Brain health: stress anxiety depression dementia. What causes them?

I’ve just come back from a two-day conference on Brain health where I learned a lot about biochemistry of the brain, the work of hormones and neurotransmitters on the body, the link of depression to stress in life and the central role of gut bacteria in our mental health. This is very concisely what I can share with you:

- Mental health is a worldwide spread case. 35% of patients in general practice suffer from mental health issues like anxiety, depression or substance abuse. Mental health conditions depend on genetics, adversity in life, - especially early life stages -, stress and ability to cope with it and on factors like diet, exercise, smoking, alcohol and sleep patterns and habits.

Stress shrinks the brain: High and continued level of physical and psycho-sociological stress “shrinks our brain”: i.e. it reduces grey matter in our prefrontal cortex (we lose our cognitive capacity) and the hippocampus (we lose our memory) and increases the growth of the amygdala (increasing fear and anxiety) and leads to inflammation. Inflammation of the brain is considered a primary cause of conditions like depression, Alzheimer disease (AD) and Parkinson’s disease.

Continued elevated stress leads to exhaustion and to depletion of important neurotransmitters, opening the path to depression, the major health condition of the 21 century and the leading cause of disability worldwide.

Dementia: Depression and brain inflammation also lead to dementia. Dementia prevalence is increasing in the world due to an ever increase in ageing population and increased life expectancy. Other risks factors are obesity, diabetes, physical inactivity, social isolation and loneliness as well the lack of knowledge on the condition and its preventative options.

Microbes in the gut: Connecting physically the gut and the brain, gut microbiota influence our mood. A prolonged use of antibiotics, not only affects your gut, but decreases our memory and lowers proliferation of neurons and diminishes our decision-making ability, while increases the anxiety! There is so much research now on gut microbiota that we can detail individual strains (or types) of bacterial with specific actions on the integrity and function of the gut mucosa, which is impaired by toxins released by the wrong bacteria. But what is very fresh and new from research is that gut bacteria can affect also the permeability of the brain blood barrier, the layer of cells that filter substances allowed to enter the brain environment: certain bacteria have affects outside of the gut reaching the brain with their toxins and disrupting this layer. However, the good news is that and certain strains of bacteria can normalize both the gut and brain permeability disrupted by inflammation.

Acid forming diet and brain: Regarding diet and eating the wrong brain-food, an increased acidity in the body increases levels of cortisol – inflammation - in the blood and has been related to Alzheimer’s disorder. High acidity in the body comes mainly from acidic Western-type diets (high meat and dairy, or high refined grains, low vegetables, fast food) or specific diets (Atkins, ketogenic diet). Also breathing patterns induced by stress: shallow, rapid breaths, can increase the acidity of the body further.

Solutions for keeping the body and the mind alive and smart and allow healthy longevity to the whole:

- Modify your diet, add more vegetables and fruit to lower your acidity and inflammation

- take on regular physical exercise,

- breathe properly, fully and slowly,

- improve your sleeping patterns with life style modification and use of gentle herbs,

- use herbs to manage depression. Herbs do this by modulating communication among neurons, by producing molecules that link to neuro

transmitter receptors, or altering neurotransmitter synthesis. They can stimulate or sedate the nervous system activity and regulate the function of the hormonal system. Specific herbs have been shown to be in some cases equally effective as oxazepam. For example: turmeric and saffron have been found to increase the levels of the brain growing factor better than antidepressants and to improve mood and anxiety,

- get prescribed the targeted vitamin and mineral essential nutrients for your situation,

- assess your gut health and improve it with good quality probiotics and prebiotics (the particular fibers that bacteria need to proliferate) to mitigate the effects of stress and anxiety,

- analyse the source of stress and relativize it: is it a true threat? Is my fear exaggerated? Is my perception off course?

- network with friends and relatives, keep up socialization

- find a purpose in life

but whatever you do, find someone to help you take care of yourself and give support, hope and trust in your healing abilities.

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