmitter which is synthesised in the central nervous system (CNS) and the gastrointestinal tract. It is believed to play an important role in the regulation of anger, appetite, body temperature, mood, sexuality and sleep. Low levels may be associated with aggression, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, impulsivity, irritability and sleep disorders.
The Function of Dopamine, Noradrenaline and Adrenaline
Dopamine is an excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitter synthesised in many areas of the brain. Dopamine acts as a hormone when it is released from the hypothalamus, and is involved in the regulation of pleasure and reward, memory, motor control, sleep, mood, attention and learning. Dopamine is released by rewarding experiences such as food, sex and (some) drugs. Lowered dopamine has been associated with loss of satisfaction, social withdrawal, apathy, reduced motivation and attention. In addition, low dopamine levels can result in impaired motor control, e.g. Parkinson’s disease. High levels of dopamine may result in aggression, Schizophrenia, hyperactivity and Tourette’s syndrome.
The Function of Noradrenaline and Adrenaline
Noradrenaline (norepinephrine) and adrenaline (epinephrine) are excitatory neurotransmitters as well as hormones and are most well known for their involvement in the ‘fight and flight’ response, in which they increase heart rate, trigger the release of glucose from energy stores and increase blood flow to skeletal muscle. Low levels contribute to a decrease in mood, energy, focus, motivation and memory. High levels are associated with aggression, anxiety, emotional lability, hyperactivity, mania, stress and suppression of the immune system.
The Function of GABA
GABA (gamma-amino butyric acid) is an amino acid that functions as an inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. GABA is concentrated in the hypothalamus region of the brain and is known to play a role in the overall functioning of the pituitary gland – which regulates growth hormone synthesis, sleep cycles, and body temperature.
The Function of Glutamate
Glutamate is a major mediator of excitatory signals in the brain and is involved in most aspects of normal brain function including cognition, memory and learning. Glutamate regulates brain development and mediates the information which determines cellular survival, differentiation and elimination as well as the formation and elimination of nerve contacts (synapses).
The Gut and the Second Brain
Healthy microbiota are the cornerstone to good mental health as they can influence neurotransmitter levels in the brain. An imbalance of microflora or the good bugs necessary to break down faecal matter, maintain pH and regulate the immune system in the gastrointestinal mucosa has the potential to manifest as mental health issues. Probiotics are therefore essential to maintain optimal brain function and synthesis important neurochemicals.
However, not every probiotic is the same. Each differs according to the genus, species and strain:
- Lactobacillus helveticus and Bifidobacterium longum have been shown to reduce the stress hormone, cortisol
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Lactobacillus bifidobacterium can increases GABA production, a calming and anti-anxiety hormone
- Lactobacillus reuteri increases the production of oxytocin
Wired and Tired?
When the body becomes stressed, cortisol released from the adrenal glands which sit on top of the kidneys. While we do need stress in our lives (otherwise we won’t write that exam!), when we are in a perpetual state of stress, cortisol is continually sending signals to the brain to react and take action.
The brain responds by releasing adrenaline which is what we call the “adrenaline rush” or “flight-flight-freeze response”. In order for adrenaline to respond to stress, it requires energy in the form of glucose. Adrenaline will therefore take up all the glucose available in the bloodstream to use for energy to react to the stress. When the glucose is depleted, the brain sends signals to the pancreas to release insulin. The insulin release initiates the need for glucose, hence the need for a “sugar fix”. Glucose is derived from the breakdown of muscle, hence we often have an increased appetite for sugar and salt and muscle weakness.
In essence, brain chemicals communicate with all organ systems. There is no separating the brain and the body – what affects the body affects your brain.
So don’t guess. Test, Treat, Target and Tailor. After all, your biology is in your biochemistry!
No two fingerprints are the same. We are each as unique as our biochemistry so we cannot apply a ‘one size fits all’ treatment approach. While we may look different on the outside, we are biochemically and genetically unique on the inside. There is no such thing as one right diet for everyone, or for that matter, the right drug or supplement.
The key is to get tested. The measure of adrenal function and neurotransmitters can now be performed in the privacy of your home with a simple saliva and urine test. However it is advisable to work with an integrative health care practitioner to establish the metabolic blocks in your chemistries to balance them correctly.
Ref : Lyte M, Barratt, E, et al. Microbial Endocrinology: The Microbiota-Gut-Brain Axis in Health and Disease, GABA production by culturable bacteria from the human intestine. J.App Microbiol. 11, 411–417.