Anxious? Depressed? You don’t have to be
– there are steps you can take right now
Have you ever noticed your mood at the end of a Chinese meal?
You become more excited and find it difficult to relax. This is because Chinese food contains monosodium glutamate (MSG) which is basically glutamine, a potent brain stimulant that is normally balanced by another brain substance known as GABA.
The problem becomes magnified in people with certain genetic variants, which mean they can’t convert exciting glutamine into calming GABA.
There are also many people who are very intelligent but underproductive. Their problem is that they have a genetic variant of glutamine acid decarboxylase (GAD), which is the enzyme that converts glutamine into GABA. They cannot keep the right balance between the two and thus their brain is overactive, and they cannot focus.
Have you ever asked yourself why depressed people are constipated?
The simple answer is that they lack the ‘happy hormone,’ serotonin. 90% of the body’s serotonin is made in the gut, because it is needed there to move the gut content on. They are not happy, and they are also bunged up!
The body and mind are intimately related. This article will discuss the Functional Medicine approach to mental health. We will cover nutrition and genetic variants related to common mental health problems. I hope this understanding will help you to cope with any mental health problems that you may have.
Are mental health conditions becoming more common in the UK? Official statistics show that 1 in 4 people experience a mental health problem of some kind each year in England. The commonest mental health condition in the UK is mixed anxiety and depression, which affects 7.8% of people.
Depression and antidepressants
Depression is more common in females. It can present as premenstrual dysmorphic disorder, postpartum (after delivery) depression and postmenopausal symptoms.
The antidepressant SSRI provides symptom relief in 40 to 60% of patients, but there are side-effects, including weight gain, sexual dysfunction and the killing of beneficial gut bacteria, as well as serious withdrawal symptoms.
And many patients with depression do not respond well to SSRI. SSRI only prolongs the effect of serotonin, and these patients do not have enough serotonin to start with. Correcting the nutritional status with amino acid tryptophan or its metabolite, 5HTP may result in a better outcome.
The gut and the brain
Gut health is crucial for every organ in the body to function properly. Stomach acid contains the digestive enzymes necessary for the breaking down of protein into amino acids, fat into fatty acids, and carbohydrates into simple sugars. During the digestive process, minerals and vitamins are also released to be absorbed into the body.
Failure of the digestive process can result in a deficiency of essential amino acids necessary for brain function.
The Vagus nerve is a dual carriage way between the gut and the brain. There are 9 messages sent from the gut to the brain for each message sent from the brain to the gut. This make me wonder if the gut is the actual brain.
This highlight the role of the gut bacteria (microbiome) in shaping up our mental state.
Depression is common in Winter months due to longer darker nights, a condition known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). These patients benefit from bright light exposure during the day.
Another SAD (Standard American Diet), the equivalent of a Western diet in the United Kingdom is the commonest cause of chronic inflammation and depression.
Likewise, low physical activity makes depression a common symptom among couch potatoes.
Tryptophan inflammatory pathways
Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that requires vitamin B6 to make serotonin, the happy hormone. B6 deficiency will not only cause low serotonin but convert Tryptophan into a highly inflammatory compound, resulting in anxiety and depression.
Physical trauma like traumatic brain injury (TBI) can result in Severe inflammation and depression.
Major spinal surgery yielded no improvement
This 65-year-old gentleman presented with severe depression and a lack of sensation in both legs. The medical diagnosis was spinal stenosis, and he underwent major spinal surgery with no improvement.
His condition continued to deteriorate. Now, he had history of acid reflux and had taken anti-acid pills for many years. Further investigation came back positive for Helicobacter Pylori (a common bug that infects the stomach) and very low vitamin B12.
He received herbal antimicrobial, active vitamin B12 and amino acids supplements. His depression lifted and his peripheral neuropathy cleared. And he quickly regained his mobility after a course of physiotherapy.
She could not wait to stop her psychiatric medication
This 40-year-old lady presented with cluster migraine, recurrent sinusitis and a blocked nose. She had suffered lifelong stress after being neglected and abused as a child. She had a stressful job, suffered anxiety and depression, and wore a mouth guard to mitigate the effect of grinding her teeth at night.
Tests confirmed primary under active thyroid, low beneficial gut bacteria but a high level of yeast (candida) in her bowel.
She was supported initially with thyroid hormone replacement and antimicrobial agents. She was also referred for hypnotherapy to try and resolve her abusive past. There was no improvement.
Further testing revealed mycotoxins (yeast toxins.) She was treatment with strong toxin binders (cholestyramine) and supported with vitamins and minerals. She started to make a steady improvement and her migraines stopped. Her depression and anxiety gradually settled. She was advised to ask her GP to reduce her psychiatric medications gradually. However, she felt so much better and could not wait. She stopped all of these medications, fortunately with no serious withdrawal symptoms.
Genetic variants common in mental health
– COMT variant make it hard to breakdown stress hormones. Accumulation of stress hormones cause affected people to become impatient, irritable and can result in anxiety or OCD.
– MTHFR variant causes accumulation of homocysteine. A common cause of neuro and vascular inflammation resulting in depression and vascular disease.
Anxiety Hinders your normal function
Anxiety means having regular, uncontrollable worries about various aspects of life, resulting in mental and physical effect. The wider range of anxiety disorders include Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), phobias and social anxiety.
Anxious person is restless, exhibiting fast, shallow breathing through the mouth. They frequently complain of headache, palpitations, excessive sweating, neck and back pain. They have difficulty falling or staying asleep and they grind their teeth at night.
Severe anxiety can result in panic attacks!
OCD is when the person has frequent obsessive thoughts. They worry that bad things can happen to them or to their loved ones. Hence, they are repeatedly checking things.
Social anxiety stops people making social contacts for fear pf boing judged neglected or criticised.
Anxiety is commonly related to poor health, difficult relationship, loneliness, work stress, and sleep deprivation.
Medications may be required to settle anxiety in severe cases, but they are addictive and may worsen anxiety or cause depression. Hence adopting natural means as a first line of treatment makes sense to prevent serious side effects.
How can you support your own mental health?
You can now see that your mental health can be greatly improved by taking some straightforward physical steps…………
Eat an anti-inflammatory diet of whole real organic fruits and vegetables, locally produced food, food rich in folate (leafy greens) and B12 (animal proteins in red meat and fish) with vitamin D and omega 3. And eliminate common allergens such as gluten and dairy.
Add microbiome probiotics – Lactobacillus Bifidobacterial, fructo oligosaccharides – these have anti-inflammatory properties and the ability to produced GABA and serotonin.
Sleep well: poor quality sleep increases the risk of mental health conditions. Limit your exposure to artificial light, use blue light blocking glasses, or sleep in a completely dark room.
Youthful activities should be prioritised, such as exercise, enjoying sunshine, walking in nature and improving your social connections. Exercise shifts tryptophan away from the inflammatory pathway by including the anti-inflammatory BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor.) Social connections are particularly important for the elderly, who may otherwise become lonely.
Mental health patients can also benefit from the following supplements:
– Tryptophan, 5HTP
– CBD anxiety and sleep
– Magnesium, zinc
Mental condition relieving techniques include:
– The Vagus nerve exercise*
– Meditation, deep breathing, yoga
– Gardening and DIY
*The Vagus nerve exercise:
This changes the fight and flight response into a parasympathetic state of relaxation, healing and digestion. It improves your sleep, overcomes anxiety and depression, and gives you more energy.
The commonest techniques include:
– Deep belly breathing: nose breathing with expiration being double the inspiration
– Loud gurgling of water
– Loud singing
How are you feeling today? If you are down, anxious or depressed, I hope that you will find some answers in this blog. I cannot go into every cause of mental health problem here, so if you want to ask me a specific question about your symptoms, please do get in touch.