Dr. Doni explains the interrelationship between the mind and the body and explores how oxidative stress and inflammation can contribute to depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.
Part 8 of Dr. Doni’s Series on Oxidative Stress
After everything I’ve described about oxidative stress over the course of this series—how it is increased by exposure to toxins and how we each have an individual ability to counter-balance it—it may be easy to imagine how oxidative stress within our bodies can lead to issues in the nervous system. In fact, in a previous article, I covered how oxidative stress is involved in Alzheimer’s disease and can to memory loss.
There is clearly a connection between our body and our mind. They are so closely linked that, in the work I do with patients, I don’t think of them as separate. And yet, the experience most patients have in medical offices is that the mind and body are entirely separate entities. Some practitioners specialize in the mind. Others specialize in the body. And still others focus on the nervous system. But, in light of this close connection, how can that possibly be the best way to help a person feel better?
Research supports this view and is clearly showing, and more so each year, that not only are the mind and body inextricably linked, but that the factors that influence health in the body also influence health in the mind. Inflammation and oxidative stress, for example, are seen as underlying causes of depression and anxiety because cytokines (inflammation) and free radicals (oxidative stress) can travel throughout your body as well as your mind. They are not stopped by the blood-brain-barrier (BBB), especially when the BBB is “leaky” (similar to leaky gut).1-3
So when you feel anxious, or your mood is low, think about inflammation and oxidative stress. And know that depression and anxiety can be helped by reducing inflammation and oxidative stress in the body and mind.
The Mind-Body Connection
Sadly, many people who suffer from depression, anxiety or other mental health problems are left feeling they are “broken” or that the only option is a psychotropic medication. I’m here to say that you are simply human and that, by finding and eliminating sources of inflammation and oxidative stress, you can help your body and mind to heal. The mind and brain can heal, and not only that, but we can influence our genes. So you are not stuck. Nutrients, enzymes, neurotransmitters, hormones, and cytokines are all responsive to the environment in your body. By supporting that environment, you can optimize levels of all of them.
While I hope that this information brings new insights for you, it is not new information. Thousands of researchers have studied these connections and approaches. In fact, it is this research that lead to my first published article in 2009, Anxiety and Depression: It All Starts with Stress. And that article inspired my first book, The Stress Remedy, which explains how stress in all its forms increases inflammation and oxidative stress, and the steps you can take in terms of testing to assess your cortisol and neurotransmitter levels as well as for food sensitivities and leaky gut, followed by dietary changes and supplements to help optimize your health.4
Even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is known to result from exposure to trauma such as violence, rape, war, and other major crises, can lead to elevated cortisol levels, increased inflammation and oxidative stress. Here again, we see the mind-body connection because, when exposed to emotional trauma, the stress doesn’t only affect the mind, but also the body. The solution therefore, is not to simply address the mind, but also the body.
Recovery Is Possible
My grandmother, one of the most incredible women I’ve ever known (and a great inspiration to me), was raped in her own home when she was 86 years old. She shared with me (before she passed away almost 17 years ago) that she recovered from that horrific experience with the support of a compassionate therapist who helped her reconnect with herself. And, in the last 7 years of her life, she lived alone in that same home and enjoyed many of her passions, including painting, gardening, and cooking. I’ve included a couple of her paintings here in this post so you can see examples of her creativity.
What allowed my grandmother to move forward despite such turmoil? I believe it was her ability to process stress and something now referred to as neuroplasticity—the ability of the mind to create new neural pathways.5 Research shows us that, through meditation, yoga, mindfulness, and other similar techniques (even gardening), our minds can gain greater awareness and ability to find understanding even with some of the hardest experiences. EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) therapy is an example of a therapy that helps people recover from stress by creating new pathways in the brain. Developed by Dr. Francine Shapiro and practiced by mental health practitioners who completed specialized training, it essentially distracts your mind with eye movements or sound so that you can process stresses from the past that may be triggering anxiety or depression in the present. Learn more at EMDR.com.
Considering that these neuroplastic therapies have been shown to help mental health issues, is it possible that they work by lowering inflammation and oxidative stress, allowing the body, cells, and mitochondria to heal and function better? That is exactly what research is beginning to show us—that therapies that lower cortisol and help our bodies recover from stress, are working by decreasing oxidative stress or improving our ability to manage oxidative stress, as well as inflammation on a very microscopic level in the nervous system.6-8
This finding carries a significant potential benefit for mental health. Depression, for example, is pervasive. It exists in many forms in many thousands of people of all ages. It can happen after the loss of a child or parent. It can happen with a divorce or the end of a relationship. It can also occur when hormones shift, such as with peri-menopause and postpartum (after pregnancy). PMS is another form of depression that can occur every month for some women, affecting them for up to half of every month.
If you experience depression in any of these ways, please know that there is hope. There is an explanation and there are ways to support your body to feel better. It can be different for each person. It can be caused by inflammation due to a food sensitivity, or a hormone change, or a neurotransmitter imbalance due to stress. All of these things increase oxidative stress, but they are also fixable. First there are tests available that can help us determine exactly what is imbalanced in your body—what I refer to as a “stress test”—to show us how your body has been affected by stress (by looking at cortisol, neurotransmitter levels, and adrenaline). Then, using research and experience, we can carefully choose foods, vitamins, amino acids, minerals, and herbs* that will help bring balance back to your body.
Research shows, for example, that some of the simplest nutrients, including omega 3 fats (fish oil), magnesium, and B vitamins (including methylfolate) have a major influence on neurotransmitter levels and mood. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to addressing genetic mutations such as MTHFR, NOS, MAO and COMT (read more in this article) using nutrients. It’s very exciting to offer these solutions to patients who have struggled for years or even decades.9-10
Taking the Next Step
To find out more how I can help you, you can read more about my approach here. I help patients in-person, and via phone or video calls. There are also thousands of other practitioners who are trained to approach mental health in this way, so you can also look for a practitioner near you. Naturopathic care is a process that seems to go more smoothly when you have the support you need.
You may want to consider reviewing or choosing the Oxidative Stress Testing and Consultation Package that I created with the intention of taking the most comprehensive approach.
I look forward to your comments and experience with addressing mental health from the perspective of stress, inflammation, and oxidative stress.
And I invite you to sign up to receive my Weekly Wellness Wisdom newsletter below (on this page), where I’ll keep you updated on new blog posts and other tips to support you in taking control of stress and optimizing your health.
12th February 2016
*Please keep in mind that any and all supplements—nutrients, herbs, enzymes, or other—should be used with caution. My recommendation is that you seek the care of a naturopathic doctor (with a doctorate degree from a federally-accredited program) and that you have a primary care physician or practitioner whom you can contact to help you with individual dosing and protocols. If you ever experience negative symptoms after taking a product, stop taking it immediately and contact your doctor right away.
- Cheng T, Dimitrov S, Pruitt C, Hong S. Glucocorticoid mediated regulation of inflammation in human monocytes is associated with depressive mood and obesity. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2016 Jan 12;66:195-204.
- da Costa SC, Passos IC, Réus GZ, Carvalho AF, Soares JC, Quevedo J. The Comorbidity of Bipolar Disorder and Migraine: The Role of Inflammation and Oxidative and Nitrosative Stress. Curr Mol Med. 2016;16(2):179-86.
- Kudlow P, Cha DS, Carvalho AF, McIntyre RS. Nitric Oxide and Major Depressive Disorder: Pathophysiology and Treatment Implications. Curr Mol Med. 2016;16(2):206-15.
- Wilson, D. Anxiety and Depression: It All Starts With Stress. Integrative Medicine. 2009;8(3):42-45.
- Megumi Kaneko Michael P Stryker. Sensory experience during locomotion promotes recovery of function in adult visual cortex. eLife 2014;3:e02798.
- Kumar SB, Yadav R, Yadav RK, Tolahunase M, Dada R. Telomerase activity and cellular aging might be positively modified by a yoga-based lifestyle intervention. J Altern Complement Med. 2015 Jun;21(6):370-2.
- Yadav RK1, Magan D, Mehta N, Sharma R, Mahapatra SC. Efficacy of a short-term yoga-based lifestyle intervention in reducing stress and inflammation: preliminary results. J Altern Complement Med. 2012 Jul;18(7):662-7.
- Martarelli D1, Cocchioni M, Scuri S, Pompei P. Diaphragmatic breathing reduces exercise-induced oxidative stress. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2011;2011:932430.
- Du J1, Zhu M, Bao H, Li B, Dong Y, Xiao C, Zhang GY, Henter I, Rudorfer M, Vitiello B. The Role of Nutrients in Protecting Mitochondrial Function and Neurotransmitter Signaling: Implications for the Treatment of Depression, PTSD, and Suicidal Behaviors. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2014 Nov 3:0.
- Bottiglieri T. Folate, vitamin B12, and neuropsychiatric disorders. Nutr Rev. 1996 Dec;54(12):382-90.