Sep
03
2016

Hidden Cause Of Depression

About 15.7 million Americans suffer from depression every year, but there remains a hidden cause of depression.

Not everybody responds well to antidepressant medicine. Only 30 to 50% of depressed people respond to antidepressants. There are two blood tests many physicians do not know and therefore fail to order: homocysteine blood levels and 5-methylfolate levels (5-MTHF).

Homocysteine as a hidden cause of depression

In 2004 a research group studied 924 middle-aged men. They noted that those men who fell into the highest third of homocysteine levels had a two-fold higher risk of being depressed than those who fell into the lower third of homocysteine levels. Other studies showed that SAMe, a nutrient that is required to build up mood enhancing neurotransmitters was sadly lacking in depressed people. In addition, folate levels were also found to be low in depressed people.

Having found this association between lack of nutrients and depression offered new opportunities to treat depression. Two studies examined the effect of taking 5-methylfolate on the effect of antidepressants. The result was astounding: in one study 7% of patients taking an antidepressant experienced improvement of their depression when assessed with a standard depression score. However, the same group improved their depression by 19% when 5-methylfolate was given in addition to the antidepressant.

Patients with the most severe depression on antidepressants had a 16% improvement of their depression. Adding 5-methylfolate to the antidepressant caused a 40% overall improvement in these severely depressed people, 24% more than without this simple vitamin supplement.

There is other evidence that patients with depression recover faster in the presence of 5-methylfolate. Moderately depressed patients recovered within 231 days on antidepressants alone, but in only 177 days when 5-methylfolate was present as well. The most severely depressed patients recovered within 150 days with antidepressants alone, but recovered within only 85 days on 5-methylfolate and the antidepressant.

Hidden cause of depression and Alzheimer’s disease

The story is getting more involved. Depression is related to proper balance of neurotransmitters that can be influenced by antidepressants and 5-methylfolate. But new research showed that Alzheimer’s disease (dementia) patients with cognitive decline have elevated homocysteine blood levels. A study in the New England Journal of medicine in 2002 found that after 8 years of observation more than 75% of them were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. When blood homocysteine levels exceeded 14 micromole per liter the risk of Alzheimer’s had doubled compared to those with normal homocysteine levels. The researchers concluded that homocysteine is an important risk factor for the development of Alzheimer’s diseases and dementia, although it is not the only one.

Methylation pathway defects as a hidden cause of depression

40% of the population is defective in one or more genes that control the so-called methylation pathway in each of our cells (Ref. 1). This can slow down the metabolism of brain cells including the synthesis of certain neurotransmitters. At the same time it can cause the rising of homocysteine, which is then a useful marker for methylation defects. Another marker is the 5-methyl folate level, which, when low, indicates a deficiency in methyl donors including 5-methylfolate (5-MTHF).

Mental illness is an area where epigenetic factors play an important role. Depression that responds only partially or not at all to SSRI’s (antidepressants) often responds to L-methylfolate, a simple supplement from the health food store as a supplement. Similar epigenetic approaches can be used to treat psychosis, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and Alzheimer’s disease.

Other illnesses due to methylation defects

Dr. Rozakis mentioned that 92% of migraine sufferers have a defective methylation pathway involving histamine overproduction and they can be helped with a histamine-restricted diet (Ref.2).

Autism, ADHD (hyperactivity) and learning disabilities are other diseases where methylation pathway defects are present. Every patient with autism should be checked for methylation pathway defects, and appropriate supplements and diet restrictions can help in normalizing the child’s metabolic defects. DAN physicians (“defeat autism now”) are well versed in this and should be consulted.

S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe) defects are another type of methylation defect, which is associated with certain liver, colon and gastric cancers.

Dr. Rozakis went on to say that methylation defects lead to disbalances between T and B cells of the immune system and are important in autoimmune diseases like lupus or rheumatoid arthritis.

Methylation defects can also cause autoimmune thyroiditis and type 1 diabetes. They can also cause cardiac disease by raising homocysteine levels, which causes dysfunction of the lining of arteries and premature heart attacks.

Epigenetic factors through global methylation defects from vitamin B2, B6 and B12 deficiency can cause many different cancers. Hypomethylation is the most common DNA defect of cancer cells.

With skin diseases it has come to light that atopic dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis, scleroderma and vitiligo are related to methylation.

When we age, certain hormones are gradually missing, which leads to menopause and andropause. This leads to impaired cell function, elevated cholesterol, arthritis, constipation, depression, low sex drive, elevated blood pressure, insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome and fatigue. Replace the missing hormones with bioidentical ones, and symptoms will normalize.

Tests and treatment for hidden cause of depression

It is important for a physician to test patients for homocysteine levels once per year. As we age, we tend to lose some of the methylation pathway enzymes, which can result in an increase of homocysteine in the blood. A normal homocysteine level is less than 7 to 8 micromoles per liter. This is lower than the commonly recommended 15 micromoles per liter.

If the homocysteine level is too high, the treatment consists of methionine containing foods like dairy products and meat. Methionine, an essential amino acid, functions as a donor of methyl groups, which will normalize the methylation pathway defect and allow the homocysteine level in the blood to decrease. Research studies have been using 1000 to 5000 micrograms of 5-methyl folate daily to reduce homocysteine. Other B vitamins are necessary to reduce homocysteine, like vitamin B2, B6 and B12 in addition to 5-MTHF.

Hidden Cause Of Depression

Hidden Cause Of Depression

Conclusion

Depression and several other illnesses that are related to methylation pathway defects can be caused by a lack of 5-MTHF resulting in high homocysteine blood levels. It is important for elderly patients to be checked for homocysteine blood levels once per year to prevent depression, Alzheimer’s disease, migraines and a number of other illnesses mentioned above.

Once a methylation pathway defect has been identified, it is relatively easy to treat the patient with a proper methionine rich diet and 5-MTHF supplements as well as other B vitamins as discussed. It can prevent a lot of disability and human suffering.

References

Ref.1: William J. Walsh, PhD: “Nutrient Power. Heal your biochemistry and heal your brain”. Skyhorse Publishing, 2014.

Ref. 2: http://www.askdrray.com/life-expectancy-is-influenced-by-lifestyle/

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Jul
22
2016

Anxiety Is Common

Recently a review article was published that showed that anxiety is common. This research was conducted in England (Cambridge and London). 48 reviews about anxiety around the globe were examined. The results showed that anxiety in the world population fluctuates between 3.8–25%. Women (frequencies of 5.2–8.7%) and young adults (frequency 2.5–9.1%) are suffering from anxiety more. Among people with chronic diseases there is considerable variation in the frequency of associated anxiety (from 1.4% to 70%). The frequency of anxiety in various ethnic populations varies considerably around the world. For instance European and North American cultures have a relatively high anxiety rate in the population (3.8–10.4%) when compared to Indian and Asian cultures with only 2.8%. In Africa the rate is 4.4%, in Central and Eastern European countries the rate is 3.2%. In North Africa and the Middle East the anxiety rate is 4.9% while in Spanish/Latin cultures the rate is 6.2%.

Anxiety is common; subtypes

There are many subtypes of anxiety that have been researched. 

  1. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD): This disorder affects 6.8 million adults, or 3.1% of the U.S. population. Women get this condition twice as often than men. The risk for developing it is greatest between childhood and midlife. People with a mild case of GAD can cope and work. Severe cases can be disabling and may be difficult to treat.
  2. Social anxiety disorder: about 15 million US citizens suffer from this. This equally affects women and men. Typically it starts at the age of 13, but 36% of people will not ask for medical help for 10 years or more. Symptoms of anxiety surrounding social situations are so intense that it interferes severely with making friends and having romantic relationships. They end up being alone, powerless against their anxiety.
  3. Panic disorder: 6 million US citizens or 2.7% of the population suffer from this. Women commonly are twice as often affected by it than men. Panic attacks develop in early adulthood. They often suffer in silence; distance themselves from friends, family and caregivers who could offer them help. Panic disorders often occur simultaneously with depression and medical conditions like asthma, irritable bowel syndrome and substance abuse.
  4. Specific phobias: 19 million or 8.7% of the US population suffer from this. It often starts in childhood and the median onset is at age 7. People affected by specific phobias may be afraid of high bridges, of animals like spiders or mice, of thunder, of flying and a myriad of other things. It disrupts daily routines, causes limitations of work efficiency and reduces self-esteem. It also places a strain on relationships because people afflicted by this problem will do whatever they can to avoid the uncomfortable or terrifying feelings of phobic anxiety.
  5. Obsessive-compulsive disorder: 2 million or 1% of the population in the US suffer from this form of anxiety. Onset is in the teenage years, although 1/3 of adults with obsessive-compulsive disorder experienced symptoms already in childhood.
  6. Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD): 7 million people or 3.5% of the US population are suffering from PTSD. Women are much more affected by PTSD than men. But a lot of soldiers who were involved in direct combat situations will suffer from PTSD. Rape can be a source of PTSD. Most people who experience traumatic events and develop PTSD will be affected by it for months or even years, but eventually recover from them; a minority will not recover. Often therapy is helpful for these individuals.
  7. Major depressive disorder: 8 million American adults or about 6.7% of the U.S population will suffer from depression between the ages 15 and 44 years. It is more common among women. A certain percentage of depressed people commit suicide. Anxiety is often mixed in with depression.
  8. Persistent depressive disorder is a form of depression that persists for at least 2 years. 1.5% of the US population or 3.3 million adults suffer from this condition. The median onset is at age 31. Like with depression, so also with persistent depressive disorder, anxiety is very common.

Anxiety is common; related illnesses

There are many medical diagnoses where anxiety is often part of the symptom complex. The medical profession often talks about psychosomatic diseases. This means that these diseases have an anxiety overlay, which is part of the condition.

  • For instance, bipolar disorder is a condition where extreme mood swings are common, often between elation and mania, but then switching to deep depression with suicidal thoughts. Mixed into this condition is often a certain degree of anxiety, which can be very overwhelming.
  • Irritable bowel syndrome is a psychosomatic disease of the gut with bowel cramps and frequent bowel movements, in others there are periods of constipation. But irritable bowel syndrome often has anxiety attached to it. They are often inseparable.
  • Eating disorders: here the person has an intense fear of turning fat. Persons with eating disorder often restrict their calories severely, even when they are underweight. They may exercise for hours with the hope to lose weight. Perhaps the most striking condition among eating disorders is anorexia nervosa, which often affects teenage females, but adult women are affected as well. Sadly many of these women die from starvation or starvation related diseases.
  • Sleep disorders: more than 40 million Americans suffer from chronic, long-term sleeping disorder. Another 20 million suffer from occasional sleep disorder. Often there is stress and anxiety that interferes with the normal sleep cycle.
  • Chronic pain: Pain is a common symptom; if it is associated with a surgical procedure or with an injury it is short lived and eventually goes away. With chronic pain, the pain is there all the time. People with arthritis or nerve injuries that did not heal often have this type of pain. Fibromyalgia sufferers also have this type of pain. When a person has an underlying anxiety disorder and gets chronic pain on top of this, the pain is amplified and becomes even more chronic. On the other hand anybody with chronic pain will suffer from a certain amount of anxiety just because of the chronicity of the pain.
  • Fibromyalgia: this chronic musculoskeletal pain disorder is a special form of chronic pain. About 20% of fibromyalgia sufferers have either chronic depression or chronic anxiety, which complicates the condition.
  • Substance abuse: about 20% of people with chronic anxiety disorders have an alcohol or substance abuse disorder; and 20% of people abusing alcohol or having a substance abuse disorder have a chronic anxiety disorder.
  • Stress: too much stress can turn into distress. Distress is an overdose of stress where the stressed person loses control of the situation. This can cause depression and anxiety. It can also cause physical illness.
  • Headaches: migraines, anxiety and depression seem to affect the same population group. Stress and anxiety can cause muscles around the neck to get into spasms and cause tension type headaches. But any headache can be brought on by anxiety.

Anxiety is common; biochemical brain abnormalities

Dr. Kharrazian has summarized in his book that Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is a by-product of the brain cell metabolism is responsible for calming the brain (Ref.1). This mechanism is not working properly in people with anxiety. In many people with anxiety GABA is simply not produced enough to calm the brain or it gets inactivated too fast resulting in a lack of GABA with anxiety. The end result is the same: when there is a relative lack of GABA in the brain the person develops the symptoms of anxiety.

Disbalances in other neurotransmitters can also contribute to anxiety. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is essential to have for a stable mood and to prevent depression. It is produced in the mid brain. The pineal gland stores serotonin and makes melatonin out of it, which is essential for a normal sleep pattern. When serotonin is low, a number of things can happen. Anger and increased aggressiveness are associated with a lack of serotonin. But depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, migraines, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, bipolar disorder and anxiety disorder are also frequently observed. Many of these illnesses have been noted above to be associated with anxiety. Ref.1 also describes that stress inhibits the conversion of serotonin into melatonin, which explains sleep problems in persons who are exposed to chronic stress.

Anxiety is common; treatment options

What are the treatment options for a person with anxiety?

  1. Treatment with anxiolytics: It is tempting to just treat the symptoms in an anxious person. But just prescribing anxiolytics like benzodiazepines (like Xanax) will not cure anxiety, just relieve the symptoms for a while. Eventually the body gets used to benzodiazepine and requires higher doses to suppress the anxiety. This can be the beginning of drug dependency, which is not what the health professional or the patient wants. As mentioned above alcohol and substance abuse is already a problem for 1 in 5 people with anxiety.
  2. Treat sleep deprivation: An alternative is to concentrate on treating sleep deprivation helping the person to get a good night’s sleep. Melatonin at a dose of 3 mg at bedtime is a reasonable dose to help a person to fall asleep. If during the night the anxious person wakes up again, another dose of 3 mg of melatonin can be given. In addition, if an anxious person lies in bed and ruminates about various things that have happened during the day, a dose of valerian root (500 mg or even 1000 mg) can be useful. Dr. Datis Kharrazian describes in Ref.1 that valerian root increases GABA at the GABA receptor site. Research has also shown that valerian root slows down the breakdown of GABA. Although GABA is available in health food stores, GABA does not get absorbed through the blood/brain barrier easily. Only patients with autoimmune problems have a leaky blood/brain barrier and GABA can get through, but this is not a good approach to take for treating GABA deficiency. When you take GABA as a supplement, it wears off after a few days and loses its effect. It is wiser to stay away from GABA.
  3. Cognitive therapy and behavioral therapy has been proven to help the person with anxiety. Often psychologists specialize in these treatment methods. Meditation and counseling therapy will also help.
  1. Antidepressant therapy: In anxiety cases where depression is part of the psychological make-up antidepressants may have a place for a period of time. The FDA issued a warning in October 2004 about antidepressant medications, including SSRIs. These may lead to suicide and suicidal behavior in a small number of children and adolescents. But there is no way of predicting who will be affected this way. The antidepressant medications are still available and are still prescribed by many physicians.
  2. A balanced diet like a Mediterranean diet will ensure that the nutrients that are required to make GABA will be provided. Added sugar should be avoided as it may contribute to anxiety from blood sugar fluctuations.
  3. Yoga and biofeedback: Yoga with an emphasis on breathing techniques can also be useful. Biofeedback methods are useful as well.
Anxiety Is Common

Anxiety Is Common

Conclusion

Anxiety is common, but also very complex, as explained above. 74.8 million Americans suffer from the various forms of anxiety mentioned. Psychosomatic disease often involves anxiety as well and it can be difficult to sort out the symptoms of patients afflicted with physical illness and anxiety. Repeat visits to the treating doctor will eventually help sort these problems out. The physician will rule out any physical problems first by doing lab tests and imaging studies.

Treating anxiety should focus on reestablishing a healthy sleeping pattern. Self-hypnosis tapes or discs are useful. Melatonin and valerian root have their place. Cognitive-behavioral therapy will help the patient to reestablish clear thoughts and minimize the anxiety symptoms. With this approach the patient will often be able to overcome anxiety. There are no instant solutions, but with time and persistence the patient will be able to take back control of his or her life.

References:

Ref. 1: Dr. Datis Kharrazian: “Why Isn’t My Brain Working?” © 2013, Elephant Press, Carlsbad, CA 92011

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May
16
2015

Facebook Use And Depression

There has been a recent study that showed that too much time spent on Facebook could have negative effects on your mood. In the most extreme case it could cause depression.

A person who is lonely and spends a lot of time on Facebook will learn about how much fun others have who report about what they have done or achieved. They may also brag about parties they have gone to. But they rarely talk about the times when they are down. When people read about others on Facebook, those who are sensitive or are in a dull mood could get discouraged. As they compare their own lives with those who portray themselves as upbeat people it leaves some with feelings of low self worth, of depression, of isolation and worsening loneliness and isolation. On the other hand, some people do share negative experiences on Facebook. There is the chance that friends can offer encouragement and support, but this is far removed from the personal, close interaction. Even a phone call is more tangible!

We all are subject to feeling blue at times, but a normal blues can turn into depression, which is part of a mental disease.

What is depression?

Depression belongs into the mood disorders. Psychiatrists have found out in the 1970’s and 1980’s that a lack of serotonin, an important brain hormone is associated with depression.

It is a mental condition where the person sees everything negative feels hollowed out and may have a lack of energy. A depressed person sees no way out of their bleak situation; they ruminate about any problems in their lives, but do not have the strength to reason things out and solve their problems. They start having problems falling asleep and sleeping through; their sex live fades due to a lack of sex drive. They are tearful and anxious. There may be a tendency of committing suicide, which is one of the things the psychiatrist will monitor for. In severe cases of depression the suicide potential may be the main reason to commit a person to a psychiatric ward for intensive treatments, either involving antidepressants or using electro convulsive therapy (ECT).

Facebook/depression research

In the Houston University study mentioned at the beginning of this blog it was found that the more hours people spent on Facebook the more depressed they were, at least for men, not so much for women. A second study showed that the more time they spent on Facebook, the more depressive symptoms they had in both sexes. This study found that the depressive symptoms were initiated because of social comparisons between what the Facebook friends did in their lives and how the lives of the subjects of the study were perceived to be. But Mai-Ly Steers, the author, said that “most of our Facebook friends tend to post about the good things that occur in their lives, while leaving out the bad”. The author went on to say: “the act of socially comparing oneself to others is related to long-term destructive emotions“. In plain English: the chronic braggers on Facebook sites are not really doing anything constructive for their friends; they are just on an annoying ego-trip!

If blues turns into depression, it is important to know more about the how depression is treated.

Treatment of depression

Here are the most common treatment modalities.

1. Drug therapy

In mild to moderate depression the caregiver may want to use an anti-depressant drug. It is important to study the side effect of drugs before treatment is even begun. The reason this is important is that the severity of side effects will decide how compliant the patient will be in continuing to take the antidepressant for a period of time. The anti-depressants amitriptyline (Elavil) and imipramine (Tofranil) tend to produce a dry mouth as a side effect. Some people can put up with this, others find it simply too much and they will discontinue treatment, which often can lead to suicide, because the negative thoughts come back when the treatment is stopped. There are newer anti-depressants like fluoxetine (Prozac), but there is a disclaimer that it could bring on suicide in teenagers who are put on this. Discuss the side effects with your physician before you are put on anything. One of the safest mild to moderate anti-depressants is St. John’s wort. This is an ancient herb and a lot is known about it. Side effects are minimal and for this reason it is well tolerated.

2. Cognitive therapy and behavioral therapy

These two forms of psychological intervention strategies have been found to be very useful to help depressed patients to normalize their thinking.

It is in the area of “self-talk” that patients learn how to reprogram their internal thoughts. They learn to use their cognitive thoughts to intervene when they get caught in negative, stereotype thought patterns or negative generalizations (“I always do everything wrong” etc.). You learn how to use rational questioning to expose generalizations: “are you really always wrong? Tell me the last time you were successful in something!” This way the generalization of “always” being wrong is put into the right context.

3. Electroconvulsive therapy

For more severe depression admission to a psychiatric ward in a hospital equipped for psychiatric patients may be required. The psychiatrist who is involved in these cases needs to observe the patient closely and determine the suicide risk. Some patients are put on special psychiatric monitoring involving psychiatric nurses that frequently talk to the patient and monitor the suicide risk. Some patients will respond fairly well to anti-depressant therapy combined with cognitive therapy, behavioral therapy or both. If the patient does not respond adequately to this treatment approach, the psychiatrist may recommend a brief course of unilateral ECT treatments.

They are more gentle than the bilateral ECT treatments. Memory loss that was a big issue with bilateral ECT treatments is not so much an issue any more with unilateral ECT treatments. One of the advantages with ECT treatments is that after 6 to 9 such treatments there is often an impressive response of depression where the suicidal risk gets overcome. Other treatment modalities like anti-depressant therapy and cognitive/behavioral therapy will then guide the patient to a full recovery from depression.

Bipolar disorder, a special form of depression

In the past bipolar disorder was termed “manic/depressive illness”. This can be inherited, and certain triggering factors can suddenly bring on a manic phase where the person is hyperactive, has racing thoughts and behaves in weird ways. But on other occasions the same person may present with strong depressive symptoms including suicidal thoughts and behaviors. These patients need to be brought to the attention of a psychiatrist right away, because untreated they may do harm to themselves (suicide) or they may do harm to others. Sadly it is often not recognized by police or firefighters if a person presents with psychiatric symptoms. Some of these cases make news headlines when police responds by firing shots, but the underlying mental disease is often not detected and treated. As fast as patients with bipolar disorder can flare up with their symptoms, they can also calm down and regain their normal controlled condition very rapidly as well. Often a person in a manic state is sleep deprived and when relaxed with a major tranquilizer drug, they fall into a deep prolonged sleep from which they wake up with much of their manic symptoms having resolved. If the psychiatrist now decides to put them on a simple mineral, called lithium carbonate, as a maintenance therapy, the mood fluctuations may never come back. The person stays equal tempered and you would not think that they could ever have needed psychiatric intervention.

Facebook and mental disease

I like to come back to the topic of this blog, namely what influence the social media and in particular Facebook has on mental illness.

We all have certain needs that we may or may not be aware of and that need to be met. Abraham Maslow, an American psychologist has taught about this many years ago. I like to simplify these needs and point out four of these basic needs as follows: we have a need for self worth, a need for autonomy, a need to belong and a need for love. If any of those needs is not met, we will feel hurt inside and our thinking may get disbalanced. Once we are on a negative internal spin and there are no friends that help us see things in perspective, this could grow into depression as found in the study discussed in the beginning of this blog. When a semi-depressed person reads some of the upbeat communications on Facebook, comparing oneself to others, it can lead to a feeling that they do not belong to this upbeat group, but they are left out. They may feel that they are not loved and the need of self worth is undermined. It is easy to see how one’s self-talk could get into a negative spin and the mood would be spiraling downwards toward depression. It depends on how emotionally stable the person is who reads these Facebook entries. An emotionally robust person will be able to reason within oneself that people tend to show the rosy part of them on Facebook. They may also limit Facebook time and contact some of their friends and meet them in person rather than only by computer or texting. The electronic world can be a lonely experience. There is no substitute for personal touch, talking, listening and interacting with real people, and this is still one of the valuable tools of preventing mental illness. But if depression or other mental illness sets in, contact your family doctor to get a referral to a psychologist or psychiatrist.

Facebook Use And Depression

Facebook Use And Depression

Conclusion

Mental illness still has a stigma from the past. However, now we know that the symptoms of mental disease are just due to a disbalance of brain hormones that can be rebalanced through the treatment protocols mentioned above. Facebook can have a negative influence on the development of mental illness, because the basic needs mentioned above are unmet or even are being undermined, which in turn tends to make mental symptoms worse. The solution to this is to limit Facebook time, to meet real people and share all of the feelings with them and listen to their feelings as well. This human interaction tends to stabilize our mental well-being. It is also important to realize when professional help is needed and to seek it.

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Jan
22
2015

Life Expectancy Is Influenced By Lifestyle

The previous three blogs have dealt with telomeres, stem cells and lifestyle as a theme. In this blog you find summaries from three talks at the 22nd Annual World Congress on Anti-Aging Medicine In Las Vegas (Dec. 10-14, 2014) that dealt with telomere length and how nutrition can positively influence what our genes express, which ultimately determines how long we live. This is at the center of anti-aging medicine and this is why I dealt with it in some detail.

1) Dr. Theodore Piliszek: “Personalized Genetics: Applying Genomics to General Health, Nutrition, and Lifestyle Modification”

The individual’s metabolism is different from one person to the next. As a result of this, one needs to match the diet one recommends for a patient to that person’s genetic make-up.

The Mediterranean diet has 20% protein, 35% fat, 45% carbs; here is the composition of other diets:

Low carb diet: 30% protein, 30% fat, 40% carbs

Low fat diet: 20-25% protein, 20-25% fat, 50-55% carbs

Balanced diet: 20% protein, 25% fat, 55% carbs

Snack only on low caloric foods; otherwise leptins react and make you hungry. A sweet tooth predisposes you to develop diabetes. Lactose intolerance is more common than previously thought. 30% of type II diabetics presently will develop dementia and Alzheimer’s is now often referred to as type III diabetes. With sugar being present in so many processed foods, this figure will likely jump to 60% in the future!

Methylation is very important for your well being. Here is a quick link to explain methylation in simple terms without getting too much into biochemical nomenclature. Having said this, vitamin B2, B6, B12 are needed for this biochemical process, SAMe is also a supplement that supports methylation.

If you do not have a longevity gene, you need to watch that you stick to organic food, stay active, may be add methylated folate and vitamin B12. Each patient should get a supplement list that is customized.

The health practitioner should ask the patient to keep a food diary for 1 week, which gives the doctor the nutritional profile including what the patient consumes in the way of drinks. Check vitamin D3 blood levels! Adequate levels of vitamin D3 are necessary for the musculoskeletal system and the immune system. Endurance training is important up to age 45. Beyond that age emphasis should be on isometric exercises (weight lifting).

Dr. Piliszek stated that the life expectancy in the US is falling behind many other countries. I did a quick Google check regarding life expectancy around the world as follows: US: 78.7 years; Canada: 81.2 years; France: 82.7, Italy: 82.9; Spain: 82.3; Portugal 80.37; Sweden: 81.7; Denmark: 80.05; Norway: 81.45; Germany: 80.89; Poland 76.8; Russia: 70.56. Seeing that the conference took place in the US, there is a lot of room for the US to improve habits with regard to food intake.

Dr. Piliszek stated that the normal range for hemoglobin A1C is skewed in the medical literature and the recommendations are too high; it should be: 3.8 to 4.9 %. This is very important to know for diabetics and any caregiver who looks after diabetes patients, because if you are satisfied with a hemoglobin A1C of 6.0 as still being “normal”, the diabetic patient dies prematurely of a heart attack or a stroke. Contrary to the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse (NDIC) recommendation it is important to take note: the new normal range for hemoglobin A1C is 3.8 to 4.9%! A patient whose hemoglobin A1C is 5.5 has diabetes and needs to be treated aggressively to prevent complications associated with diabetes.

2) George Rozakis, MD: “Nutrigenomics”

This talk focused on how one could use nutrition to heal when genetic errors are present in the metabolism. This field is called “nutrigenomics”. It deals with using diet modifications and nutrients to change gene expression. Another way to express this is that with proper epigenetic changes by using the right nutrients for a person with an inherited weakness, using the right nutrients for a person with an inherited weakness can extend life. At the same time you need to avoid nutrients that would harm a person with a certain genetic weakness.

We all have inherited some minor or not so minor genetic errors in the genetic code. We are made up of 50 trillion cells with 30,000 genes and 23 pairs of chromosomes, so there are bound to be a few minor genetic code errors that make us more or less susceptible to develop disease, particularly when our telomeres are shortening with age making self-repair of many of our aging cells difficult, if not impossible.

Genes program our cells to run biochemical reactions within the cells. Correct methylation pathways are important for normal cell function. However, if there is a methylation defect, abnormalities set in and homocysteine accumulates.

With various enzyme defects you need to use appropriate supplements to normalize the metabolic defect. Vitamin B2, B6 and B12 supplementation will often stabilize methylation defects and homocysteine levels return to normal. This is important as severe, familial cardiovascular disease can be postponed this way by several years or more.

In a similar vein Dr. Rozakis mentioned that 92% of migraine sufferers have a defective methylation pathway involving histamine overproduction and they can be helped with a histamine-restricted diet.

Autism, ADHD (hyperactivity) and learning disabilities are other diseases where methylation pathway defects are present. Every patient with autism should be checked for methylation pathway defects, and appropriate supplements and diet restrictions can help in normalizing the child’s metabolic defects. DAN physicians (“defeat autism now”) are well versed in this and should be consulted.

S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe) defects are another type of methylation defect, which is important in certain liver, colon and gastric cancers.

Dr. Rozakis went on to say that methylation defects lead to disbalances between T and B cells of the immune system and are important in autoimmune diseases like lupus or rheumatoid arthritis.

Methylation defects can also cause autoimmune thyroiditis and type 1 diabetes. They can also cause cardiac disease by raising homocysteine levels, which causes dysfunction of the lining of arteries and premature heart attacks.

Epigenetic factors through global methylation defects from vitamin B2, B6 and B12 deficiency cause many different cancers. Hypomethylation is the most common DNA defect of cancer cells.

Mental illness is another area where epigenetic factors play an important role. Depression that responds only partially or not at all to SSRI’s (antidepressants) often responds to L-methylfolate, a simple supplement from the health food store as a supplement. Similar epigenetic approaches can be used to treat psychosis, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and Alzheimer’s disease.

With skin diseases it has come to light that atopic dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis, scleroderma and vitiligo are related to methylation.

When we age, certain hormones are gradually missing, which leads to menopause and andropause. This leads to impaired cell function, elevated cholesterol, arthritis, constipation, depression, low sex drive, elevated blood pressure, insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome and fatigue. Replace the missing hormones with bioidentical ones and symptoms normalize.

Life Expectancy Is Influenced By Lifestyle

Life Expectancy Is Influenced By Lifestyle

3) Dr. Al Sears: “Telo-Nutritioneering: The latest generation of telomere modulators”.

Shortened telomeres are causing cells to behave like old cells. In the lab we can lengthen telomeres. Telomerase activated animals regrew their brains!! In the human situation the goal is to find ways to preserve the length of our telomeres in all our key organs. Alternatively this can also be reached by inhibiting the breakdown of the enzyme telomerase, which will lead to a lengthening of telomeres. In his research Dr. Sears found at least 123 nutrients, vitamins and natural compounds that will elongate telomeres, often by stimulating telomerase.

Testing for critically short telomeres (HT Q-FISH method) is clinically more important than using average telomere length tests. Dr. Sears said when a patient has been shown to have short telomeres and this patient is started on telomerase stimulating supplements, telomere lengthening can be documented within one month of starting the supplementation. Acetyl-L-carnitine and resveratrol are two substances that reliably elongate telomeres.

Vitamin C will significantly delay shortening of telomeres, which translates into delayed aging. In addition vitamin C has recently been shown to stimulate telomerase activity in certain stem cells. There is an herb, called Silymarin extract, which was found to increase telomerase activity threefold. N-acetyl cysteine is a building block for glutathione, a powerful ant-oxidant. In addition it has been shown to turn on the human telomerase gene. Other telomerase stimulators are green tea extract, ginkgo biloba, gamma tocotrienol (one of the components of the vitamin E group), vitamin D3 and folic acid.

Dr. Sears suggested that we should take the following supplements and vitamins for “telo-nutritioneering” (alphabetically arranged) with recommended dosages:

Acetyl L-carnitine: 1,000 mg daily; alpha tocopherol: 400 IU daily; folic acid: 2 mg to 5 mg daily; gamma tocotrienol: 20 mg minimum daily; ginkgo biloba: 40 mg to 80 mg daily (cycle every 4 to 6 weeks); green tea (EGCG): 50 mg daily; L-arginine: 500 mg to 1,000 mg daily; N-acetyl cysteine: 1,800 mg to 2,400 mg daily; resveratrol: 10 mg to 20 mg daily; silymarin: 200mg twice daily; vitamin C: 540 mg minimum daily; and vitamin D3: 2,000 IU daily.

Even if you are only taking 5 or 6 of these twelve telomerase boosters daily, you are doing well, particularly if you are also watching your lifestyle (regular exercise, not smoking, cutting out excessive alcohol intake and avoiding sugar).

Conclusion

This is only the beginning of rethinking epigenetic treatment approaches. For too long organized medicine has used a “cookie-cutter” approach of diagnosing and treating diseases. Now we are realizing that changes in hormones and shortening of telomeres with aging can cause inflammation and premature deaths. The future of medicine, which has already started, uses nutritional changes, vitamins and supplements, bioidentical hormone replacements and exercise to stabilize cell metabolism and postpone age-related diseases.

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Feb
19
2014

Every Patient Is Unique

Modern Western Medicine tends to see the disease of a patient as a unique entity. Conventional medicine behaves as if a disease is associated with characteristic symptoms, findings and lab test results, which are then treated in a standard fashion by treating the symptoms of the disease.

The reality though is different: The same disease can present in various patients with different symptoms.

Naturopathic physicians, integrative physicians and anti-aging physicians see patients as unique individuals with characteristic personality traits and slightly varied presentations, which may be shared in a disease entity, but differ substantially from person to person.

It is important to be aware of this uniqueness, if the caregiver wants to achieve the optimal treatment result.

Big Pharma does not like this approach as they would like you to think that the conventional medicine system is superior. A certain disease is treated a certain way, preferably with the most expensive drugs.

I thought that in this blog it would be good to shed some light on this important topic.

Menopausal women with symptoms

Let us consider an example of a 55-year old woman who has hot flashes, dry skin, a loss of hair from the outer aspect of her eyebrows, does not sleep well and has lost her sex drive. She also has put on 20 pounds in the last year despite no change in her diet.

This is how conventional medicine would handle this patient

The doctor examines the woman and does a Pap test as well. A conventional doctor would likely order standard blood tests consisting of a complete blood count, thyroid tests (T4, TSH) and FSH and LH levels. The conventional physician would find that the thyroid hormones are low with a high TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) and would treat the woman with Synthroid (a synthetic thyroid hormone drug). The LH and FSH were found to be high indicating to the conventional physician that the woman is in menopause. He would offer the standard PREMPRO (a synthetic hormone preparation containing a mare estrogen combination with a progestin) with the warning that he will give her the lowest estrogen combination and only up to 5 years because of the negative findings of the Women’s Health Initiative.

Every Patient Is Unique

Every Patient Is Unique

Here is an example how a naturopathic or anti-aging physician’s would investigate and treat the patient

A naturopathic physician or an anti-aging physician would likely add a female saliva hormone panel to the other blood tests mentioned above and also do a T3 hormone level as part of the thyroid blood tests. The doctor will explain to the patient that she was found to be menopausal and also hypothyroid. With respect to the hypothyroidism the physician will explain that apart from thyroxin (T4) there is a second hormone, triiodothyronine (T3) that is also necessary in order to replace all of the thyroid hormones that humans have. Drug companies assume that T4 (Synthroid) will reverse automatically into whatever amount of T3 the body needs, so they have convinced most conventional doctors to prescribe T4 drugs only (like Synthroid). The problem is that as the body ages, the enzymes necessary to convert T4 into T3 do not work as well as in a younger age.This can be verified by testing T3 and T4 levels simultaneously.

The end result is that the patient who only gets T4 replaced may still have some of the symptoms like lack of energy and depression even when T4 has been replaced. Not so with the patient treated by the naturopath or the anti-aging physician who put our patient on Armour (porcine-derived thyroid hormone replacement containing both T4 and T3).

With regard to the blood tests and the saliva hormone tests the second patient was told that the blood tests confirmed menopause (high LH and FSH) and that the saliva female hormone panel showed what was going on. In this particular patient the female saliva hormone tests showed that the progesterone level was low, the testosterone level was low and estrogen was normal. Another hormone, DHEA-S (which is DHEA sulfate, the storage form of DHEA) was also on the low side. Cortisol that had also been tested was normal. The physician explained that the woman’s adrenal glands showed a slight weakness not producing enough DHEA, which is a precursor to testosterone. The low testosterone level was responsible for her lack of sex drive. Progesterone, which needs to be high enough to counterbalance estrogen, was missing, which was likely the cause of her hot flashes and the lack of energy together with the missing thyroid hormones. The physician explained that the woman needed a small amount of DHEA tablets by mouth, a full replacement of progesterone (through the use of a bioidentical hormone cream) and also a small amount of bioidentical testosterone cream to normalize her hormones.

A reassessment of the patients 2 months later showed that the first woman still had some depression and lack of energy, while the second woman felt her normal self again. Both women had regrown their eyebrows from replacing the missing thyroid hormones and have lost several pounds since the beginning of their treatments, but obviously there were quite different clinical results. The first woman was treated in a “standard conventional medicine” fashion, which will lead to breast cancer as unnecessary estrogen was given. She also will be at risk of getting cardiovascular disease as she was replaced with Progestin, a synthetic drug thought by conventional physicians to represent “progesterone”. The Women’s Health Initiative has proven that this was the outcome with PREMPRO and yet this drug is still on the market!

The second woman received an individualized and personalized holistic treatment protocol. The low progesterone from missing her ovulations after menopause was being replaced and her body very quickly responded favorably by making her feel normal again. The missing adrenal gland hormones and testosterone were replaced and this normalized her sex drive. Both, progesterone and thyroid hormones (T3 and T4) are anabolic hormones and they gave her back her energy and restored her sleep pattern. With normal hormone levels she also lost her depression symptoms.

Two men with depression

If you thought that the difference of these two clinical approaches were just coincidental, think again. The next examples are two men in their early 50’s who see their physicians because they felt depressed and had a lack of energy. Both were normal weight.

Here is the conventional medicine approach

The physician took a history, during which a lack of sex drive was also noted. He examined the patient and came to the conclusion that physically nothing was wrong with the man, but a diagnosis of depression was made. This would account for the tearfulness, sleep problems and loss of sex drive. The doctor prescribed one of the standard antidepressants (in this case sertraline, brand name Zoloft). Three weeks later the patient returned and as he was better, a repeat prescription for the antidepressant was given. After a further two months the patient was reassessed. When the symptoms were reviewed, it became apparent that a lack of sex drive was still present, if anything the patient felt the antidepressant had made this worse. Some of the depressive symptoms have improved on the conventional antidepressant. The doctor discussed that the antidepressant could be increased by one tablet per day. The doctor also discussed the option of using Viagra for the decreased sex drive and difficulty having an orgasm.

This would be the  naturopathic or anti-aging physician’s approach. Again similar to before a history was taken and a physical examination was done. The physician noted that the patient was in the age where a lack of sex drive could indicate an early andropause (the male equivalent of menopause, often difficult to spot with the first presentation). A depression questionnaire indicated that the man was moderately depressed. The patient was sent for blood tests and for saliva hormone tests (a male hormone panel). The physician stated that he would like to arrange for cognitive therapy treatment to sort out the various factors of his depression, but also help his mood by trying to start him on St. John’s wort, an herb that has been proven to be effective for mild to moderate depression. The blood work came back as normal. However, the hormone tests showed that testosterone was in the lower third of the normal range. DHEA-S, cortisol and estrogen were normal. So a few weeks later when the tests had come back the patient was called in.  The doctor explained to him that the low testosterone level would explain why his sex drive had deteriorated along with his symptoms of depression. Bioidentical testosterone cream was added to the antidepressant herbal treatment. The result was that within one month this patient’s sex drive was back to normal. Together with the cognitive therapy treatments and the herbal antidepressant the depression was also resolved. After a further three months of counseling he was able to stop the St. John’s wort. Due to the counseling sessions he felt stronger than ever before and his mood remained stable even when the counseling sessions were terminated. He continued to use the bioidentical testosterone cream regularly.

These are examples of two different approaches in two identical men in their early 50’s. It appears to me that the conventional approach did a disservice to the sick person, only treated symptoms, but did nothing to solve this patient’s real problems. The second case’s depression was treated properly and the physician luckily also did not miss the underlying early andropause with low testosterone levels. Repeat testosterone levels showed a high normal testosterone level, which was now in the upper 1/3 of the normal range.

The conventional approach missed the early testosterone deficiency, which  would cause heart disease, should the testosterone levels become even lower. Viagra certainly would not be the answer as this has a number of potentially serious side effects. The antidepressants at even higher doses would cause more erectile dysfunction, which was what he hoped to have treated.

Conclusion

People often have several conditions at the same time. It takes intuition, readiness to do testing, repeat close observation and repeat examination on the part of the physician. This needs to be coupled with good listening skills to sort out a patient. On behalf of the patient it is important to tell the physician all of your symptoms and observations. Be patient and never give up. A good patient/physician relationship will go a long way in sorting out complex medical problems. Every patient is unique. Not every symptom means the same thing in two different patients.

More information on:

1. Menopause: http://nethealthbook.com/hormones/hypogonadism/secondary-hypogonadism/menopause/

2. Depression: http://nethealthbook.com/mental-illness-mental-disorders/mood-disorders/depression/

Last edited Nov. 7, 2014

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Oct
26
2013

Being SAD in Fall (Seasonal Affective Disorders)

Any general practitioner knows that fall and winter are the time when patients come in with a variety of complaints like a lack of energy, problems sleeping, inability to cope with stress, but often there may be non-specific pains like muscle spasm in the back, the shoulders, or indigestion. These symptoms can all be part of seasonal affective disorders (SAD) like depression, the winter blues, often coupled with anxiety.

Emotional health does not fit easily into our health care model. The receptionist will warn the doctor that this is going to be a “difficult” patient. If the doctor has only time for a 5 or 10-minute visit, where only one or two problems can be dealt with, then this does not fit when a patient with SAD has a problem concentrating, falling asleep, and presents with a long list of other complaints. Even 20 minutes or 30 minutes may not be enough to deal with this patient adequately. It is easier to send the patient for tests and to prescribe an antidepressant and a sleeping pill and reschedule for a follow-up appointment. But this likely will result in normal blood tests and investigations, added health care costs, but no solution to the patient’s problem when he  or she simply states “doctor, I feel so sick”.

I thought it would be interesting to review how our emotions can get out of balance and review an integrative approach to SAD.

Definition of SAD

Seasonal depression (also called seasonal affective disorder) occurs during fall (autumn) and winter, but this alternates with no depressive episodes during spring and summer. A person defined to suffer from SAD would have suffered from two major depressive episodes during the past 2 years with no depressive episodes in the intervening seasons of spring and summer (Ref.1). Alternative names for SAD are winter depression and wintertime blues. Typically SAD lasts about 5 months.

Brain hormone disbalance

Around 2002 it was detected that in mice there was a second light sensitive pathway from ganglion cells in the retina that were responsible for circadian hormone rhythms. This was later confirmed to be true also in humans, where photosensitive retinal ganglion cells buried deep in the retina and containing the pigment melanopsin absorb blue light in the visible light spectrum. The electrical signals are sent along the retinohypothalamic tract, so that light from the retina regulates the hormone circadian rhythm (daily hormone fluctuations including the sleep/wake cycle) in the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is one of the major hormone centers in the center of the brain. As this publication shows there are minor genetic sequence changes for the retinal photopigment, melanopsin in patients with SAD. This affects about 1 to 2% of the American population. Many more have probably partial defects in the function of this pigment.

Being SAD in Fall (Seasonal Affective Disorders)

Being SAD in Fall (Seasonal Affective Disorders)

Many hormones in our brain experience a circadian rhythm.

When the sun goes down, melatonin is produced making us sleepy. In the morning serotonin production goes up and stays up all day, which normally prevents depression. There are other hormones that cycle during the course of the day. Cortisol is highest in the morning and low in the evening and at night. Growth hormone and prolactin are highest during sleep.

There is a lack of serotonin in the brains of patients with SAD and depression.

Symptoms of SAD

A person affected by SAD or any other patient with ordinary depression will present with symptoms of lack of energy, with tearfulness, negative thought patterns, sleep disturbances, lack of appetite and weight loss and possible suicidal thoughts. On the other hand symptoms may be more atypical presenting with irritability and overindulging in food with weight gain. Some patients somaticize as already mentioned in the beginning of this review experiencing a multitude of functional symptoms without any demonstrable underlying disease. It is estimated that up to 30 to 40% of patients attending a general practitioner’s office have some form of depression and in the fall and winter season a large percentage of them are due to SAD.

Treatment approaches to SAD

There are several natural approaches to SAD. However, before deciding to go this route, a psychiatrist should assess the patient to determine the risk for suicide. When a patient is not suicidal, light therapy can be utilized.

1. Light therapy: According to Ref. 2 a light box from Sun Box or Northern Light Technologies should be used for 30 minutes every morning during the fall and winter months. The box should emit at least 10,000 lux. Improvement can occur within 2 to 4 days of starting light therapy, but often takes up to 4 weeks to reach its full benefit (Ref.2).

2. Exercise reduces the amount of depression. The more exercise is done the less depression remains. A regular gym workout, dancing, walking, aerobics and involvement in sports are all useful.

3. Folate and vitamin B12: Up to 1/3 of depressed people have folate deficiency. Supplementation with 400 mcg to 1 mg of folic acid is recommended. Vitamin B12 should also be taken to not mask a B12 deficiency (Ref.3). Folate and vitamin B12 are methyl donors for several brain neuropeptides.

4. Vitamin D3 supplementation: A large Dutch study showed that a high percentage of depressed patients above the age of 65 were deficient for vitamin D3. Supplementation with vitamin D3 is recommended. (Ref.3). Take 3000 to 4000 IU per day, particularly during the winter time.

5. St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) has been found useful for minor to moderate depression. It is superior in terms of having fewer side effects than standard antidepressant therapy (Ref.3).

6. Standard antidepressants (bupropion, fluoxetine, sertraline and paroxetine) are the treatment of choice by psychiatrists and treating physicians when a faster onset of the antidepressant effect is needed (Ref.3).

7. Electro acupuncture has been shown in many studies to be effective in ameliorating the symptoms of depression and seems to work through the release of neurotransmitters in the brain (Ref.4).

8. A balanced nutrition (Mediterranean type diet) including multiple vitamins and supplements (particularly the vitamin B group and omega-3 fatty acids) also stabilize a person’s mood (Ref.3). Pay particular attention to hidden sugar intake, as sugar consumption is responsible for a lot of depression found in the general population.

9. Restore sleep deprivation by adding melatonin 3 to 6 mg at bedtime. This helps also to restore the circadian hormone rhythm.

Conclusion

Seasonal affective disorder is triggered by a lack of light exposure in a sensitive subpopulation. An integrative approach as described can reduce the amount of antidepressants that would have been used in the past in treating this condition. This will reduce the amount of side effects. The use of a light box can reduce the symptoms of this type of depression within a few days. But the addition of electro acupuncture and St. John’s Wort may be all that is required for treatment of many SAD cases. Regular exercise and a balanced nutrition (with no sugar) and including vitamin supplements complete this treatment. If the depression gets worse, seek the advice of a psychiatrist and make sure your doctor has ordered thyroid tests and hormone tests to rule out other causes where depression is merely a secondary symptom.

More information on depression: http://nethealthbook.com/mental-illness-mental-disorders/mood-disorders/depression/

References

  1. Ferri: Ferri’s Clinical Advisor 2014, 1st ed. © 2013 Mosby.
  2. Cleveland Clinic: Current Clinical Medicine, 2nd ed. © 2010 Saunders.
  3. Rakel: Integrative Medicine, 3rd ed. © 2012 Saunders.
  4. George A. Ulett, M.D., Ph.D. and SongPing Han, B.M., Ph.D.: “The Biology of Acupuncture”, copyright 2002, Warren H. Green Inc., Saint Louis, Missouri, 63132 USA

Last edited Nov. 7, 2014

Oct
19
2013

Healthy Choices Start In Your Brain

You may have seen the CNN heading “Where is self-control in the brain?”  If we want to make any healthy choices in life including sound financial choices, we need a balanced brain that makes the right decisions for us.

Researchers at the Caltech in Pasadena, CA have examined this question in detail using functional MRI scans and found out that there are two loci on the frontal lobe of the brain that control your impulses: the “ventral medial prefrontal cortex” (red in this link) that processes your initial image (like seeing a delicious ice cream cone”) and the “dorsolateral prefrontal cortex”(green in this link), where you decide that this is not healthy for you because it has too much sugar in it. The Caltech researchers found a group of volunteers who were impulsive and made the wrong choice simply based on their taste buds without consideration for their health in general. An equally large group of volunteers was also found who had functional activity in the ventral medial prefrontal cortex and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the latter of which modified the final decision into the healthy choice. The impulsive group made their decision to buy simply with the activation of only the ventral medial prefrontal cortex.

The researchers think that it is this kind of lack of balanced thinking that decides whether we are going to make the right or wrong health choices for ourselves. The sad part is that ultimately, the summation of bad health decisions during life can become the cause of developing dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease. The good news is that many of the causes of dementia can be avoided, which means that the average person could prevent dementia. I will discuss this in detail here.

Causes of dementia

It is interesting to study patients with various forms of dementia as it is often in the frontal and temporal portions of the brain where brain cells are dying off resulting in impulsive buying, impulsive behavior and lack of recent memory. It is also important to recognize that a number of conditions or factors can cause dementia:

1. Genetic causes

Here is the

There are two types of frontotemporal lobe dementias, a tau-protein positive FTD and a ubiquitin-positive FTD, which has been shown to be due to a deficiency in progranulin. Both of these genetic defects are located on chromosome 17. In Alzheimer’s dementia, which occurs later in life there can be genetic defects at chromosomes 21, 14 or 19. Epigenetic factors like exercise, avoidance of alcohol, and taking omega-3 supplements can even partially prevent or postpone the onset of dementia from genetic causes.

Healthy Choices Start In Your Brain

Healthy Choices Start In Your Brain

2. Toxins like alcohol

Another example of how people can get dementia is through the effect that regular alcohol consumption has on our brains and bodies. This image of an MRI scan shows a normal brain for comparison on the left and  the MRI scan of the brain of a chronic alcoholic on the right.  When a chronic alcoholic has severe atrophy of the brain a psychiatric condition, called Korsakoff’s syndrome can occur. This psychotic condition as a result of the brain having been poisoned by regular alcohol intoxication. Essentially the toxic effect of high daily doses of alcohol have shrunk not only the surface of the brain, but also the deeper substance of the brain. The patient is psychotic, has loss of memory and is unable to care for him/herself.

3. Vascular damage to the brain

Strokes can cause vascular dementia that leads to Alzheimer’s disease-like memory loss. This link points out that diseases like hypertension, obesity, diabetes, atrial fibrillation, ischemic heart disease and dyslipidemia all predispose you to possibly get a stroke with subsequent dementia.

4. Traumatic head injuries

In boxers, football players and combat soldiers brain cells can get lost from repetitive head trauma leading to dementia (in this case it is called “dementia pugilistica”).

5. Infectious dementia

HIV in AIDS patients can affect the brain and cause an HIV-associated dementia. Bacterial meningitis and viral meningitis can kill brain cells and cause a form of dementia as well.

6. Immune disorders

We know that MS can go on to develop dementia as a late complication. In MS there are autoantibodies against myelin, the insulation material that surrounds nerve fibers. An important category of immune disorders is autoimmune disease that can cause dementia. The cardiologist, Dr. William Davis, has presented compelling evidence that wheat allergies can cause dementia, but if detected early and treated by a gluten free diet, this clears up the mind and stops further development of dementia (Ref.1 describes wheat allergies causing dementia; a wheat free diet is described in Ref.2).

7. Hormone deficiencies

A classical example is hypothyroidism, which in the past before thyroid medicine was available, often led to dementia. A simple blood test, TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) can detect whether or not you are hypothyroid. The A4M recommendation for a normal level is below 2 (not below 5 as often reported by official lab value reports).

8. Lack of vitamins

Thiamine (=vitamin B-1) is often missing in alcoholics. If you are missing vitamin B-6 and vitamin B-12 in your diet, this can predispose you to develop dementia as well. Aging people lose a factor from the gastric mucosa (the intrinsic factor) that is essential to absorb vitamin B-12 in the mall bowel, which predisposes them to develop pernicious anemia and dementia. A simple vitamin B-12 injection can prevent this from happening.

9. Too much sugar consumption

Sugar consumption has skyrocketed in the 1900’s and keeps on going up in the new millennium as well. Here is a review that discusses the possibility that Alzheimer’s can be triggered by overconsumption of sugar. The higher the blood sugar levels in diabetics, the higher the risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease. A study in Seattle has confirmed this. High insulin levels are found in type 2 diabetes; they are responsible for making brain cells stimulate the production of the gooey substance amyloid that causes Alzheimer’s disease. The authors of this study showed this to be true both in humans and in animal models.

10. Lifestyle issues like lack of exercise, excessive weight (obesity, being overweight) and poor diet (fast foods) play an enormous role in terms of causation of dementia in addition to the other factors mentioned. On the other hand organic foods Lack of toxins) and a Mediterranean type diet will preserve your brain cells.

Treatment of dementia

At present treatment of dementia is very limited, as we do not have a complete understanding of dementia at this point. The traditional treatment of dementia outlined here will only marginally delay further deterioration of dementia, but ultimately fail. In my opinion this is because the medical profession has been concentrating on fighting the symptoms of dementia rather than the cause.

Given the list of known causes above, I like to give you 6 recommendations that will help you to prevent Alzheimer’s disease and dementia in general.

  1. I would suggest that you cut sugar out of your diet and replace it with stevia. This also includes dates, grapes, bananas; also wheat and wheat products and starchy foods like pasta, potatoes, rice and bread (see Ref. 1 and 2 for details). The manufacturers of soda drinks, pies and cakes will not be happy about this recommendation, but it will please your brain cells. You will also be surprised how easy it is now to lose weight, which will please you (this also lowers your risk for heart attacks and strokes).
  2. Severely limit your alcohol consumption to less than 1 drink for women and 2 drinks for men per day (better still would be to stay sober) unless you want to become part of the hospital population mentioned in one of the links at the beginning of this blog.
  3. Have your hormones checked, particularly your thyroid hormones, but also estrogen and progesterone levels in women and testosterone in men. Our brain cells have hormone receptors for a reason. They need to be stimulated by our hormones, even in menopause or andropause. Replace the missing sex hormones with bioidentical hormone creams and missing thyroid hormones with thyroid tablets (Armour is the best mix of T3 and T4 thyroid hormones, not Synthroid).
  4. Prevent repetitive brain injuries before it is too late. Rethink whether you really need to box, street fight, play football, rugby or hockey.
  5. Use vitamins for prevention of dementia: The B complex vitamins like B-2, B-6, B-12 (by injection); vitamin D3 has recently been shown to be effective in slowing down Alzheimer’s disease. Vitamin D3 is low in Alzheimer’s patients and vitamin D3 supplements will slow down this disease. Although vitamin C showed equivocal results, it does have some neuroprotective qualities and decreases β-amyloid production and acetyl cholinesterase activity. A Mediterranean-type diet (Ref.2) is also helpful in preventing dementia.
  6. Exercise daily. It will discipline you to stick to the other points mentioned above. It gives you some extra endorphins and will make you feel good about yourself.

Conclusion

Although we do not yet have a complete picture regarding Alzheimer’s disease and dementias, we do know enough to reduce our risk of getting them. When you cut out wheat and wheat products, autoimmune antibodies against your brain cells will not be produced, your opiate receptors in the brain will not be seduced to eat more and more sugar, starchy foods or high fructose corn syrup, so you will have no problem in cutting out high glycemic index foods (Ref.1). This will reduce insulin and reduce IGF-1 growth factors that would have made you vulnerable to produce the gooey amyloid substance that makes you lose your memory. The orbitofrontal part of your brain (particularly the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex) will be reminding you what you read here: healthy lifestyle choices start in your brain.

References

1. William Davis, MD: “Wheat Belly. Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health”. HarperCollins Publishers LTD., Toronto, Canada, 2011.

2. William Davis, MD: “Wheat Belly Cookbook. 150 Recipes to Help You Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health”. HarperCollins Publishers LTD., Toronto, Canada, 2012.

Last edited Oct. 19, 2013

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Oct
12
2013

Music More Powerful Than Anti-Anxiety Drugs

When was the last time you saw your physicians for anxiety and you were given a prescription that said: “for anxiety listen to your favorite music!” instead of receiving a prescription for an anti-anxiety drug (anxiolytic). This is exactly what a recent study suggests that showed prior to surgery you can control your anxiety either with anti-anxiety drugs or by listening to your favorite music. Listening to your favorite music will do you no harm, while many drugs do have harmful side effects.

How singing can change the brain chemistry

Other studies have investigated how singing can change your brain functioning in terms of brain chemistry. The researchers found that singing will release dopamine in your brain, which is responsible for feeling pleasure; it will stimulate your immune system by elevating immunoglobulin A and decreasing cortisol (the stress hormone). This in turn will preserve your immune cells (lymphocytes). Oxytocin levels of your brain are increased, which promotes social affiliation. It also calms down the autonomic nervous system resulting in a better airway opening, calming of your heart rate and soothing the wave-like muscle contractions in your gut, medically called peristalsis. You would refer to that as “butterflies in your stomach”. Music therapy reduces pain and anxiety by 50% and is important for children and adults alike.

Pain and anxiety reduced

A study in Germany showed that pain and anxiety were significantly reduced with music therapy. A Taiwanese study of women in labor found that music therapy significantly reduced pain and anxiety of women during labor. Ref. 1 explains that music therapy is useful as an adjunct to treating cancer pain, and reducing anxiety associated with colposcopy procedures. It also can help when treating patients who had heart attacks in the setting of a cardiac care unit.

Music More Powerful Than Anti-Anxiety Drugs

Music More Powerful Than Anti-Anxiety Drugs

Hypnosis and guided imagery

Music has been successfully combined with clinical hypnosis and guided imagery where words are carefully chosen to help the patient experience pleasant feelings, which counteract the experience of pain, anxiety or fear of dying. A simple relaxation CD or tape with soothing background music will facilitate this type of therapy. This is useful for patients in a palliative care unit where they prepare themselves to accepting the inevitable death from an incurable disease. But chemotherapy patients undergoing these procedures for cancer treatments also have benefitted from a significant reduction in nausea, vomiting (side effects of chemotherapy) and pain.

Autism and music therapy

A Cochrane study showed that autistic children did better in terms of communication skills when music therapy was incorporated into the treatment protocol. One of the core deficits in autistic children is in the area of communication and social skills. This is where music therapy was most effective. Behavioral problems (stereotypic behavior) in autistic children did not respond to music therapy. A comprehensive treatment program for autistic children should therefore incorporate music therapy. Here is a blog that describes what difference music therapy can make in the lives of autistic children written by a member of the American Music Therapy Association.

Substance abuse and music therapy

An area where you may not expect music therapy to have a role is in the area of drug and substance abuse rehabilitation , which is discussed in more detail in this site. The beauty about music therapy is that it is not a drug, yet the natural endorphins that are released by the brain help the affected person getting through withdrawal easier. Music therapy helps building up self-esteem, participating in group activities, promoting self awareness and expressing feelings.

Mood disorders in adolescents

One important area where music therapy has been employed is with anxiety and depression in adolescents. Adolescents spend an average of 4 hours per day listening to music. So they are already programmed to listen to music. With the help of a music therapist they can be directed to listening to the type of music that will help them get motivated, relax more, make them feel accepted and be part of their peer groups. In this study the authors suggested to combine music therapy with dance and art therapy. In this way the whole person gets involved in the treatment and this can be integrated with conventional antidepressant treatments at reduced doses (with less side-effects) or with cognitive therapy.

General objectives of music therapy

Music therapy is best incorporated into a treatment protocol as an adjunct. It can help reduce the use of drugs for psychiatric patients, for people with anxiety and for patients with pain conditions. The Cleveland clinic has a useful summary about music therapy, which describes the uses of it for reducing anxiety, for helping with coping skills, mood improvement and distraction from pain. There are registered music therapists you can ask for help. The website of the American Music Therapy Association may have other useful links for you.

Conclusion

Music therapy is a treatment modality with no side effects, but providing effective treatment for quite an impressive range of clinical conditions as discussed. Music therapists are widely available in the US and many other countries. This treatment can be integrated with conventional or complementary treatments. It helps people to heal the body as a whole unit (mind and body).

More information on anxiety disorders: http://nethealthbook.com/mental-illness-mental-disorders/anxiety-disorders-panic-disorders-phobias-ocd-ptsd-anxiety-others/

References

1. Rakel: Integrative Medicine, 3rd ed.© 2012 Saunders. Chapter on Integrative Therapy; subchapter of Mind-Body Therapy.

Last edited Nov. 7, 2014

Sep
28
2013

Sleepless Nights

Sleeping problems (insomnia) are very common. About 10% of the population suffers from chronic insomnia; 30% of the population suffers from occasional sleep problems. In a large outpatient population of a clinic consisting of 3500 patients who had at least one major clinical condition, 50% complained of insomnia, 16% had severe symptoms, 34% had mild symptoms (Ref.1). Insomnia is more common among women, and older people as well as in people with medical or psychiatric illnesses. Long-term studies have shown that the same insomnia problems persist throughout many years. It is not possible to offer a simple remedy for insomnia, because insomnia is a complex problem. Here I will discuss some of the causes of insomnia and also discuss some of the treatment options.

Symptoms of insomnia

The person who suffers from insomnia will usually state that they have problems falling asleep. Worries of the day suddenly circulate through their thoughts and they toss and turn nervously looking at the clock from time to time and getting more and more anxious that they cannot sleep. Others fall asleep OK, but in the middle of the night they wake up perhaps to visit the restroom, but then they cannot go back to sleep. Others wake up 2 hours before their normal alarm clock time and they feel their stomach rumbling making it impossible to fall back to sleep. Older people with chronic diseases and general poor health suffer more from insomnia. In this setting insomnia may be more related to the underlying disease rather than old age. Psychiatric disorders also are associated with more insomnia. Treat the underlying psychiatric illness, and the insomnia disappears.

Although insomnia is a sleep disturbance during the nighttime, people who are affected with this complain of daytime fatigue, of overstimulation, yet they catch themselves making frequent mistakes, and their inability to pay attention gets them involved in accidents and falls. Longitudinal studies have shown (Ref. 1) that people with chronic insomnia are more likely to develop psychiatric disease, such as major depression,  anxiety disorder and alcohol and substance abuse. Unfortunately these disorders can by themselves again cause insomnia, which reinforces chronic insomnia. Insomnia leads to poorer social and physical functioning, affects emotions, leads to a lack of vitality and physical endurance, contributes to worsening of pain and can affect general and mental health.

Research about insomnia

Much has been learnt from sleep studies using polysomnography monitoring during a full night’s sleep. These studies have been used mainly as a research tool. In such studies eye movements, brain wave activity, muscle activity, chest movements, airflow, heart beats, oxygen saturation and snoring (with a microphone) are all simultaneously recorded. This way restless leg syndrome, sleep apnea, snoring, seizure disorders, deep depression etc. that can all lead to insomnia can be diagnosed and separated from insomnia. The stages of sleep (wakefulness, stage 1 to 3 sleep and the REM sleep stage) can also be readily measured using polysomnography (Ref.2). According to this reference the majority of insomnia cases do not need this complex procedure done.

Sleepless Nights

Sleepless Nights

Causes of insomnia

Traditionally insomnia cases are classified into primary insomnia and secondary insomnia. Secondary insomnia is caused by all of the factors discussed below. When they are dealt with, we are left with cases of primary insomnia.

The following medical conditions can cause insomnia: heart disease, pulmonary diseases like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD); gastrointestinal disease like liver cirrhosis, pancreatitis, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers, colitis, Crohn’s disease; chronic kidney disease; musculoskeletal disease like arthritis, fractures, osteoporosis; neurodegenerative disease like MS, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease; endocrine disease like diabetes, hyper- or hypothyroidism, adrenal gland fatigue and insufficiency; and chronic pain conditions. Also, psychiatric conditions like major depression, schizophrenia and anxiety disorders can cause insomnia.

This list in not complete, but it gives you an idea of how complex the topic of insomnia is.
The physician who is seeing a patient with insomnia needs to rule out any of these other causes of insomnia to be certain that the only condition that is left to treat in the patient is insomnia itself. The other diagnoses have to be dealt with separately or else treatment of insomnia will fail.

Ref. 1 points to a useful model of how to think about causation of insomnia: there are three points to consider, namely predisposing, precipitating, and perpetuating factors. Let’s briefly discuss some of these.

Predisposing factors

We are all different in our personal make-up. If you are well grounded, chances are you are not susceptible to insomnia. Anxious persons or persons who have been through a lot of negative experiences in life will have personality traits that make them more prone to insomnia. Lifestyle choices such as late nights out, drinking with the buddies in a bar (extreme circadian phase tendencies) will have an impact on whether or not you develop insomnia.

Precipitating factors

A situational crisis like a job change or the death of a loved one can initiate insomnia.  However, there could be a medical illness such as a heart attack, a stroke or the new diagnosis of a psychiatric illness that has become a precipitating factor. Sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome belong into this group as well as would the stimulating effect of coffee and caffeine containing drinks. Jet lag and nighttime shift work can also be precipitating factors.

Perpetuating factors

Daytime napping to make up for lost sleep the night before can undermine sleep initiation the following night, which can lead to a vicious cycle. Similarly, the use of bedtime alcoholic drinks leads to sleep disruption later that night and can become a perpetuating factor, if this habit is maintained. Even the psychological conditioning of being anxious about whether or not you will fall asleep easily or not the next night can become a perpetuating factor.

I will return to this classification and the factor model of causation of insomnia when we address treatment options.

Drugs that can cause insomnia

One major possible cause for insomnia  can be side effects from medications that patients are on (would belong to the ‘perpetuating factors’ among causes). Physicians call this “iatrogenic insomnia”. The antidepressants, called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s) like Prozac are particularly troublesome with regard to causing insomnia as a side effect. Other antidepressants like trazodone (Desyrel) are used in small doses to help patients with insomnia to fall asleep. Some asthmatics and people with autoimmune diseases may be on prednisone, a corticosteroid drug. This can cause insomnia, particularly in higher doses; so can decongestants you may use for allergies; beta-blockers used for heart disease and hypertension treatment; theophylline, an asthma medication and diuretics. Central nervous stimulants like caffeine or illicit drugs can also cause insomnia. Hormone disbalance in general and hyperthyroidism specifically as well as Cushing’s disease, where cortisol levels are high will cause insomnia.

Treatment of insomnia

So, how should the physician approach a patient with insomnia? First it has to be established whether there is secondary insomnia present due to one of the predisposing, precipitating or perpetuating factors. In other words, is there secondary insomnia due to other underlying illnesses? If so, these are being addressed first. Lifestyle choices (staying up late every night) would have to be changed; alcohol and drug abuse and overindulging in coffee or caffeine containing drinks needs to be dealt with. Cognitive therapy may be beneficial when mild depression or anxiety is a contributing factor to insomnia.

The remaining insomnia (also medically termed “primary insomnia”) is now being treated.

The following general points are useful to get into the sleeping mode (modified from Ref. 3):

  1. Ensure your bedroom is dark, soundproof, and comfortable with the room temperature being not too warm, and you develop a “sleep hygiene”. This means you get to sleep around the same time each night, have some down time 1 hour or so before going to bed and get up after your average fill of sleep (for most people between 7 to 9 hours). Do not sleep in, but use an alarm clock to help you get into your sleep routine.
  2. Avoid caffeine drinks, alcohol, nicotine and recreational drugs. If you must smoke, don’t smoke later than 7PM.
  3. Get into a regular exercise program, either at home or at a gym.
  4. Avoid a heavy meal late at night. A light snack including some warm milk would be OK.
  5. Do not use your bedroom as an office, reading place or media center. This would condition you to be awake.  Reserve your bedroom use only for intimacy and sleeping.
  6. If you wake up at night and you are wide awake, leave the bedroom and sit in the living room doing something until you feel tired and then return to bed.
  7. A self-hypnosis recording is a useful adjunct to a sleep routine. Listen to it when you go to bed to give you something to focus on (low volume) and you will find it easier to stop thinking.

Drugs and supplements for insomnia

1. In the past benzodiazepines, such as diazepam (Valium), lorazepam (Ativan), fluorazepam (Dalmane), temazepam (Restoril), triazolam (Halcion) and others were and still are used as sleeping pills. However, it was noted that there are significant side effects with this group of drugs. Notably, there is amnesia (memory loss), which can be quite distressing to people such as not remembering that someone phoned while under the influence of the drug, you promised certain things, but you cannot remember the following morning what it was. Another problem is the development of addiction to the drugs with worse insomnia when the drugs are discontinued. Many physicians have stopped prescribing benzodiazepines.

2. There are non-benzodiazepines drugs that are used as sleeping pills (hypnotics), such as Zaleplon (Sonata), Zolpidem (Ambien) and Eszopiclone (Lunesta).  They seem to be better tolerated.

3. Ramelteon, a melatonin agonist, is available by prescription in the US. It probably is the best-tolerated mild sleeping pill and works similar to melatonin, but is more expensive. Chances are that your physician likely would prescribe one of the non-benzodiazepines drugs or Ramelteon for you as they do not seem to be addicting.

4. However, there is an alternative: Many patients with insomnia tolerate a low dose of trazodone (Desyrel), which is an antidepressant with sleep restoring properties. A low dose of 25 to 50 mg at bedtime is usually enough for insomnia. This allows the patient to fall asleep within about 30 minutes of taking it, and sleep lasts through most of the night without a hangover in the morning. Many specialists who run sleep laboratories recommend trazodone when primary insomnia is diagnosed. However, this is still a drug with potential side effects as mentioned in the trazodone link, but 50 mg is only ¼ of the full dose, so the side effects will also be less or negligible.

5. I prefer the use of melatonin, which is the natural brain hormone designed to put us to sleep. Between 1 mg and 6 mg are sufficient for most people. We know from other literature that up to 20 mg of melatonin has been used in humans as an immune stimulant in patients with metastatic melanoma with no untoward side effects other than nightmares and some tiredness in the morning. A review from the Vanderbilt University, Holland found melatonin to be very safe as a sleeping aid. There are several melatonin receptors in the body of vertebrates (including humans), which are stimulated by melatonin.

6. Other natural methods are the use of L-Tryptophan at a dose of 500 mg at bedtime, which can be combined with melatonin. It is the amino acid contained in turkey meat, which makes you tired after a Thanksgiving meal. GABA is another supplement, which is the relaxing hormone of your brain, but with this supplement tolerance develops after about 4 to 5 days, so it is only suitable for very short term use. Herbal sleep aids are hops, valerian extract and passionflower extract. They are available in health food stores.

Conclusion

A lack of sleep (insomnia) is almost a given in our fast paced lives.

When it comes to treatment, all of the other causes of secondary insomnia need to be treated or else treatment attempts would fail. What is left is primary insomnia. This is treated as follows:

We need to review our sleeping habits, lifestyles and substance abuse. Remove what is detrimental to your sleep. Start with the least invasive treatment modalities such as self-hypnosis tapes, melatonin, L-Tryptophan or herbal extracts. Should this not quite do the trick, asks your doctor for advice. The non-benzodiazepines drugs or Ramelteon would be the next level up. It may be that an alternative such as low dose trazodone would be of help. Only, if all this fails would I recommend to go to the more potent sleeping pills (keep in mind the potential for addiction to them).

References

1. David N. Neubauer, MD (John Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD): Insomnia. Primary Care: Clinics in Office Practice – Volume 32, Issue 2 (June 2005)  © 2005, W. B. Saunders Company

2: Behrouz Jafari, MD and Vahid Mohsenin, MD (Yale Center for Sleep Medicine, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT, USA): Polysomnography. Clinics in Chest Medicine – Volume 31, Issue 2 (June 2010), © 2010 W. B. Saunders Company

3. Jean Gray, editor: “Therapeutic choices”, 5th edition, Chapter 8 by Jonathan A.E. Fleming, MB, FRCPC: Insomnia, © 2008, Canadian Pharmacists Association.

Last edited Sept. 28, 2014

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Aug
17
2013

Postpartum Depression

Recently there has been a lot of publicity around the topic of postpartum depression (PPD). Typically the reports originate from a case where depression led to catastrophic consequences. It is sad that it often takes a tragedy before a problem like this is publicly more acknowledged. But sadly reports are often one-sided and are missing vital information about preexisting risk factors that are frequently not picked up by the family doctor. There is often denial on behalf of the mother and family, the mother is getting no support from support groups, even though there are such groups. And swift treatment that would be available is often not given. The results are finally making headlines. Once a mother is desperate and deeply depressed (“psychotic depression”) she is capable of killing the baby, herself and others who are close. PPD affects 15% of mothers (Ref.1); a small percentage of them may have postpartum psychosis, which is the most severe form of PPD.

Risk factors for postpartum depression

In Ref. 1 several risk factors are reviewed that can lead to postpartum depression. For instance, a history of a major depressive episode or anxiety attacks during the pregnancy has been found among mothers who developed PPD. However, there may also have been a history of dysphoria (intense feeling of discontent) before her periods in the past; stressful events during the pregnancy or right after birth. Often there is poor social support or a marital conflict. Other factors are low income, young maternal age or immigrant status with deprivation. A lack of support from the partner can also be a major factor.

Up to 85% of women experience postpartum blues within the first 10 days after the delivery of the baby. Symptoms such as mood swings, fatigue, confusion, tearfulness, mild elation and irritability are common during these initial days following her delivery. Progesterone levels following delivery are decreased for at least one month, sometimes up to 3 months. This leads to sleep problems (insomnia), which coupled with the baby crying in the middle of the night causes more sleep disruption. Abnormal brain wave pattern have been documented on women following the birth of a child.

Only 1 in 500 mothers after birth develop what physicians call “postpartum psychosis”, which is a recognized psychiatric emergency.  The symptoms here are extreme mood swings with confusion, poor judgment, disordered thoughts (“delusions”), paranoia (where they think that someone is after them or it is the baby’s fault that they feel that way). Erratic behavior and impaired functioning are also part of this symptom complex. It is this state that needs to be monitored in a psychiatric unit as it is associated with a high suicide and homicide rate. A psychiatrist with experience in treating PPD needs to treat the patient.

Urbanization leads to a lack of support, which is particularly devastating to new mothers who need all the support they can get. This is reflected in a higher percentage of PPD in urban areas versus the percentage of PPD in more rural areas where there is more family support.

 

Postpartum Depression

Postpartum Depression

Hormone changes with postpartum depression

Some people would say that they couldn’t understand why a woman who just had a baby would not be happy and content. Most women are, but if the stress from the pregnancy and from childbearing were too much for the system, there is a point where the hormones are no longer balanced and the coping mechanisms are undermined.

Serotonin concentrations in the brain of women during pregnancy are kept at a higher level due to higher estrogen levels that slow down the degradation of serotonin. Serotonin is the brain hormone that makes you feel good. Estrogens and progesterone are very high during the pregnancy, but this changes right after the baby’s delivery and during the time of recovery in the first few days and weeks. Studies have shown that there was a 15% higher thyroid autoantibody rate in postpartum depression patients when compared to non-depressed postpartum mothers. This was weakly associated with postpartum depression and was responding favorably to thyroid replacement therapy. Progesterone levels were much lower in depressed and nondepressed patients following delivery because with the delivery the placental source of natural progesterone was removed. In a group of patients where progesterone was replaced, no significant improvement of PPD was observed, but they did not explain whether the progesterone replacement was done with bioidentical hormones or synthetic hormones.

Dr. Michael Platt described a case of a postpartum woman who was hypothyroid as well (Ref.2). She responded to hormone replacement with thyroid hormones and progesterone by shedding 60 pounds (she always had a weight problem) over 10 months changing from a size 20 to a size 4. She was able to wean herself off the anti-depressants. In breast feeding women this could be a significant difference as women on bioidentical progesterone can breast feed and will positively influence their breast fed child’s brain development (brain cells have a lot of progesterone receptors, which are stimulated by progesterone).

A recent Canadian study involving pregnant women and women after delivery of their babies showed that there was a significant drop of progesterone levels in saliva samples for several weeks, particularly with breast feeding. The authors explained that the lack of ovulation with a lack of progesterone synthesis in the ovaries was responsible for this. It takes several weeks for most women to regain regular menstrual cycles. It would follow from this that there is room for bioidentical progesterone replacement in the first few months of the postpartum period until the ovaries have resumed their normal cyclical hormone activity.

Conventional treatment for postpartum depression

With baby blues the symptoms are much less severe (compared to PPD) and are starting 2 to 3 days after childbirth, resolving spontaneously within 10 days after delivery. PPD occurs within 3 months following delivery and responds to treatment with antidepressants and psychotherapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy.  Breast feeding needs to be stopped, as it is known that metabolites of the antidepressants end up in breast milk. Typically, a less toxic antidepressant is used like paroxetine (Paxil), otherwise citalopram (Celexa), and fluoxetine (Prozac). In the rare cases where PPD is so severe that psychotic symptoms are present (postpartum psychosis) hospitalization is mandatory (Ref.3). Some of these cases may require electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and/or lithium treatment for mood stabilization. Thyroid hormone therapy has also shown a beneficial effect in treating antidepressant-resistant cases of PPD (Ref.4).

Alternative treatment of postpartum depression

Although review texts of the treatment of PPD mention that estrogen replacement in postnatal women with PPD was beneficial, there is a warning that this could cause blood clots and anticoagulant measures would have to be combined with this to prevent deep vein thrombosis; suggestions for progesterone replacement were mentioned, which is a treatment modality where blood clots are no danger, but formal trials have not been done, so it is being ignored by most medical professionals. Here is forum of women who have taken postpartum progesterone with positive effects.

Dr. Katherina Dalton published a trial involving 30 PPD patients with a positive response rate of 95% when treated with natural progesterone.

Before treatment patients were suffering from an average of 7.57 symptoms, after the treatment only 2.1 symptoms remained. (Figures with details regarding this study can be found under the above link).

There are many uncontrolled observations like this where natural progesterone creams are incorporated into a holistic approach to treating PPD. Dr. Mercola describes here how useful natural progesterone therapy can be. He also cautions that it should be taken cyclically to mimic nature’s biorhythm to allow progesterone receptors to recover in between treatments.

There are many websites that have useful information about natural progesterone cream treatment for PPD, such as this.

Conclusion

It is common sense that a woman may need natural progesterone following a delivery, because she just got rid of her placenta, which was a virtual progesterone factory protecting her body and the baby’s brain all throughout the pregnancy. Even if a woman decides to only use natural progesterone in a cyclical fashion for 3 to 6 months, the majority of women would not experience the baby blues or PPD. When regular menstrual cycles have been re established, the patient’s own ovarian progesterone production has resumed and progesterone cream is no longer needed until after the birth of  the next child or at the arrival of menopause. Medicine is full of examples where common sense was applied for effective treatment options despite missing randomized studies.

Natural progesterone treatment of PPD is one such example, where intuitively it was tried and it worked in many patients. Whether or not a randomized trial has been done does not concern the progesterone receptors (they just do not like the synthetic versions of progesterone, as they block the receptors leading to progesterone deficiency!).  Natural progesterone treatment can also be combined with traditional treatments of PPD.

More information on postpartum depression: http://nethealthbook.com/mental-illness-mental-disorders/mood-disorders/postpartum-depression/

References

1.Teri Pearlstein, MD, Margaret Howard, PhD, Amy Salisbury, PhD and Caron Zlotnick, PhD: “Postpartum depression” : American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology – Volume 200, Issue 4 (April 2009)

2. Dr. Michael E. Platt: The Miracle of Bio-Identical Hormones; 2nd edition, © 2007 Clancy Lane Publishing, Rancho Mirage, Ca/USA (p.53-55).

3. Bope & Kellerman: Conn’s Current Therapy 2013, 1st ed.© 2012 Saunders

4. Jacobson: Psychiatric Secrets, 2nd ed. © 2001 Hanley and Belfus

Last edited Nov. 7, 2014

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