Mental health and its effects on overall wellness are becoming more of a concern every day that passes. The past few years (2020 to 2022) have cast a light on the mental health epidemic in this country. Since 2020, many people have faced challenges like depression, anxiety, aggression, and addictions throughout the pandemic. The result has been relationship turmoil, missed workdays, and decreased quality of life. Over the next few weeks, we will address some mechanisms behind these mental health imbalances. We’ll specifically address the chemical messengers that impact our mental health: neurotransmitters.
Mental Health Statistics
Pew Research reports that about one-fifth (21 percent) of U.S. adults have experienced high levels of pandemic-related psychological distress. Three out of ten said it has changed their lives in “a major way.” Social isolation and lack of routine have hit young people particularly hard. A CDC report revealed that since the pandemic began, mental health-related visits to emergency rooms rose significantly. They went up 24 percent for children ages 5-11 and 31 percent for children ages 12-17 compared with data from 2019.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention reports that suicide is now the 12th leading cause of death in the United States. It claims the lives of almost 46,000 people each year. These statistics are heartbreaking and sobering. Now more than ever, it is imperative that we take mental health seriously and approach it with great care.
Inflammation and Mental Health
We need to start approaching mental health as a physical illness. It’s time to start recognizing the connection between psychological well-being and physical health. Mental health concerns like depression, anxiety, obsessive thoughts, excessive fear, and moodiness reflect the body’s other systems.
Systemic inflammation can profoundly impact mental well-being. That’s why it is crucial to address the body as an interconnected unit, like a Swiss watch, rather than single out one symptom or another. Markers of increased inflammation, particularly brain inflammation, are common in those who experience mental health conditions.
Contrary to how many individuals feel, mental health concerns are not just “all in your head.” We can address many of the contributing factors to those mental health concerns, which may help bring mental wellness back into balance. Let’s look at a few.
1. Imbalanced Gut Bacteria
The Greek physician, Hippocrates, is known for originating the concept that “all disease begins in the gut.” That is not an overstatement! Mental health concerns are almost always connected in some way to gut health. The connection between the brain and the gut is powerful.
We all have microorganisms in our intestines that aid in digestion and absorption. Unfortunately, these microorganisms can get out of balance from our food choices, medicines, or other toxins. Because of its intricate connection with the central nervous system, problems in the gut affect the whole body. That includes the brain.
Leaky gut syndrome, or intestinal hyperpermeability, has been closely linked to depression. One study found that about 35 percent of depressed participants showed signs of leaky gut based on testing.
2. Nutrient Deficiencies
What we ingest (or don’t ingest) can impact our brains significantly. First, we must ensure the gut can absorb nutrients by addressing issues like leaky gut and dysbiosis. After that, following a healing and nutrient-dense diet is critical for supporting gut health.
Calming inflammation in the gut can impact all other systems in the body. Many people don’t realize the severity of their symptoms until they remove certain foods from their diet and see those issues resolved. Indicators may include brain fog, difficulty concentrating, or brain hyperactivity.
3. Heavy Metal Toxicities
Metals are neurotoxins, which means they cause damage to the brain when present in the body, known as heavy metal toxicity. Some people handle metal exposure with little to no side effects. Others have a harder time detoxifying these metals from their system, resulting in chronic health issues.
When these substances enter the body, they are stored inside fat cells and bone tissue, primarily, to protect the body from those toxins. Fat cells are present everywhere in the body, including in the brain. While the blood-brain barrier usually protects the body from these metals leaching into the brain, there are instances when that barrier can break down. As a result, toxic metals can enter in and wreak havoc. One manifestation of heavy metal toxicity is depression.
Exposure to heavy metals comes in numerous forms. You can find them in everything from deodorant to makeup, dental fillings, vaccines, contaminated food, and more. Read this article to learn ways to avoid everyday encounters with toxic metals.
4. Everyday Physical Traumas
Physical trauma comes in many forms and is not always due to a life-altering accident. Believe it or not, you can cause your body trauma with small daily actions like poor posture, crossing your legs, sleeping on a poor-quality mattress, carrying a baby on your hip, sitting on your wallet, or working at your computer. Traumas can also occur from more recognizable events like car accidents, taking a fall, or experiencing a sports injury. Large or small, traumas are a source of inflammation stressing the body.
Subluxations are slight misalignments of the spinal vertebrae. A spinal subluxation impacts the function of spinal nerve roots, which can cause issues in the organs served by those roots. Because of the brain’s integral role in the nervous system, misalignments can affect your mood and emotional response. Regular chiropractic adjustments help support the nervous system, cognitive function, and overall mental health.
5. Disrupted Hormones
Hormones are your internal messenger system. They are chemical messengers that carry signals throughout the body, telling tissues and organs how to function or adapt for life and homeostasis. Endocrine disruptors affect that messenger system by mimicking hormones or interfering with the messages.
Exposure to disruptors is more common than you would think. Sources of exposure include cleaning products, pesticides in produce, plastics, personal care products, drinking water, and more. Endocrine system disruption impacts several organs in the body, including the brain. Neurobehavioral disorders such as dyslexia, autism, and ADHD all have documented links to endocrine disruptors.
Hormones that are out of balance directly impact mood, energy, emotional balance, and outlook on life. How do you know if you are experiencing hormone disruption? Get your hormone levels tested! You don’t know what you don’t know. When equipped with the knowledge of what is truly going on in your body, you can begin taking significant steps toward restoring your health based on what your tests reveal.
These Imbalances Affect Our Neurotransmitters
What is the connection between systemic inflammation, gut bacteria, nutrient deficiencies, metal toxicity, physical traumas, hormone imbalance, and our mood? It all goes back to their impact on our neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers that affect how we feel and respond to stressors in our lives. As mentioned earlier, there is a gut-brain connection, which means the gut bacteria influence brain chemistry, and brain chemistry influences the makeup of the gut bacteria. The communication goes in both directions.
While we mostly associate the major neurotransmitters (dopamine, serotonin, GABA, and acetylcholine) with the brain, our gut bacteria also produce neurotransmitters. A large amount of our feel-good neurotransmitter, serotonin, comes from the gut. As you can imagine, when the gut microbiome is out of balance, it can lead to imbalanced thoughts and feelings in our neurotransmitter system.
You Can Restore Your Mental Health!
Although it can often feel very lonely and isolating to experience mental health struggles, there is hope! At The Wellness Way, we understand that the body is highly intelligent and interconnected. One piece of the puzzle impacts all the others. That’s where neurotransmitter testing comes in. Many factors influence our neurotransmitters, which then affects how we feel.
If you are experiencing mental health challenges, we can partner with you to discover what is going on and help guide your body back to a place of balance. Wellness Way practitioners can assess your gut health, find out which foods may be causing inflammation, and order a neurotransmitter panel. We don’t guess. We test! There is a physical reason for mental health symptoms. We encourage you to find a Wellness Way clinic and begin your journey.
You are worth it.
- Many in U.S. face mental health issues as COVID-19 enters year two | Pew Research Center
- Mental Health–Related Emergency Department Visits Among Children Aged 18 Years During the COVID-19 Pandemic — United States, January 1–October 17, 2020 | MMWR (cdc.gov)
- Suicide statistics | AFSP
- Hormonal Imbalance & Depression: Is it Linked? (endocrineweb.com)
- Gut Bacteria May Exacerbate Depression – Scientific American
- The role of intestinal endotoxemia in a rat model of aluminum neurotoxicity (spandidos-publications.com)
- Endocrine disrupters and our health – Chemicals In Our Life – ECHA (europa.eu)
- The Brain-Gut Connection | Johns Hopkins Medicine
- Indigenous bacteria from the gut microbiota regulate host serotonin biosynthesis – PMC (nih.gov)