Depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States, affecting more than 16 million people. As such, antidepressant use has jumped by 65 percent in the last 15 years, with one in eight Americans over the age of 12 taking antidepressants.
These statistics are alarming considering the root causes of depression are going unaddressed. Like pain or injury anywhere in the body, depression is a warning flag from the body that the system is out of balance. Stamping out the root causes of depression is like removing the engine light in your car instead of investigating what’s wrong with the car.
In functional medicine we look at the body as an integrated whole, with all parts working together and influencing one another. If you understand human physiology, it doesn’t make sense to isolate and treat one part of the body — such as the brain in depression — without including the overall health of the body.
Many factors can play into depression, including blood sugar imbalances, hormonal imbalances, immune dysregulation, gut health, and gut microbiome dysfunctions.
All of these factors can lead to brain inflammation, which scientists are increasingly finding is the most common cause of major depressive disorder. This type of depression does not respond to antidepressants.
Antidepressants target brain chemicals. called neurotransmitters, that govern mood, motivation, behavior, and mental activity. Some natural remedies, such as 5-HTP or Saint John’s Wort, also target neurotransmitters.
However, this model does not take into account newer research that shows depression is usually due to inflammation. Inflammation in the brain disrupts brain function in several ways that leads to depression.
Your brain operates through communication, or firing, between neurons. However, when the brain becomes inflamed, the inflammation slows down conduction between neurons. Slowed firing between neurons in the frontal and limbic lobes of the brain leads to depression.
Brain inflammation prevents the production of neurotransmitters
Feeling happy and content instead of depressed depends on proper neurotransmitter production and activity in the brain. Brain inflammation has been shown to sabotage the synthesis of dopamine and serotonin, the two neurotransmitters most associated with depression.
Dopamine is called the “pleasure and reward” neurotransmitter. Symptoms of low dopamine include:
Inability to handle stress
Inability to self-motivate
Inability to start or finish tasks
Feelings of worthlessness
Feelings of hopelessness
Short temper over minor upsets
Isolating oneself from others
Unexplained lack of concern for family and friends
Serotonin is the “joy and well-being” neurotransmitter. Symptoms of low serotonin include:
Feelings of depression
Feelings of inner rage and anger
Difficulty finding joy from life’s pleasures and favorite activities
Depression when it is cloudy or when there is lack of sunlight
Not enjoying friendships and relationships
Not enjoying favorite foods
Unable to fall into deep restful sleep
As dopamine levels drop, you lose your motivation and drive. As serotonin drops, you lose your mood, sense of happiness, and satisfaction with things you used to love.
While this may look like a neurotransmitter problem, antidepressants typically have no effect because they do not address the brain inflammation causing it.
Brain inflammation prevents neurotransmitter receptor sites from working well
Brain inflammation also inhibits the function of receptor sites on neurons for neurotransmitters. Even if there is enough dopamine or serotonin in the brain, brain inflammation will prevent receptors from responding to them appropriately. This prevents neurons from communicating with one another efficiently and depression results.
Brain inflammation and depression are signs the brain is degenerating too fast
The brain is made up of two types of cells: neurons and microglia cells. Microglia cells are the brain’s immune cells and facilitate healthy neuron function, respond to foreign invaders, and clean up plaque and debris.
However, the brain’s immune cells don’t have an off-switch like the body’s. When they are triggered by a brain injury, an inflammatory food, unstable blood sugar, a chronic infection, poor gut health, infectious bacteria in the gut, chronic stress, alcohol abuse, and other insults, they become over-activated in an effort to protect the brain. Unfortunately, they don’t necessarily turn off afterward and can stay in a “primed” over active state indefinitely if constantly triggered by poor dietary and lifestyle choices. This is what causes brain inflammation and depression.
I hope you can see now why so many people don’t respond to antidepressants and why it’s so important to address the root causes of depression. Failing to do so allows brain inflammation to continue unchecked, raising the risk of dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other brain degeneration diseases. Ask my office how functional medicine can help you tame brain inflammation and overcome depression.
Although few doctors know how to successfully manage autoimmune disease — a condition in which the immune system attacks the body — researchers say it has become a modern epidemic, affecting more people than heart disease and cancer combined. Conventional medicine also argues autoimmune disease has mysterious origins and is primarily genetic, but again research paints a different picture — autoimmune disease has largely been traced to the tens of thousands of toxic chemicals in our environment.
It takes the average person five years and visiting at least five different doctors before they receive a diagnosis for autoimmunity. Despite many published and peer-reviewed scientific studies about autoimmunity, rare are medical doctors who know how to identify symptoms of autoimmunity, properly screen for it, or appropriately treat it.
Most autoimmune patients are prescribed antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications, told they need to exercise more or lose weight, or told they are making up their symptoms. More than 75 percent of patients with autoimmunity are women, which suggests the sexism shown to exist in medicine stands in the way of better treatments.
If medical doctors do diagnose autoimmune disease, it is typically only after the disease has almost completely destroyed the targeted tissue, whether it’s parts of the brain, the thyroid gland, or the sheaths that coat the nerves. At this point they can offer invasive treatments such as steroids, chemotherapy drugs, or surgery.
Examples of popular autoimmune diseases include Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, lupus, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, and vitiligo. Although about 100 autoimmune diseases have been identified so far, the truth is the immune system can attack any cell in the body and researchers believe there are probably more than 100.
Autoimmunity rates are skyrocketing. Consider the following:
Type 1 diabetes rose 23 percent between 2001 and 2009 in the US
Crohn’s disease rose 300 percent in 20 years in the UK
Inflammatory bowel disease has risen more than 7 percent every year in Canada
An Israeli study showed autoimmune rates are rising worldwide
Studies show autoimmune rates rise the most in developed nations and in countries that are developing while they are lowest in the least developed countries.
“Developed” has become synonymous with “toxic.”About 80,000 chemicals that haven’t been tested on humans are in our environment in the US and about 5,000 new ones are added every year. Random blood sampling studies show that we all have dozens, if not hundreds (depends on how many they test), of these chemicals in our bloodstream. One study of fetal cord blood found almost 300 different chemicals in newborns around the country.
Other studies link different chemicals to different autoimmune diseases. For instance, mercury has been shown to trigger lupus and pesticides are linked to rheumatoid arthritis.
Rising autoimmune rates are also traced to poor diets high in processed foods and low in plant fiber. This compromises the gut microbiome, or gut bacteria diversity, which has been linked to poor immune function.
Low vitamin D levels, high chronic stress levels, hormonal imbalances, high sugar consumption, and sedentary lifestyles are some of other common reasons for the autoimmune epidemic.
A functional medicine approach to autoimmune disease
When it comes to autoimmunity, functional medicine shines.
For one thing, we listen to you. We know you are not crazy, making up your symptoms, or attention seeking. Autoimmunity is frustrating and confounding in its wide variety of symptoms and mysterious nature. We understand how demoralizing this can be.
Although symptoms vary depending on the tissue being attacked, common symptoms among all autoimmune sufferers include fatigue, malaise, pain, brain fog, depression, and periods where you “crash,” or have such low energy you can’t function.
In functional medicine we use lab tests that screen for multiple autoimmune conditions at once. This allows us to identify an autoimmune reaction taking place that may not be advanced enough yet to cause extreme symptoms. This allows us to halt or slow its progression.
We also can test for the triggers in your environment, such as certain foods you may not be aware are sending your immune system into a tailspin, such as gluten, or specific chemicals, such as benzene. Avoiding these triggers can help you feel better.
Successfully managing autoimmunity is not necessarily about managing the part of your body that is being attacked. Instead, it’s about addressing your hyper zealous and misguided immune system. The immune system is very complex and always in flux, but thankfully new research is continually helping us learn new strategies to balance immunity, dampen inflammation, tame autoimmune flares, and prevent autoimmunity from progressing and devastating the body.
In fact, some autoimmune patients say their autoimmune disease has taught them how to live more balanced and healthy lives than they would have otherwise.
Ask my office for more information about how to manage your autoimmune condition.
Infertility has been a growing problem over the last three decades, with most of the attention focused on women’s reproduction. However, 40 to 50 percent of cases of infertility are caused by male infertility. Research shows sperm quality has dropped by 50 percent in the last 80 years. Sperm quality of dogs has also declined sharply over recent years.
Now, a recent study shows common pollutants in the environment and in the foods we eat affect male fertility.
The British study looked at the effects of two common pollutants on the sperm of both men and dogs. For this study they studied a common plasticizer that is ubiquitous in our environment and the industrial chemical polychlorinated biphenyl 153, which, though banned, is still abundant in our foods and the environment.
They found that when sperm is exposed to both these chemicals at levels found in the environment it damaged the sperm. They reduced sperm motility and fragmented DNA in the sperm. Male infertility is linked to DNA fragmentation in sperm.
Many studies link pollutants to poor sperm quality
The declining rates of sperm quality since the rise of industrialization are no surprise; other studies show links.
For instance, past research has shown that environmental pollutants not only impact male fertility but also raise the risk of testicular cancer. Poor sperm quality has even been linked to the chemical exposure of a man’s mother prior to his birth.
Also, chemicals called “endocrine disrupters” have long been shown to impact male fertility. That’s because they mimic human hormones — the female hormone estrogen primarily, thus throwing male hormones off balance.
If you would like help understanding Pollution effects to Human and Animal’s sperm, you can schedule a FREE 15-MINUTE CONSULTATION with Dr. Celaya.
Again, it’s the chemicals in plastics that are to blame for skewing male hormones and promoting infertility.
Low sperm counts and poor sperm quality have also been linked to benzenes, toluene, xylene, pesticides, herbicides, organic solvents, painting materials, and heavy metals.
Sugars and processed carbs impact male fertility
While industrial pollutants take their toll, so does a dietary pollutant that is a staple of the modern American diet: foods high in sugar and processed carbohydrates that spike blood sugar and insulin levels.
Eating a diet high in these blood sugar-spiking ingredients triggers a man’s body to over produce estrogen. This not only gives him more feminine characteristics but also impacts his fertility.
Symptoms of too much estrogen in men include:
Decrease or loss of morning erections, fullness of erections, and the ability to maintain erections
Mental fatigue and poor concentration
Lack of motivation
Decrease in physical stamina
Men with excess estrogen also often have high cholesterol and triglycerides, insulin resistance, elevated blood pressure, abdominal weight gain, the development of “breasts” and “hips,” and varicose veins or hemorrhoids. Some men even have hot flashes thanks to high estrogen.
A variety of factors are shown to contribute to estrogen dominance in men, including estrogen mimicking chemicals in pesticides and environmental chemicals, poor essential fatty acid status (too much omega 6 fatty acids and not enough omega 3), gut infections, and poor liver detoxification.
However, the most common cause is the effect of a high-carbohydrate diet on overall health.
When a man consistently eats a diet that is high in starchy and sugary foods, such as sweets, bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, soda, and sweet coffee drinks, this chronically over produces insulin in order to low high blood sugar.
This type of diet triggers an enzyme called aromatase, which synthesizes estrogen. The constant activity of aromatase also leads to insulin resistance—when insulin cannot escort glucose into the cells—which causes hormonal imbalances.
Addressing excess estrogen in men
Don’t be fooled into thinking using testosterone gel is the way around high estrogen. Thanks to aromatase, the additional testosterone will simply be converted into estrogen too. The excess testosterone can also cause testosterone resistance, which makes symptoms of low testosterone worse. Instead, a hormone panel that includes levels of testosterone and estrogen will reveal the mechanisms of the imbalance and what the best course of action is for you.
Functional medicine strategies for male infertility
While we can’t rid the environment of pollutants, we can minimize our exposure and help buffer our bodies. In addition to replacing toxic items in your home, body care, house cleaning, and diet with non-toxic alternatives, you can also help your body by supporting your liver detoxification, antioxidant glutathione status, and body’s stress handling abilities.
It’s also vital to use diet and lifestyle changes to support healthy testosterone levels. Ask my office about functional medicine therapies to support healthy male testosterone and fertility.
Have you ever wanted to know everything there is to know about your thyroid? This 7-part video series will cover thyroid lab testing, nutrition and infections that affect the thyroid, toxins, thyroid hormone conversion, lifestyle, and adrenal interplay.