Note: The following excerpt is reprinted from Healthy, Happy and Free: Spirit-Soul-Body Solutions for Healing from Depression (Copyright January 2019), with the kind permission of Connie Strasheim.
Resolving Physiological Causes of Depression in Chronic Illness
It used to be that neurotransmitter and hormonal imbalances were viewed by the medical community as the main physiological causes of depression, but research shows that other phenomena, such as inflammation, insulin resistance, nutritional deficiencies, mitochondrial dysfunction, and oxidative stress may also cause or contribute to depression, especially in chronic illness.
In addition, chronic infections are a major, yet largely unrecognized cause of depression. Here, I will share with you on a basic level, how and why all of these factors can cause depression and what you can do to heal your body and brain from their effects. Again, each of these subjects is complex and entire books could be written about each one, so you’ll want to just use the information here as a starting point to do further research on your own, or to share with your doctors.
Balance Your Body’s Micronutrients
Dietary micronutrients, including vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids, affect your brain and nervous system function, in addition to the amino acids and neurotransmitter co-factors that I discussed in Healthy, Happy and Free. For this reason, you may find it useful to do a vitamin, fatty acid and mineral profile test, to evaluate your cellular level of micronutrients and make sure that your brain and the rest of your body have what they need to function properly. Spectra Cell Laboratories is one lab that does this type of testing. For more information, see: SpectraCell.com.
B-complex vitamins, which are used as co-factors by your body to produce neurotransmitters, are among the most important nutrients that support nervous system health. I already mentioned Vitamins B-12 and B-6, but adequate levels of niacin and folate are also important.
Vitamin D is another nutrient that’s critical for brain and nervous system health. Many North Americans are highly deficient in Vitamin D, because they don’t spend enough time in the sunshine. Vitamin D acts more like a hormone than a vitamin in the body and plays a crucial role in mood and immune system regulation. Vitamin D deficiencies have been found in people with Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD), a type of depression caused by a lack of exposure to sunlight during the winter months.
Because Vitamin D plays a vital role in supporting mood and overall health, it’s a good idea to get your Vitamin D levels tested and take a Vitamin D-3 supplement, if your doctor recommends it. Most integrative doctors consider a normal range of Vitamin D to be above 60 mg/dl. According to integrative doctor Joe Mercola, MD, in his article, “How to Get Your Vitamin D Within to Healthy Ranges” it used to be that the recommended level of Vitamin D was between 40 to 60 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml). Yet in recent years, the optimal range has been raised to 50-70 ng/ml, and if you are treating cancer or heart disease, it is as high as 70-100 ng/ml.
It’s also crucial to have a proper balance of omega-3 to omega-6 essential fatty acids (EFAs) in your body, which come from fatty foods such as healthy cooking oils, nuts, seeds and fish. Fatty acids are important components of nerve cell membranes and play a vital role in neuronal communication. Fatty acid imbalances can impair nerve transmission between nerve cells, leading to cognitive problems and mood issues, including depression.
In a healthy diet, omega-6 EFAs primarily come from cooking oils and nuts, while the best omega-3 EFAs come from high quality fish oils. You need both types of EFAs, but most of us have too much omega-6, which means that we could benefit more from taking some omega-3 EFAs from fish oil to balance things out. Omega-3 essential fatty acids are also highly anti-inflammatory and may mitigate depression caused by inflammation (more on this in the next section). Taking a high-quality fish oil supplement that has been tested to be free of heavy metals may be the best way to do that. Choose a supplement that has studies backing its effectiveness and which confirm its purity. Nordic Naturals is one company that has a good reputation for effectiveness and purity. For more information, see: NordicNaturals.com.
Cut Down on Oxidative Stress, Inflammation and Histamine, Three Major Causes of Depression
Oxidative Stress (OS) is a general term that’s used to describe damage that occurs to your cells when your body’s ability to remove free radicals (which are byproducts of toxicity and metabolism) via its antioxidant system, fail tokeep up with the amount of free radicals in your body. When there are too many free radicals in your body, it can’t cope and the result is inflammation and cellular damage. Nowadays, most of us have high amounts of oxidative stress, due mostly to environmental toxicity, stress and our hectic lifestyles. The resultant inflammation and cellular damage can cause or contribute to depression and other brain and nervous system disorders.
Therefore, you may find that reducing oxidative stress and inflammation can help to mitigate your symptoms, especially if you are battling a chronic neurodegenerative disease like Lyme. It never occurred to me that inflammation could be another major cause of my depression until I experienced it for myself after getting sick from Lyme disease.
After about 10 years into the illness, a doctor told me that I had mast cell activation disorder (MCAD) induced by Lyme disease and mold toxicity. MCAD is a condition whereby the body releases an excessive amount of histamine from mast cells, which are a type of immune cell. The histamine causes widespread inflammation and can be caused by excessive exposure to dangerous toxins like mold and chronic infections, but it can also apparently be a genetic issue in some people or even caused by stress.
Researchers are finding MCAD to be a major contributing factor to many chronic conditions and illnesses: everything from depression to cancer to chronic fatigue syndrome. To learn more about MCAD, you may want to read Lawrence Afrin’s book, Never Bet Against Occam: Mast Cell Activation Disease and the Modern Epidemics of Chronic Illness and Medical Complexity. The book is targeted to medical practitioners but if you are science-oriented, you may find it interesting.
Both natural remedies and medications can be used to manage inflammation caused by oxidative stress and MCAD. Ketotifen is one of these. It is a compounded antihistamine medication with a very low side effect profile. Clark’s Pharmacy in Washington is one pharmacy that makes this superb medication. My doctor gave me ketotifen for MCAD and literally overnight, my symptoms of Lyme and mold toxicity-induced MCAD were dramatically reduced, including the depression. Within a few days, I was a new person: happier, in less pain, and much more energetic.
What I like about ketotifen is that it is profoundly effective and, unlike other commonly known antihistamines like Benadryl, isn’t anticholinergic; that is, it doesn’t block the action of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in the central and peripheral nervous system. Some antihistamines do this, and it is why drugs like Benadryl have been associated with Alzheimer’s and memory loss, since acetylcholine plays a vital role in memory and cognition. On that note, be judicious when taking over-the- counter medications, because they are not necessarily safer than prescription drugs!
One natural antihistamine that may be helpful for managing depression caused by MCAD is quercetin, a flavonoid antioxidant that’s found in many plant foods. Diamine oxidase, an enzyme that’s involved in the metabolism and inactivation of histamine, may also be helpful.
In addition, two natural substances that may help to quell depression caused by inflammation are omega-3 essential fatty acids and curcumin. Both of these have been widely studied for their powerful anti-inflammatory properties.
Curcumin is a compound in the spice turmeric and has also been shown to be helpful for reducing histamine. You can purchase it over-the-counter and online. I recommend choosing a product that has a reputation for effectiveness, since curcumin can be difficult to absorb and not every curcumin product is bioavailable to the body.
Finally, perhaps the most effective thing that you can do to reduce inflammation in your brain and the rest of your body is to maintain an anti-inflammatory diet and reduce your stress levels. I have also found the brain retraining programs, which I share about in Chapter Two of Healthy, Happy and Free to be very powerful for reducing inflammation.
The Role of Gut Health in Mental Wellness
In recent years, researchers have been investigating what’s called the “gut-brain” axis, which is all about how brain health affects the gut, and vice versa. I’ve already described one way in which leaky gut syndrome causes depression: by causing food particles to leak through damaged walls of the GI tract; specifically, the small intestine, where they enter the bloodstream and cause systemic inflammation. In addition, the type and number of beneficial bacteria that you have in your gut play an important role in your mood, as well as your immune function.
For instance, a 2016 study, the results of which were published in Trends in Neurosciences, found that the following probiotics (or beneficial bacteria) substantially reduced depression in a number of people:
- Bifidobacterium bifidum
- Bifidobacterium lactis
- Lactobacillus acidophilus
- Lactobacillus brevis
- Lactobacillus casei
- Lactobacillus salivarius
- Lactococcus lactis
An article published on MentalHealthDaily.com entitled, “10 Best Probiotics For Depression & Anxiety: Gut- Brain Axis Modification” cites the following as the most helpful probiotics for mood regulation, according to animal studies. However, the 10th one on the list here is what’s called a prebiotic, which is a plant fiber that nourishes the good bacteria that are already in the bowel or colon. While probiotics introduce good bacteria into your gut, prebiotics act as a fertilizer for the good bacteria that are already there. The following pre and probiotics may help you to rebuild your gut, and in so doing, positively affect your mind and emotions. They include:
- Bifidobacterium longum
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus
- Lactobacillus helveticus
- Lactobacillus plantarum
- Bifidobacterium animalis
- Lactobacillus casei
- Bifidobacterium infantis
- Bifidobacterium breve
- Lactobacillus acidophilus
To find a probiotic supplement that will optimally enhance your mood and wellbeing, choose a product that has a high number of any of the above-mentioned multiple bacterial species. Ideally, also look for scientific research and clinical evidence to ascertain that product’s effectiveness.
Another great way to fill your gut with mood-promoting probiotics, or beneficial bacteria, is to consume fermented foods on a regular basis. Fermented foods often contain more types of beneficial bacteria than probiotic supplements and can be a helpful digestive aid.
Some popular fermented foods include: kombucha, kimchi, beet kvass, sauerkraut, and juices from fermented vegetables. You can also make your own fermented foods at home, which involves little more than soaking vegetables in a closed container for 48 hours with a little salt, and whey or starter culture. For easy instructions on how to make probiotic foods, and to purchase probiotic food starter kits, see: CulturesforHealth.com.
Gut health is vital for mental, emotional and physical wellbeing. For most people, restoring the gut is multifactorial process that involves not just taking probiotics and removing gastrointestinal infections, but also healing a leaky gut and damaged stomach lining. In addition, it involves avoiding toxic, conventionally processed food.
Many natural substances can help to restore and soothe a damaged gut. Among the most popular of these are: aloe vera, slippery elm, glutamine and marshmallow root. A product called Restore has also been shown to repair a leaky gut, and while it’s a bit pricey at around $50 for a month’s supply, some doctors and other practitioners that I know have had great success in restoring their patients’ guts with it. For more information, see: Restore4Life.com.
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For more in-depth information on healing the gut, an excellent resource is the book, Gut and Psychology Syndrome: Natural Treatment for Autism, Dyspraxia, A.D.D., Dyslexia, A.D.H.D., Depression, and Schizophrenia by Natasha Campbell-McBride, MD. Dr. Campbell-McBride has also developed a powerful diet for restoring the gut, called the GAPS diet, which I mentioned earlier.
In summary, I encourage you to do further research on this topic, as you may be surprised to find that addressing your gut with the right foods and supplements is a powerful tool that will bring you to the next level in your healing!
Other biological factors that affect mood and the mind include mitochondrial health and blood sugar balance. I will briefly share about these last two factors here, and you can do more research on each one on your own, as God leads you. Your cells are made up of many components, including mitochondria, which are little organelles that are considered to be your cells’ energy powerhouses, where all of their energy is produced. Much medical research of late has linked mitochondrial dysfunction and low energy to a multitude of health conditions, including depression.
For instance, one study found that people with depression had significantly fewer mitochondria, or energy producing organelles than those who weren’t depressed. In another study, elderly women with good cognitive function were found to have greater numbers of mitochondria than those with poor cognitive function associated with depression.
Nutrients that facilitate mitochondrial health and provide energy to the cells include coenzyme Q10 and acetyl-L-carnitine. Both of these nutrients also have mood- enhancing properties, due to their ability to reduce oxidative stress and toxicity in the neurons and improve energy within the cells. Studies have shown CoQ10 levels to be significantly lower in people who are depressed or have chronic fatigue. Consequently, CoQ10 may be helpful for enhancing mood and mental function. Similarly, in another study on people with chronic depression, acetyl-L-carnitine was found to alleviate depression.
Therefore, you may want to ask your doctor if you could benefit from taking these vital mitochondria-supportive nutrients. They also support many other processes in the body, including heart health and energy production.Another way to jumpstart your mitochondrial function is to get morning sunshine! Neurosurgeon Jack Kruse, MD, has found that bathing the skin in morning sunshine dramatically improves mitochondrial function, and with that, the cells’ energy.
The Role of Insulin Resistance and Proper Blood Sugar Balance
Over half of the US population is insulin resistant and has either pre-diabetes or diabetes. Insulin resistance is a condition in which the cells become resistant to the effects of insulin, a hormone that’s used by the body to deliver glucose into the cells, which the cells use for energy. Insulin resistance is incredibly common nowadays due to environmental toxicity, chronic infections, the Standard American Diet (SAD), which is high in carbohydrates, and stress. This means that many of us are hypoglycemic, pre- diabetic or even diabetic, as these are the outcomes of long- term insulin resistance.
Correcting insulin resistance and even some cases of type 2 diabetes can be as simple as adopting a low- carbohydrate and/or low-glycemic load diet. There are many books and resources on low carbohydrate and low glycemic load diets, such as the ketogenic diet. If you know that you are insulin resistant or have gained weight in recent years despite a healthy diet, it’s worthwhile to consider adopting a low-carbohydrate diet and/or taking other steps to improve your blood sugar balance.
For instance, the natural supplements chromium and cinnamon have been shown to help the body uptake glucose into the cells and prevent insulin resistance. Regular exercise also lowers and prevents insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is dangerous because it can lead to diabetes, heart disease, and other serious health conditions, including depression. In one study, patients who were treated with the insulin-sensitizing drug pioglitazone hadless depression than those who weren’t given the drug. Evidence suggests that another drug that’s commonly given to diabetics, called metformin, may positively influence mood, as well.
If you aren’t diabetic though, there are less toxic ways to improve the functioning of insulin in your body, such as through a low-carb diet, eating smaller meals, exercising, and taking nutrients that support healthy blood sugar regulation.
Studies show that for optimal health, your fasting glucose levels should be between 70 and 85 mg/dL, and two hours after a meal, should not exceed 120 mg/dL. If your blood sugar is higher than that, you are probably battling some degree of insulin resistance and should consider making some changes to your diet and/or exercise program. You can monitor your blood glucose by purchasing a glucometer and blood sugar testing strips from Wal-Mart or your local pharmacy. It’s simple to do and a worthwhile tool for preventing diabetes, which has become rampant in the United States.
Infections as a Major Cause of Depression
All of us have pathogenic microbes in our bodies; everything from bacteria, to viruses, yeast, molds and parasites. Not all of us are sick from these microbes, as a healthy body will contain their numbers. However, if you are under stress, or your immune system becomes compromised by other factors, they can begin to reproduce in your body and cause disease.
A surprising number of us today battle chronic infections from microbes. Unbeknownst to many of us, they can cause a wide variety of symptoms, ranging from chronic fatigue to headaches, skin conditions, gut and cognitive problems, and, you guessed it—depression.
Microbes live in the central nervous system, brain, bloodstream, gastrointestinal tract, and just about every organ and tissue of the body. They can damage the brain and nervous system, gut and other parts of the body, and they release toxins that promote systemic inflammation, and consequently, depression. By now you’ve probably guessed that inflammation and depression are synonymous, right? Well, not always, but often, yes!
As I can personally attest, many people with chronic Lyme disease, which is caused by microbes that infect primarily the neurological and cardiovascular systems— battle depression and/or anxiety. The depression that microbes cause can be quite severe. This is because they damage or cause dysfunction in the brain, gut and other organs, and trigger widespread inflammation, which results in physiological depression.
Yet many people with chronic, low-grade infections often remain undiagnosed and unaware that they are harboring a plethora of pathogenic microbes, because current lab testing methods for pathogenic microbes are inadequate and symptoms of infection can mimic those of many other conditions. What’s more, most conventionally trained doctors aren’t trained to recognize these microbes, and tests haven’t even yet been developed to detect the many species and strains of pathogenic microbes that are now in the environment and making people sick. Just because you have a negative lab test, doesn’t mean you aren’t harboring some pathogenic creatures somewhere in your body that are wreaking havoc!
The fact that pathogens can cause depression has been established by many studies, and doctors’ experiences with their patients. For instance, a report from Stony Brook University states, “An analysis of 28 studies found a link between viruses and depression. These included the Borna disease virus (BDV), the herpes virus responsible for cold sores, varicella zoster virus, which causes chicken pox and Epstein-Barr virus, which causes glandular fever.”
Some examples of other common pathogenic microbes that cause depression include: Borrelia, Babesia and Bartonella, all of which are found in chronic Lyme disease. Many other types of parasites, bacteria and viruses can also cause it. Mold and yeast infections such as those caused by Candida albicans are other major culprits. It is beyond the scope of this book to list every type of pathogenic organism that can affect your mood and wellbeing, so I highly recommend visiting an integrative medical doctor or naturopath, who uses an outside-the-box testing device or method to discover whether pathogens are making you sick or sad!
Two popular diagnostic devices used by integrative doctors include the ZYTO and ASYRA. Many non- conventional doctors now use these devices to test their patients for infections, as well as for many other things. They are computerized galvanic skin response devices that simply involve you placing your hand on a cradle, while a computer scans your body. They are a simple, non-invasive, and fast method for detecting problems in the body. Health care practitioners who are skilled in the use of these devices can detect a wide variety of pathogenic microbes that conventional lab tests will miss.
Other practitioners use muscle testing to find out whether the body is harboring a pathogenic infection that is affecting your mental health. Every skeletal muscle in your body is attached to or associated with your autonomic nervous system (ANS), which is responsible for the “automatic” functions of your body, like blood pressure, breathing, heart rate, digestion, and so on. If something is stressing your ANS, it will also cause momentary distress in, or a weakening of your skeletal muscles. So you can essentially “ask” your ANS questions by testing your body’s muscle response to a variety of stressors, including pathogenic infections. Your ANS will respond by causing either a strengthening or weakening of the muscles in your body. Muscle testing, by itself, shouldn’t usually be used as a standalone diagnostic tool, but when combined with other testing methods like lab tests and bioenergetic devices, it can help to confirm a diagnosis. For more information on muscle testing, see Dr. Cowden’s and my book, BioEnergetic Tools for Wellness. Here, we also share some powerful tools in energy medicine for healing from depression, in addition to the solutions that I provide here.
Microbes cause depression through a variety of mechanisms, which may include, but are not limited to: inflaming the gut, brain and neurological system; disrupting hormonal function, and causing imbalances in many of the chemicals involved in mood, including multiple neurotransmitters. They also tend to affect the health of the gastrointestinal tract, where many neurotransmitters and mood-promoting probiotic bacteria are made.
Also, in neurological diseases like Lyme, the body can become overloaded by toxins generated by the pathogens, such as ammonia, in addition to toxins from the environment. Then, when the organs of elimination, especially the liver, become overloaded trying to process these toxins, this too, can result in depression. This is because liver health is also intimately linked to mental health.
For this reason, you may find it beneficial to do detoxification therapies on a regular basis, to help your body eliminate any toxins that are generated by pathogenic organisms. Many therapies out there are beneficial for this. These include, but aren’t limited to: coffee enemas, ionic footbaths, castor oil packs over the liver, body brushing, rebounding, sauna therapy, exercise, liver flushes, massage, and taking homeopathic detoxification remedies. These are just a few of the tools that integrative doctors recommend, to facilitate toxin removal through the liver, gallbladder, kidneys, skin and lymphatic system.
It is beyond the scope of this book to describe each of these tools in-depth, but you can learn about simple strategies for detoxifying your body and home of environmental contaminants, including pathogenic or microbial toxins, in Dr. Cowden’s and my book, Create a Toxin-Free Body or Home…Starting Today.
Management of chronic infections can be as simple and straightforward as a two-week course of an herbal or homeopathic remedy, or months to years of therapy using herbs, essential oils, antimicrobial drugs, or oxidative therapies, which includes things like intravenous ozone. The type of medicine that you’ll need will depend on the degree and types of infections that you have.
If you have a myriad of undiagnosed symptoms and find that changing your diet and taking nutritional supplements doesn’t seem to help much, consider that you may be battling chronic infections. These infections, just like environmental toxins, readily get into our bodies via the food, water, soil and air. They are prolific in the environment. Even if you aren’t highly symptomatic, it is worthwhile to do a bioenergetic test with a practitioner who uses a ZYTO or ASYRA device, along with advanced lab testing and perhaps muscle testing, to find out whether pathogenic microbes are affecting you. You may be very surprised at what you find!
Connie Strasheim is the author or co-author of 13 wellness books, including the recently released New Paradigms in Lyme Disease Treatment: 10 Top Doctors Real Healing Strategies that Work. (October, 2016) and Happy, Healthy and Free: Spirit-Soul-Body Solutions for Healing from Depression. She is also a medical copywriter and an editor at ProHealth.com, as well as Editor of the Alternative Cancer Research Institute (ACRI). Her passion is to help people with complex chronic illnesses find freedom from disease and soul-spirit sickness using whole body medicine, and she collaborates with some of the world’s best integrative doctors to do this. In addition to Lyme disease and insomnia, Connie’s books focus on cancer, nutrition, detoxification and spiritual healing. To learn more about her work, see: www.ConnieStrasheim.org.