Many people suffer from chronic issues that affect the brain. It would be nearly impossible to not know someone who has been affected by conditions such as ADD, Alzheimer's, anxiety, autism, brain fog, depression, or fatigue. In part one of this series on natural mental health I gave my favorite tips for a healthy and happy brain and in part two I went over the things you would want to avoid.
In the mainstream medical system, if someone is struggling with one of these issues, he's typically left to pick between pharmaceutical A or B. For many, medications like antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications provide only temporary or marginal relief from their suffering. For others, they live in a constant state of medicated numbness. If medications don't provide sustainable solutions for you, or if you feel like they are not addressing the root cause of why you feel the way you do, this article is for you. In this article I want to share with you the underlying commonality between most of the people I see suffering with these mental health concerns: Inflammation.
We hear the term "inflammation" a lot when dealing with chronic health conditions. What is inflammation exactly, and how can it cause problems with your brain? Inflammation is normally a healthy response. For example, when you hurt your knee, acute inflammation enables your body to repair itself. Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, is inflammation with no end in sight. Like a fire that's fueled with endless gasoline, chronic inflammation doesn't heal — it destroys. Chronic, low-grade, systemic inflammation has been directly implicated in just about every chronic disease; brain conditions are no exception. Unlike other organs, your brain has no pain fibers. Chronic inflammation of the brain can manifest as problems like brain fog, depression or fatigue.
A growing field of study referred to as the cytokine model of cognitive function, attempts to explain how inflammation affects how your brain works. Cytokines are proteins that regulate your bodies immune response. Wherever there's inflammation there are pro-inflammatory cytokines. There are many different ways in which your brain can become inflamed, both directly and indirectly. One of the main inflammatory mechanisms I come across doesn't even necessarily have to start directly in your brain, but actually can originate in your "second brain:" your gut.
Just like your brain, the inner mucosal lining of your gut has no pain fibers. 95% of your body's serotonin, your "feel-good" hormone, is made in your intestines and it has many of the same neurological features as your brain. I've written in a previous MindBodyGreen article about how your gut-brain axis can cause weight loss resistance; it's also at the center of the cytokine model of mental health.
Another key player is zonulin, a protein that's released during inflammatory gut conditions like leaky gut syndrome, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, or a chronic yeast or parasite infection. One of zonulin's jobs is to open up your intestinal tight junctions, which are typically closed to protect your gut's delicate environment. Zonulin and certain bacterial endotoxins called lipopolysaccharides (LPS), which are normally isolated to your gut, can be released from your gastrointestinal system and circulate throughout your body, causing systemic inflammation. Just as zonulin opens your protective gut lining, it has also been shown to open your protective blood-brain barrier. The leaky gut has now caused a leaky brain.
When your brain's protective barrier is breached it can activate the glial cells, your brain's immune cells. More than half the weight of your brain is made up of these immune cells. Once these "immune soldier" glial cells are activated it can turn on an inflammatory response in your brain, and they don't have an off switch. This chronic inflammation can decrease neuron firing and can be linked to just about any problem of the brain. In return, altered brain output then can also decrease its communication with your gut, impairing it's function, causing a vicious, perpetual cycle of inflammation. This inflammation can also impact your brain's communication with the endocrine (hormone) system such as the thyroid (HPT axis) and adrenal glands (HPA axis).
In addition to inflammatory gut conditions, we must also investigate and address any other underlying causes of brain and gut inflammation, such as: