If you suffer with anxiety, depression, feeling overwhelmed, stress, sleeplessness, lack of focus, ADHD, brain fog or memory problems, you are not alone. Millions of Americans struggle with brain health issues, which can also manifest physically in headaches, fatigue and digestive problems. It’s something I refer to as “stress syndrome” because so often it happens as the stresses of life accumulate over the years, piling and piling on, until they finally “break” us. I see it all the time when patients come to me desperate to get their lives back because traditional medicine has failed them.
The effects that stress has on our bodies and minds can’t be understated. Chronic stress takes a toll on the body and its hormones and neurotransmitters, taking it from “feed and breed” mode to “fight or flight” mode. This in turn can lead to chemical imbalances and nutrient depletion, which leads to more neurotransmitter imbalances. You can see what a vicious circle this becomes.
Unfortunately, so many who struggle with brain health issues either aren’t getting the help they need or are put on drugs, such as anti-depressants, that might make things better in the short term, but cause long-term side effects that make things much worse. Truly, drugs only bandage the problems; they don’t repair what’s wrong. And, while counseling and techniques such as biofeedback and cognitive behavioral therapy are wonderful and effective tools to support brain health and have helped millions of people, they still will not, in many cases, fix your body or brain, which might be in a BROKEN STATE. At Integrative Wellness Centers, we have had incredible success improving brain health by finding the ROOT CAUSE of patients’ symptoms and focusing on repairing what’s actually making them unwell, not just masking their symptoms with drugs.
Most of us are aware of the fact when someone experiences a lot of emotional stress from abuse, neglect, lack of purpose, negative self-talk, anxiety, worry, etc., it can cause physical symptoms such as digestive issues, headaches, heart attacks and even cancer. Unfortunately the body-brain connection is often overlooked by doctors and by those who suffer from brain health issues. When the body is under stress from things such as hidden infection, hormonal imbalances, poor digestion, autoimmune disease and nutritional deficiencies, it can lead to a whole host of problems that affect brain health.
Therefore, when your brain health, focus, memory and mood are not what they should be, it’s often in part because of something happening outside your brain, and elsewhere in the body. Think about it – the brain is not isolated from the body; it is part of the body. That’s why to treat brain health issues and stress syndrome, we must look outside of the brain and the emotional stressors of life and look at the entire body. If your doctor isn’t doing that, you probably will never truly correct your problems. An integrative wellness approach, like the one we take here at IWC, looks at the whole body to determine what’s causing your symptoms so we can treat the root causes.
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1) Damaged digestive health. One of the biggest factors in brain health is digestive health. If your gastrointestinal, or GI, system isn’t healthy and working well, your brain probably isn’t either. You see, your GI system does much more than just digest food. It is a complex structure, with more neurons than your brain. In fact, the GI system is often called “the second brain,” How often when you’re nervous or anxious does your stomach feel upset, or do you have to run to the bathroom? That’s because, your brain and gut are intricately connected.
Your GI system is also where the majority of important neurotransmitters related to mood and energy, such as serotonin and dopamine, are made. Researchers have reported that ninety percent of the body’s serotonin is produced by the gut nerve cells, and every class of neurotransmitters found in the brain is also found in the gut. If you have digestive and nutritional issues, it can lead to your body not making neurotransmitters properly and can lead to imbalances that cause the brain to get out of balance. (1)
Your gut is also home to the majority of your microbiome. What is the microbiome? It’s a complex system of bacteria, unique in each of us, that’s responsible for many aspects of health including disease predisposition, how you process food, and your immunity. The microbiome is now widely recognized by the medical community as a distinct organ. An unhealthy microbiome has been linked to issues with brain function including anxiety, depression and memory loss. (2)
At our center, we can pinpoint deficiencies in your GI system using various methods, such as a stool test to check for microbiome imbalances. Through these tests, we can determine and treat the real issues in your gut that are affecting your brain health. Its also important to note that you can have issues with your GI system or microbiome and have no visible signs of digestive distress. At IWC we like to say “it’s the gut until proven innocent”. To learn more about the connection between the gut and the brain go to our blog post “Deeper look at the brain gut connection”.
2) Inadequate amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, which, as mentioned above, directly affect your mood, energy levels and motivation. If your amino acid levels aren’t where they should be, your mental and physical health will suffer. Using an organic acid test, we can assess amino acid imbalances or deficiencies, and determine if you are metabolizing the stress neurotransmitters properly. Once we analyze your results, we can use dietary changes, supplements and other methods to improve your levels and metabolism, and thus improve your brain health. Below is an Organic Acid Test that shows us neurotransmitter metabolism. The neurotransmitters we tested for here were norepinephrine and epinephrine (adrenaline), dopamine (motivational and reward), and serotonin (the feel good and happy neurotransmitter) as indicated by markers 22 and 23. This patient have very little adrenaline and very little dopamine – which results in this particular patient not having the neurotransmitters to deal with stress and also to feel motivated to accomplish any goals. This in turn can result in this patient craving carbohydrates and possibly leading to them doing risky behaviors to feel stimulated, instead of feeling like they have low energy and lethargic.
3) Thyroid and autoimmunity issues. Thyroid problems are very common, but what is often missed when it’s not functioning properly is the pivotal role of autoimmune disease, where the body attacks its own cells as “foreign invaders.” In a whopping 90 percent of those with thyroid issues, autoimmune disease is the cause! Autoimmunity and the thyroid also play a crucial role in brain health. Research has shown that patients with thyroid disorders are more prone to depression, (3) and that the higher the levels of antibodies, the higher the level of depression. (4) The American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists has even stated that “the diagnosis of subclinical or clinical hypothyroidism must be considered in every patient with depression.”
Yet, most doctors overlook these factors when testing and treating patients who are struggling with energy and brain health. It’s a shame because thyroid autoimmunity can be easily tested for by measuring certain antibody levels in the blood. At our clinic, we also commonly see a correlation between autoimmune diseases of the thyroid and brain fog, forgetfulness and extreme fatigue –- I’ve had one thyroid patient describe it to me as feeling like she was “living in pea soup.”
If we suspect your thyroid might be functioning at a less-than-optimal level, we can do a thorough blood test to check for autoimmunity and other important indicators of thyroid health. Remember, even if you’ve been told by your doctor that your thyroid is fine, our testing will dig deep, checking levels that aren’t ordered in standard blood labs. Tests to check for other autoimmune conditions that could be affecting your brain health can also be done, if needed. If we find the thyroid and autoimmunity issues, we can support your body so it functions optimally again.
4) Hormone upheaval. If you are a female and find yourself especially irritable, depressed, anxious or overwhelmed at certain times in your monthly cycle, then extensive hormone testing might be the key component you’re missing in getting your mental well-being back. You might say, “Well, my doctor has tested my hormones and told me everything is fine.” The problem is hormone imbalances usually can’t be found on standard blood tests because “optimal” ranges are so large, most women fall within them, even if their hormones are completely out of whack. At our center, we use in-depth urine testing to assess hormone imbalances. I’ve literally treated thousands of patients who’ve had hormone imbalances show up on urine testing after being told their blood tests showed “normal” hormone levels. Recent studies have shown that the female hormones estrogen and progesterone have far-reaching effects that go well beyond the reproductive tract, and are especially influential in the brain, as they are highly intertwined with mood neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine. (5)
In men, low testosterone has been linked to depressive moods, poor memory and decreased levels of motivation. (6) In our clinic we have found it can be important to not only discover if someones testosterone is low but discover why it is low. There are several factors to consider when someone discovers their testosterone is low. For example diabetes, stress, nutritional deficiencies and inflammation are common culprits we see in our office that can cause low testosterone.
Whether you are a male or female, if we suspect hormones could be affecting your brain health, we have tests and treatments to get you back to feeling like yourself again.
5) Increased inflammation. Research is showing increasing links between inflammation and brain/mental health, from devastating diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia to less serious, but very common physical symptoms such as headaches, brain fog and trouble focusing. Research is also showing that higher levels of inflammation are associated with higher levels of anxiety and depression. At our center, we use blood tests to assess levels of important markers of inflammation such as C-reactive protein (CRP) and homocysteine. Research has shown that too much homocysteine, which can be due to a deficiency in folate, B12, B6, or zinc, can lead to depression. (7) If inflammation is affecting your brain health, testing for it and treating it can help you get your health back.
6) Genetic predisposition. One of the most exciting areas of current research is examining the role certain gene variations known as single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs (pronounced “snips”) for short, play in predisposing us to conditions that affect our brain health, mood and energy levels. For example, SNPs in a gene known as “MTHFR” are linked to a higher risk of conditions that affect brain health including depression.(8) If you have MTHFR variances, it means your body likely doesn’t produce enough of the enzymes that help it absorb and utilize folic acid. Folic acid is necessary for the body to produce enough serotonin (and other neurotransmitters). If you have a folate deficiency than it is likely you will have a serotonin deficiency! The result can be a brain and body that feel sluggish and depressed because they aren’t functioning optimally. Links have also been shown between another genetic SNP called COMT, which affects how our bodies metabolize dopamine, and memory and learning difficulties and ADHD. (9)(10)
The good news (great news, actually!) is that genetic variances aren’t a lifetime sentence. We have methods to help the body do what it’s having trouble doing on its own. If we believe genetic SNPs might be contributing to your issues we can supplement with folic acid that is already broken down in a form the body can use. Once folic acid levels are restored to proper levels, your body can again make serotonin on its own. In our clinic, we see amazing results in patients who feel good for the first time in years, and are able to come off their depression, sleep or anxiety medications. If we suspect a COMT variance, we can support dopamine levels, resulting in improved memory and learning. Again, you can see why medications will never FIX these problems. The key to wellness is giving the body the support it needs to function properly again!
I see it every day – patients who’ve seen their doctors countless times, been given drug after drug and still don’t feel well. And, that’s because they’re not. As you can see from the six “culprits,” if you don’t find the exact root cause of your problems, you’ll never really be well. Because our center focuses on finding the ROOT CAUSE of issues, we have been able to help so many patients repair and restore their brain health and well-being using dietary/nutritional support, supplements and other methods.
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Our results speak for themselves. We analyzed 51 randomly selected patients who had been under care for an average of five months and what we found was amazing. The majority of the patients experienced improvement in their self reported medical symptoms questionnaire for overall health. Improvements with issues relating to menstrual issues, energy levels, digestive function and improvements related to brain health like sleep, energy, memory, emotions, and headaches.
96% of our patients experienced an improvement in their general health (issues ranging from pain, digestion, sleep, energy, sinuses, etc.) with the average patient reporting a 64% reduction in their overall symptomology.
Our patients saw an average of 69% improvement in their mind health, which includes memory, confusion, comprehension, difficulty with speech recall, and poor concentration.
Our patients saw an average of 67% improvement in their emotional health, which includes mood swings, anxiety, anger, irritability and depression.
Our patients saw an average of 65% improvement in the frequency and/or severity of their headaches.
Our patients saw an average of 60% improvement in their quality of sleep.
72% of our patients, after 5 months of care, decreased their inflammation levels. On average, there was a 46% reduction in the C-reactive protein levels. Remember C-reactive protein is linked to cancer, heart disease, stroke, depression, arthritis and other degenerative diseases.
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