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5 min|Dr. Taylor Green

Top 4 Underlying Causes of Poor Mental Health

Wellness, Mind Health
In Part 1 of our mental health series, we discussed possible nutritional aspects involved in depressive disorder pathology. We now dive into additional aspects that may surprise you.

1. Hormonal Imbalances

Hormonal imbalances such as undiagnosed or subclinical hypothyroidism, high or low cortisol, low testosterone (relevant for both men and woman), DHEA, estrogen, & progesterone, as well as insulin resistance can play a significant role in depressive disorders.

Thyroid

This small butterfly shaped gland located in your lower neck produces thyroid hormones, T4 & T3 that are among the most influential in how your body regulates energy, metabolism, and cognition. They impact the brain by controlling the production of dopamine, serotonin, GABA, among other neurotransmitters. Thyroid dysfunction can be mistaken for psychiatric conditions because symptoms of an over active or underactive thyroid gland can mimic symptoms of anxiety and depression respectively. In some cases, depression can be one of the first signs of a thyroid issue. Brain scans of those with hypothyroidism show an overall decrease in brain activity, which may lead to depression, impaired memory & attention, brain fog, and anxiety. Toxins, immune dysregulation, inflammation, suboptimal nutrient status, and chronic stress are detrimental to thyroid hormone production and conversion.

Cortisol

It is well known that stress is detrimental to our health. This is true for our mental health as well. High levels of our main stress hormone, cortisol, causes changes in the brain, including a drop in calming serotonin – the major neurotransmitter responsible for positive mood. Researchers from the University of California found chronic stress produces more causes a decline in grey neuron containing matter in the brain, disrupting communication and healthy functioning of brain cells. High stress hormones can also shrink the hippocampus, the memory centre of our brain.

Estrogen and progesterone are the primary hormones involved in a women’s menstrual cycle.

When levels of estrogen are much higher in relation to progesterone, what should be gentle monthly hormonal fluctuations turn into intense spikes and drops that lead to anxiety and depression. Low levels of progesterone can lead to low GABA activity, contributing to sleep deprivation, anxiety and low mood. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that creates a sense of calm. Contrary, too little estrogen can decrease serotonin activity in the brain and impair cognition, making perimenopause and post menopause emotionally difficult periods as levels drop.

Testosterone has a key role in promoting brain health, energy, strength, motivation, and sex drive for both men and women.

Levels peak in our late teens and 20s, and begin to decline after age 30. It also protects cells from inflammation, a component in depression development.

2. Gut Imbalances

The gut is often called the second brain because it is lined with over 100 million neurons. A growing body of evidence supports a direct relationship with our microbiome (the community of gastrointestinal “bugs”) and brain & immune health. Our gut is where we breakdown and absorb the building blocks to create neurotransmitters. In fact, it is estimated that 90% of serotonin is produced in the gut with the help of healthy intestinal bacteria. Inflammation and changes in the balance of good and bad bacteria in our GI tract can lead to a leaky gut, where the walls of our intestines become permeable. Bacteria, yeast, and food particles can then pass into the bloodstream increasing the risk for psychiatric disorders through several pathways. This can be a result of poor diet, toxins, antibiotic use or infection. A leaky gut is associated with many conditions, including depression.

3. Toxins

Our brain is the most metabolically active organ in our body and is therefore extremely vulnerable to damage from toxins. These include alcohol, pesticides, food additives, molds, heavy metals, cigarettes & vapes, medications, and chemicals from household products. Toxins reduce blood flow to the brain, disrupt the endocrine and immune system, change our gut microbiome, increase our risk for diabetes and obesity, damage DNA, and harm many organ systems – all risk factors for depression development

4. Genetics

For some, genetics may play a role in their susceptibility to depression. A study in Nature Genetics found 15 regions on the human genome associated with major depression. One gene mutation with ample research behind it is MTHFR. This produces an essential enzyme that converts folate into the form needed to produce mood-regulating neurotransmitters. Another gene, NKPD1 has also recently been link to depressive symptoms. Up to 40% of depression cases may include a hereditary cause.

The best chance of recovering from depression comes when looking at all aspects of health and assessing the above risk factors, as well a nutritional components discussed in Part I.

To uncover the root causes of depression, contact a Naturopathic Doctor for an individualized treatment plan appropriate for you. Call reception at 604-738-1012 to book your appointment today.

References:
G., A. D. D. (2020). The End of Mental Illness. Tyndale House Publishers.
Gaby, A. R. (2017). Nutritional medicine. Fritz Perlberg Publishing.
Gilbody, S., Lewis, S., & Lightfoot, T. (2006). Methylenetetrahydrofolate Reductase (MTHFR) Genetic Polymorphisms and Psychiatric Disorders: A HuGE Review. American Journal of Epidemiology, 165(1), 1–13. https://doi.org/10.1093/aje/kw...H
yde, C. L., Nagle, M. W., Tian, C., Chen, X., Paciga, S. A., Wendland, J. R., Tung, J. Y., Hinds, D. A., Perlis, R. H., & Winslow, A. R. (2016). Identification of 15 genetic loci associated with risk of major depression in individuals of European descent. Nature Genetics, 48(9), 1031–1036. https://doi.org/10.1038/ng.3623

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Dr. Taylor Green

Dr. Taylor Green has always been fascinated by the intricacies of nature, the human body and health sciences. For her, health is not defined by the absence of disease, but the balance between mind, body, and environment.

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