If we assume that we need a medication to fix mental illness, we also assume that the illness is a simple malfunction that only requires a pill to correct. But physiologically speaking, a symptom is simply a demand for change. It is a signal to the body that the current status quo needs adjusting. Mental illness symptoms such as depression and anxiety therefore play an evolutionary purpose: short term, they are signals that something in the brain or nervous system is imbalanced or inflamed. It is signaling to us that there is an environmental threat, infection, toxin, or deficiency that needs addressing. The problem is that in contemporary society many people become imbalanced and inflamed long term- they mind and body are not resourced enough to address the problem fully and come back to a balanced base line. Mental illness, which by definition of their diagnostic codes must last longer than six months, is the result.
But! A diagnosis of Anxiety, Depression, Bipolar or OCD does not signify WHY the brain has become imbalanced or inflamed, only that it has. We can see these diagnoses as a “pain signal” from the brain. Inflammation is a necessary biological process that alerts us to injury or illness. The problem is that it becomes chronic and longer term disease can manifest as a result. The solution, then, is to address the root of the inflammation or imbalance- as opposed to simply trying to reduce symptoms without any concern for the reason why your symptoms are there in the first place.
While psychiatric medications can certainly be life saving for those in acute distress, they are not the answer to the true problem. This is because they do not address the root cause, they simply put a patch on a leaky tire while driving over a road full of nails. Mental illness is not due to a simple imbalance in brain chemicals. Generally the underlying causes are much more complex and are a combination of underlying traumas, poor emotional coping skills, nutrient deficiencies, chronic infections, and even heavy metal toxicity. These have all been scientifically demonstrated to inflame the brain and nervous system and contribute to significant nutrient imbalances. If we do not address these underlying causes of the imbalance or the inflammation, holes will continue to be popped in those tires. We need to clean up the nails on the road and stop the same problem from repeating.
Dr. Kelly Brogan, an internationally known psychiatrist who left her prestigious position to tell the truth about the pharmaceutical industry’s hold on the mental health field and the dangerous misinformation they promote. In her book “A Mind of Your Own”, she makes a compelling case for many psychiatric medications ultimately doing more harm than good. She cites many studies showing that medicated people with mental illness actually have worse outcomes than unmedicated people with mental illness. There is evidence that psychiatric medications actually lengthen episodes of depression and hinder recovery. On top of that, there are sometimes dangerous and uncomfortable side effects, potential long term changes to brain chemistry we do not fully understand, and the dreaded withdrawal symptoms when you want to get off of the medication. The data simply does not support the use of psychiatric medications for most cases of mild to moderate mental illness- and there are numerous alternatives to try first.
A root cause approach to mental illness acknowledges that the symptoms are a signal of underlying imbalance and inflammation. In this perspective, medications are unnecessary and potentially damaging except in extreme instances of acute crisis and stabilization needs. A root cause approach recognizes that medication is a “patch” that will not address the deeper cause of the “brain pain” being expressed by symptoms of mental illness.
What are these root causes of mental illness, and how can we begin addressing them through comprehensive lifestyle changes? Here are the five major causes and steps to take to begin healing the indicated imbalances:
1. Blood sugar regulation problems: Your body needs a very narrow window of blood glucose levels in order to thrive. Too low and the body starts to go into shock. Too high and the body becomes overwhelmed. Unfortunately, many people experience what is called “reactive hypoglycemia”, where blood sugar levels jump back and forth from too high to too low, leaving our nervous system in a state of constant anxiety, stress and fatigue. In order to balance your blood sugar and keep your mood steady throughout the day. Many people have functional “carbohydrate intolerance” where they are not appropriately extracting energy from glucose in food and do better on a higher protein, higher fat diet.
2. Nutritional deficiencies: A brain starved of nutrition is an anxious and depressed brain. In fact, 20% of our total calorie intake goes to brain function. Additionally, there are key nutrients that our brain needs to run optimally. These include minerals, B vitamins, vitamins A and D, amino acids, and essential fatty acids. To make sure you are getting plenty of these nutrients from foods, most of your meals should be built around the foods that the most dense in these nutrients per calorie. These include animal proteins and fats (meat, eggs, high quality dairy and seafood), a variety of vegetables, healthy plant fats (primarily olive and coconut oil, some nuts and seeds), fermented foods such as yogurt and sauerkraut, unrefined salts, spices, and small amounts of fruit.
3. Microbiome imbalance: Extensive studies now show that the make up of our gut bacteria can change our behavior. Researchers have demonstrated this by switching the microbiomes of mice through fecal transplants and seeing behaviors such as anti social and anxious tendencies also switch accordingly. Additionally, researchers have tracked changes in temperament in autistic children to shifts in their microbiome day to day, and week to week. The microbes living in our body send specific signals into our nervous system, telling it how to feel about and engage with the world. To rebalance the gut microbiome, many people must eliminate all simple sugar (glucose, lactose) and starch (complex carbohydrates) from their diet for a period of time. This includes grains and grain based products, added sugar, most dairy, most legumes, and starchy vegetables such as potatoes.
Remember, mental illness diagnoses are simply labels: they give no indication as to WHY our brain is inflamed and imbalanced, causing us distressing symptoms. But there are reasons, and there are root causes for those reasons we can address through disciplined lifestyle changes. We can start with these tools and support the body with what it is truly necessary to have a thriving brain.
Are you ready for more? Check out my mental health and nervous system resources and watch more youtube video below for more information!