It’s #worldmentalhealthday today. It’s good to de-stigmatize issues around mental health – because we all suffer mental and emotional distress to some degree. There’s no point in having it be taboo.
But most people don’t know that there are various causes of mental health issues that aren’t often considered. Usually it’s understood that the following things can impact our mental and emotional health negatively: stress, trauma, negative childhood experiences, toxic relationships, financial worries, loss of relationships, grief, feeling stuck in our lives, feeling unfulfilled, bullying, life pressures building up, and feeling isolated among other things. This is all true but there are other factors that impact mental health.
There are physical factors that impact our neuro-biology, brain health and physical stress response – and these have nothing to do with emotional or social or psychological factors. Sometimes – our mental health crisis is rooted in physical causes.
I remember my father, one of the top alternative medical docs in Canada, telling me stories about what kind of reactions people would have to during their allergy testing. Even regular things like chlorine, onions, oats – would set some people off into violent, aggressive rages. Once they were administered a dose to neutralize their reaction – they would return to a normal mood with no recollection of their previous behaviour. And as a teacher I always thought – some of those out of control kids in our classes were probably reacting to everyday products and foods – they just didn’t have the right kind of help to be able to understand and mitigate their medical reactions.
The most common reactions he would recall from physical substances would be: brain fog, inability to concentrate, hyperactivity, rage, uncontrollable crying, exhaustion, sudden weakness, aggression, mood swings. Even if a person’s reactions aren’t as extreme as this physical things can still have an impact on our mood and mental health.
Physical causes of disrupted mental health
The top physical factors that impact our mental and emotional processes are can come in 3 categories: things we breathe, things we ingest, and systemic issues.
Things We Breathe
The most common culprits that can cause mental or emotional responses are these:
Molds: these can be toxic black molds that grow indoors after water damage, but also outdoor molds from rotting leaves, etc.
Chemicals: these can come cleaning products, pollutants in the air and water, and artificially scented body care products.
Heavy Metals: these can come from things like lead pipes, air pollution, water contamination, metal tooth fillings that release invisible vapours.
The process by which these items affect the brain (your emotional and mental processing centre) is that when you smell something the olfactory system goes in reaction. The end of the nerves from the nose end up in the frontal lobe of the brain – this is the pathway along which the toxic substances travel, eventually impacting the limbic system.
Many of these substances are known neurotoxins – meaning they are toxic to the neurological system – of which the brain is a large part. The best remedy for this is avoidance of the problematic substances!
Things We Ingest
There are a few ways that the things we ingest can impact our mental/emotional health.
Some medications (strangely enough even ones designed to help with mental disorders) have side effects that include depression, anxiety and increased suicidal thoughts. Never assume that any mediation you are taking doesn’t have these kinds of side-effects and talk with your doctor.
Fungal overgrowth (candidiasis):
This can come from a diet rich in sugar-rich foods, or antibiotic over-use, and is known to cause feelings of lethargy, depression and achiness, amongst other symptoms.
There are key nutrients that are required for healthy brain function. If our diet is not sufficiently nutritionally dense we are going to have nutritional deficiencies. Brain health requires a healthy mix of B Vitamins, essential fatty acids, minerals, amino acids and enzymes for proper function. Poor gut health will not allow us to absorb nutrients from our food. All nutrients have enzymatic reactions and those reactions use minerals and vitamins as coenzymes in order to create the right chain reaction. That chain reaction allows enzymes to create the appropriate neurotransmitters and hormones required for optimal function of your brain and body. Without them you lack the building blocks for essential chemical reactions of healthy body and brain function.
What creates an unhealthy gut and how does it directly impact our brain health? The gut microbiome has both beneficial and unbeneficial bacteria. Bad eating habits, overuse of antibiotics, and processed food among other things, can create imbalance in the body’s microbiome resulting in more bad bacteria than good. The destruction of the healthy (probiotic) bacteria creates the process of putrification. That is essentially the process of rotting – and manifests as stinky gas and breath. This rotting impedes proper function of our gut and good bacteria cannot flourish.
Not only do probiotic bacteria create a healthy immune system, but they also create the substances required for a healthy brain and mood. Probiotics in the gut control the central nervous system by metabolizing certain substances to create neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters (like serotonin, dopamine and others) are essential for healthy mood and brain function. So when there aren’t enough good bacteria in the gut, your mental wellbeing is directly, negatively affected.
Other neurotoxins include pathogens. Some pathogens are very stealthy at infecting their hosts. These are infections (Borrelia and Streptococcus are two common ones) that are not picked up by regular blood tests because they hide under the surface not detected by the immune system. These stealth infections attack the immune system but it is unable to sound the alarm – and that is how traditional blood work detects infections. Some of these bacterial pathogens shed toxins that can damage the brain and cause blockages in brain tissue. These pathogens can cross the blood-brain barrier and create inflammation – which can manifest as mental or emotional symptoms.
Systemic issues can also be caused by hormonal imbalances. Many hormonal imbalances occur when there’s a disruption to the HPA (hypo-pituitary-adrenal) axis. Any stressor (be it an emotional response, a toxin, a chemical, a pathogen or a mold etc.) is processed in the same way. Stressors enter through our senses: hearing, vision, smell, taste, touch. The brain sends a message to the hypothalamus affecting the pituitary gland which sends a message to the adrenals. Adrenals are the major masters of managing and protecting us from stress.
If your stress is temporary, your adrenals are able to handle it. The problem is when stress is cumulative and lasts more than two years. In a nutshell, in prolonged stress the adrenals go into overdrive, resulting in decreased cortisol. That leads to the next stage of burnout with sugar and salt and junk food cravings. This leads to blood sugar imbalance, hormonal imbalance and thyroid dysfunction. This progresses into a deeper stage with insomnia, headaches, irritability, depression, tiredness, and Metabolic syndrome. When the body can’t produce enough cortisol, one result is low hydrochloric acid which is essential for healthy digestion. Poor digestion creates leaky gut syndrome. That leads to increased food and chemical sensitivity and an increase in viral infections and chronic bacterial infections as well as an imbalance in the microbiome. That leads to a decrease of natural killer cells – which can result in automimmune conditions and degeneration. Poor adrenal function that goes on for extended period of time can throw a wrench into proper function of the hormonal system.
So, yes it’s just stress, but it’s not just mental and emotional stress. Living in environments for prolonged periods where any toxic stressors are present is also a stress – and will result in symptoms of illness – and that can present as emotional and mental manifestations.
Of course purely psychological and emotional factors can impact our mental and emotional health – but many physical aspects also impact our mental wellbeing. It’s rarely just one or the other and usually is a combination of both. All this information can be used to empower ourselves to be proactive about our physical and mental wellbeing. Wherever we can, it’s a good idea to control and eliminate the toxic physical and emotional load on our body and spirit. By reducing that load, we are improving the foundation for mental and emotional wellbeing.