May is Mental Health Awareness Month. What do doctors and psychologists consider mental health conditions? The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) lists twelve on their website. However, some of the most common ones are anxiety disorders, depression, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Unfortunately, many people suffer from more than one diagnosis.
The traditional medical response to these conditions is usually medication(s). Often, the doctor will also recommend some form of psychotherapy. Yes, there is a time and place for pharmaceutical intervention, but doctors need to keep in mind that changes in physiology can lead to these disorders.
How often are medical doctors testing for underlying deficiencies or imbalances before medicating? What if there was a better way?
Mental Health Challenges Are at Epidemic Level
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1 in 5 adults in the U. S. experience mental illness each year. A study published in JAMA Pediatrics, reports that 1 in 6 youth aged 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year in the U.S. It is a significant percentage of the American population. What is going on? What is behind this epidemic of mental health disorders? Especially in teens?
At The Wellness Way, we always go back to physical, biochemical, and emotional stressors. We refer to them as trauma, toxins, and thoughts.
Trauma, Toxins, and Thoughts
Addressing the three Ts is one of the main principles behind chiropractic care. The principle states that these three factors cause distress to the nervous system and ultimately lead to dis-ease. Let’s go a little deeper into each of these.
Trauma (Physical Stressors)
Traumas are events, large and small, that affect your body physically. Examples include accidents, injuries, surgeries, subluxations, abnormal spinal curves, poor posture, giving birth, carrying excessive weight, sitting too much, and even a habit of crossing your legs. Things usually considered healthy or admirable can also act like physical stressors, such as overexercising or working too much.
Toxins (Biochemical Stressors)
Toxins are external substances that affect your body biochemically. They enter your body through ingestion (food, water, drugs, etc.), inhalation, and absorption through the skin. The presence of toxins in the body compromises the functioning of major systems and leads to inflammation. Toxins come in the form of pesticide or herbicide residue, food additives, food allergens, GMO foods, artificial sweeteners, alcohol consumption, smoking, heavy metal toxicity, personal care products, cleaning products, environmental pollution, non-native electromagnetic frequencies (EMFs), environmental allergens, mold toxicity, infections, medications, and more.
Thoughts (Mental and Emotional Stressors)
Thoughts are patterns of beliefs that can cause mental and emotional distress both consciously and unconsciously. This type of stress can come from work, relationships, friends, family, money troubles, and watching the news (fear/worry). It can come from pivotal life changes, such as marriage, a new baby, divorce, moving to a new city, and losing a loved one. A negative attitude or outlook is another contributor to ongoing mental and emotional stress. Unresolved childhood traumas can also impact thoughts and overall mental health.
The Swiss Watch Approach to Mental Health
Discovering how the Three Ts uniquely affect your body is the first step to overcoming your mental health challenges. Why? Because the body is like a Swiss Watch. Just like how each of the gears of the watch affects the others, so it is with the systems of the body. If something is out of balance in one area, such as the brain stem or gut, it will have consequences for other areas.
A subluxation is a misalignment of the vertebrae in the spine that interferes with how the nervous system functions. When these bones are out of alignment, it can aggravate the nerves surrounding them. As a result, the nervous system creates a sympathetic (“fight-or-flight”) response. That puts the body into an emergency state, increasing the release of inflammatory chemicals (like interleukin 6) and stimulating a neurotransmitter response (like an increase in adrenalin).
Chiropractic adjustments stimulate the release of certain chemicals (like BDNF and NGF) that promote a balanced, happy brain. Studies have shown that depressed and suicidal people have lower levels of these chemicals.
So do those with ADHD.
Interleukin-6 is an inflammatory cytokine whose increased activity is associated with major depression. Scientists believe interleukin-6 activity may lead to depression by activating the HPA axis (stress response). Essentially, brain inflammation may contribute to depression.
Adrenalin, also called epinephrine, is associated with anxiety and panic attacks. Scientists are finding that adjustments in the neck (cervical) region calm down the nervous system. Because the upper cervical vertebrae surround the brainstem, chiropractic adjustments in that area remove interference within the calming (parasympathetic) part of the nervous system.
Chiropractic care can help balance the brain and nervous system so that the body can produce normal levels of proteins, hormones, neurotransmitters, growth factors, and other chemical messengers needed to feel good.
Immune Responses to Food
Eating foods to which you have an allergic or immune response can also aggravate mental health. Mast cells are immune cells distributed throughout the body, including the brain. When activated, they release histamine and other inflammatory chemicals into the bloodstream, creating a variety of responses and reactions.
Researchers have discovered that ongoing allergen exposure (as in food allergens) keeps mast cells activated and creates inflammation in the brain. Continuing to consume foods to which you are sensitive can cause a state of chronic inflammation in the body. This can be happening in your body even if you don’t notice any symptoms.
Ongoing brain inflammation from histamine has been linked to anxiety-like behavior and sleep issues. It can also interact with hormones and neurotransmitters in the brain to create depression. Some researchers believe that brain inflammation should be one of the main targets for alleviating depression.
Scientific research has also found a connection between food allergies, brain inflammation, and behavioral disorders like ADHD. In January of 2022, researchers published a review of 192,573 children aged four to seventeen. They found a significant association between allergic conditions like food allergy and ADHD.
Food additives can aggravate symptoms in those with ADHD, possibly due to a genetic difficulty in breaking down histamine.
Dietary & Nutritional Factors
A review study published in 2020 makes a compelling case for dietary and nutritional factors and their impact on mental health.
Researchers looked at what diet and lifestyle choices could impact schizophrenia and related disorders. They reviewed 822 studies in all. What they discovered was interesting: There was a connection between a diagnosis of a psychotic disorder and a nutrient-deficient diet.
Some specific findings included:
- Higher intake of refined carbohydrates
- Lower intake of fiber
- Deficiency in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids
- Lower intake of vegetables and fruits
- Nutrient-deficient status (vitamin B12, B6, folate, vitamin C, zinc, and selenium)
- Higher incidence of food allergy
Some connections included nutritional deficiencies, food additive reactions, food sensitivities, etc. That’s where testing comes in.
The gut-brain connection is now well-established by research. The gut bacteria influence brain chemistry, and the brain influences the makeup of the gut bacteria and the permeability of the gut, which affects the immune system. Astrocytes are star-shaped cells in the brain that protect the nervous system. They can promote or limit inflammation as they respond to messages from gut bacteria.
Neurotransmitters are chemicals that control feelings and emotions. We mostly associate serotonin, dopamine, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), and others with the brain. However, gut bacteria also produce neurotransmitters. A large amount of our feel-good neurotransmitter, serotonin, is produced in the gut.
GABA is also produced in the gut and, when produced in adequate amounts, can help reduce feelings of anxiety and depression.
Animal studies are showing the potential for prebiotic supplements to help anxiety and depression. Prebiotics are the food for our gut bacteria. They are carbohydrate foods (usually fiber or starch) that humans cannot digest. Instead, they serve as food for our microbiome, which then produces short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) to nourish the brain.
In a 2017 study, scientists gave fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) and galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) supplements to mice under stress. Taking them over time had both anti-depressant and anti-anxiety effects. Scientists concluded that prebiotics could be beneficial for anxiety and depression.
External factors, like chronic stress, can also contribute to mental health disorders. Stress activates the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis in the body. According to research, when the HPA axis is chronically activated, it can lead to major depression.
In fact, the link between depression and an abnormal HPA axis (stress response) is one of the most consistent findings in the field of psychiatry.
Chronic stress can also cause changes to the brain that affect behaviors, including those related to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), autism, ADHD, and addictions.
Mental Health Support Through the Wellness Way
So, how does The Wellness Way address these physical, biochemical, and emotional stressors and bring the body back into a state of health and balance? We don’t guess; we test! We start by doing comprehensive testing to learn which of the three Ts is currently affecting you and how. This could be through x-ray imaging, food allergy testing, gut testing, hormone testing, and more.
Then, it is a matter of removing the things that are creating inflammation and imbalance in your body. After all, gut inflammation is brain inflammation. It’s all connected – just like inside a Swiss Watch. Our practitioners will work with you one-on-one to create a personalized lifestyle and nutrition plan. Physical health affects mental health, so we will support you in removing the things that prevent your body from functioning optimally and adding things it needs to heal.
When you remove the things causing interference and inflammation, the body is in a much better place to heal and return to balance.
- Mental Health Conditions | NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness
- Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (samhsa.gov)
- US National and State-Level Prevalence of Mental Health Disorders and Disparities of Mental Health Care Use in Children – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Neurobiological basis of chiropractic manipulative treatment of the spine in the care of major depression – PMC (nih.gov)
- Sympathetic neurons can produce and respond to interleukin 6 – PMC (nih.gov)
- The Physiology of BDNF and Its Relationship with ADHD – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Role of Interleukin-6 in Depressive Disorder – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Brain mast cells link the immune system to anxiety-like behavior – PMC (nih.gov)
- Epinephrine-induced panic attacks and hyperventilation – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Sympathetic and parasympathetic responses to specific diversified adjustments to chiropractic vertebral subluxations of the cervical and thoracic spine – PMC (nih.gov)
- Potential Role of Intracranial Mast Cells in Neuroinflammation and Neuropathology Associated with Food Allergy – PMC (nih.gov)
- Brain mast cells link the immune system to anxiety-like behavior – PMC (nih.gov)
- Histamine from brain resident MAST cells promotes wakefulness and modulates behavioral states – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Impact of inflammation on neurotransmitter changes in major depression: an insight into the action of antidepressants – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Neuroinflammation and depression: A review – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Association of Food Allergy, Respiratory Allergy, and Skin Allergy with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder among Children – PubMed (nih.gov)
- The role of histamine degradation gene polymorphisms in moderating the effects of food additives on children’s ADHD symptoms – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Diet and Psychosis: A Scoping Review – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Nutrition and behavioral health disorders: depression and anxiety – PubMed (nih.gov)
- The influence of components of diet on the symptoms of ADHD in children – PubMed (nih.gov)
- The Brain-Gut Connection | Johns Hopkins Medicine
- Indigenous bacteria from the gut microbiota regulate host serotonin biosynthesis – PMC (nih.gov)
- The Neuro-endocrinological Role of Microbial Glutamate and GABA Signaling – PMC (nih.gov)
- Targeting the Microbiota-Gut-Brain Axis: Prebiotics Have Anxiolytic and Antidepressant-like Effects and Reverse the Impact of Chronic Stress in Mice – PubMed (nih.gov)
- HPA axis in major depression: cortisol, clinical symptomatology and genetic variation predict cognition – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Atypical depression and non-atypical depression: Is HPA axis function a biomarker? A systematic review – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Basolateral amygdala and stress-induced hyperexcitability affect motivated behaviors and addiction – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Stress, Anxiety, and Immunomodulation: A Pharmacological Analysis – PubMed (nih.gov)