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Anxiety and Depression Are Linked To Chemical Brain Imbalances

Anxiety and Depression Are Linked To Chemical Brain Imbalances

Revisiting old ideas and assumptions, without clinical data, seems to be as good a start as any for puzzled scientists when it comes to the subject of depression, anxiety, and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Categorizing these medical conditions into addictions or disorders has also not helped in discovery and treatment. This is not to say that behavioral counseling and certain selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors known as SSRI, better known as anti-depressant drugs, do not help a percentage of the population. However, these methods are purely based on trial and error.

Over the past 15 years, there have been advances made by researchers in making more than just an effort in understanding the complexity of the brain and pinpointing areas of chemical balances.

Melanocortin

In the 1950s, it was discovered that the Nucleus Accumbens (NAc) was associated with the ability to feel pleasure. Robert C. Malenka, M.D., Ph.D., Pritzker Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine, decided to take a closer look at this pleasure circuit since it seemed to be lacking in many diagnosed with depression. What he and his colleagues discovered was that it was not as much the specific region of the brain as much as the circuit activity that crossed through many complex regions.

Dr. Malenka has become a leading expert on the tiny gaps, called synapses, that occur during the transmission of nerve cell activity signals. The challenge is great, since there are trillions of synapses in the human brain. Recently, melanocortin circuit’s contribution to anhedonia-like behavior was found, and Dr. Malenka has high hopes in identifying a potentially new pathway of intervention in depression.[1] Melanocortin is a hormone that affects appetite in humans and further, turns off the brain’s ability to experience pleasure when an animal is stressed.

Monoamine Oxidase

Monoamine oxidase loss is the basis of another study investigated by Dr. Jeffrey Meyer,[2] Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Neurochemistry of Major Depression at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, Ontario. Monoamine oxidase (MAO-A) is an enzyme that breaks down chemicals like serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine.

Dr. Meyer discovered that there was a huge increase in MAO-A in patients with major depression diagnosis.[3] Knowing that this was a significant breakthrough in tracking monoamine transporters, his team created a model to follow, like a road map. This will take the guess work out of watching how chemicals, like serotonin and dopamine, increase or decrease at different rates based upon transporter density. Researchers are now moving on to the next step in why MAO-A levels are raised in the brain and how to prevent it.

Acetylcholinesterase

Dr. Marina Picciotto, Ph.D., Professor of Neurobiology and Pharmacology at Yale University, and a team of researchers, have proven a biological cause for depression and anxiety, one which was previously dismissed in theory. Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter that was overshadowed by a signal-carrying chemical, called serotonin, as a leading cause of depression. While serotonin is important in the scheme of transmission, it is not nearly as powerful as acetylcholine.

An enzyme called acetylcholinesterase (AChE) has been found to lower acetylcholine levels.[4] The team discovered while studying mice that were treated with Prozac, that the AChE levels raised considerably, and even higher levels of acetylcholine were noted. This once questionable area of treatment became understandable, and showed why SSRI anti-depressants were valuable in alleviating depression.

The relationship between serotonin and acetylcholine signaling systems has not yet become clear, but by finding the cause of depression, treatments can now be studied from a different point of view.

Genes and Chemicals

It has already been discovered that certain genes make individuals more susceptible to low moods and how their treatment with anti-depressant drugs may differ from the next person. However, by majoring this hurdle, scientists can now focus on how specific regions of the brain changes in individuals.

For example, the hippocampus is smaller in some depressed people. Scientists’ hypothesis lies in the fact that new nerve cells have to be grown in order to combat the deteriorating cells that cause depression.[5] In animals, it was found that the use of anti-depressants spurred the growth and enhanced branching of nerve cells in the hippo-campus.

New neurons, a process called neurogenesis, that are stimulated by drugs specifically designed for strengthening nerve cell connections and improving the exchange of information between nerve circuits, could be the answer in treating depression. Scientists have pinpointed several types of neurotransmitters; these include Acetylcholine, Serotonin, Norepinephrine, Dopamine, Glutamate, and Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). By studying each one of these transmitters and creating new chemicals that enhance their existence, depression, anxiety, and SAD could easily be treated.

Conclusion

It seems that researchers are onto something; something that can aid in treatment soon, others years down the road. While every one of these discoveries, including herbal remedies,[6] seem deserving of further testing, let us not forget that the brain is a very complex machine, and that it may take a collaboration of findings in order to reach an answer for different individuals.

Featured photo credit: Gratisography via pexels.com

Reference

[1]Brain and Behavior Research Foundation: Moving Beyond ‘Chemical Imbalance’ Theory of Depression
[2]Centre for Addiction and Mental Health: Dr. Jeffrey Meyer
[3]Psych Central: Depression’s Chemical Imbalance Explained
[4]Brain and Behavior Research Foundation: Potential Root Cause of Depression Discovered by NARSAD Grantee
[5]Harvard Health Publications: What Causes Depression?
[6]TN Nursery: Herb Plants

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Tammy Sons

Master Gardener, Horticulurist, Arborist

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Last Updated on October 29, 2018

What Causes Brain Fog? (7 Things You Can Do to Prevent and Stop It)

What Causes Brain Fog? (7 Things You Can Do to Prevent and Stop It)

Brain fog is more of a symptom than a medical condition itself, but this doesn’t mean it should be ignored. Brain fog is a cognitive dysfunction, which can lead to memory problems, lack of mental clarity and an inability to focus.

Many often excuse brain fog for a bad day, or get so used to it that they ignore it. Unfortunately, when brain fog is ignored it ends up interfering with work and school. The reason many ignore it is because they aren’t fully aware of what causes it and how to deal with it.

It’s important to remember that if your brain doesn’t function fully — nothing else in your life will. Most people have days where they can’t seem to concentrate or forget where they put their keys.

It’s very normal to have days where you can’t think clearly, but if you’re experiencing these things on a daily basis, then you’re probably dealing with brain fog for a specific reason.

So what causes brain fog? It can be caused by a string of things, so we’ve made a list things that causes brain fog and how to prevent it and how to stop it.

1. Stress

It’s no surprise that we’ll find stress at the top of the list. Most people are aware of the dangers of stress. It can increase blood pressure, trigger depression and make us sick as it weakens our immune system.

Another symptom is mental fatigue. When you’re stressed your brain can’t function at its best. It gets harder to think and focus, which makes you stress even more.

Stress can be prevented by following some simple steps. If you’re feeling stressed you should avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotine — even though it may feel like it helps in the moment. Two other important steps are to indulge in more physical activities and to talk to someone about it.

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Besides that, you can consider keeping a stress diary, try relaxation techniques like mediation, getting more sleep and maybe a new approach to time management.

2. Diet

Most people know that the right or wrong diet can make them gain or loss weight, but not enough people think about the big impact a specific diet can have on one’s health even if it might be healthy.

One of the most common vitamin deficiencies is vitamin B12 deficiency and especially vegans can be get hid by brain fog, because their diet often lacks the vitamin B-12. The vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to mental and neurological disorders.

The scary thing is that almost 40 % of adults are estimated to lack B12 in their diet. B12 is found in animal products, which is why many vegans are in B12 deficiency, but this doesn’t mean that people need animal products to prevent the B12 deficiency. B12 can be taken as a supplement, which will make the problem go away.

Another vital vitamin that can cause brain fog is vitamin D. More than 1 billion people worldwide don’t have enough vitamin D in their diet. Alongside B12 and vitamin D is omega-3, which because of its fatty acids helps the brain function and concentrate. Luckily, both vitamin D and omega-3 can be taken as supplements.

Then there’s of course also the obvious unhealthy foods like sugar. Refined carbohydrates like sugar will send your blood sugar levels up, and then send you right back down. This will lead to brain fog, because your brain uses glucose as its main source of fuel and once you start playing around with your brain — it gets confused.

Besides being hit by brain fog, you’ll also experience tiredness, mood swings and mental confusion. So, if you want to have clear mind, then stay away from sugar.

Sometimes the same type of diet can be right for some and wrong for others. If you’re experiencing brain fog it’s a good idea to seek out your doctor or a nutritionist. They can take some tests and help you figure out which type of diet works best for your health, or find out if you’re lacking something specific in your diet.

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3. Allergies

If you have food allergies, or are simply a bit sensitive to specific foods, then eating those foods can lead to brain fog. Look out for dairy, peanuts and aspartame that are known to have a bad effect on the brain.

Most people get their calories from corn, soy and wheat — and big surprise — these foods are some of the most common foods people are allergic to. If you’re in doubt, then you can look up food allergies[1] and find some of the most common symptoms.

If you’re unsure about being allergic or sensitive, then you can start out by cutting out a specific food from your diet for a week or two. If the brain fog disappears, then you’re most likely allergic or sensitive to this food. The symptoms will usually go away after a week or two once you remove the trigger food from the diet.

If you still unsure, then you should seek out the help of your doctor.

4. Lack of sleep

All of us know we need sleep to function, but it’s different for everybody how much sleep they need. A few people can actually function on as little as 3-4 hours of sleep every night, but these people are very, very rare.

Most people need 8 to 9 hours of sleep. If you don’t get the sleep you need, then this will interfere with your brain and you may experience brain fog.

Instead of skipping a few hours of sleep to get ahead of things you need to do, you’ll end up taking away productive hours from your day, because you won’t be able to concentrate and your thoughts will be cloudy.

Many people have trouble sleeping but you can help improve your sleep by a following a few simple steps.

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There is the 4-7-8 Breathing Exercise, which is a technique that regulates your breath and helps you fall asleep faster. Another well-known technique is to avoid bright lights before you go to sleep.

A lot of us are guilty of falling asleep with the TV on or with our phone right by us, but the blue lights from these screens suppresses the production of melatonin in our bodies, which actually makes us stay awake longer instead. If you’re having trouble going to sleep without doing something before you close your eyes, then try taking up reading instead.

If you want to feel more energized throughout the day, start doing this.

5. Hormonal changes

Brain fog can be triggered by hormonal changes. Whenever your levels of progesterone and estrogen increases, you may experience short-term cognitive impairment and your memory can get bad.

If you’re pregnant or going through menopause, then you shouldn’t worry too much if your mind suddenly starts to get a bit cloudy. Focus on keeping a good diet, getting enough of sleep and the brain fog should pass once you’re back to normal.

6. Medication

If you’re on some medication, then it’s very normal to start experiencing some brain fog.

You may start to forget things that you used to be able to remember, or you get easily confused. Maybe you can’t concentrate the same way that you used to. All of these things can be very scary, but you shouldn’t worry too much about it.

Brain fog is a very normal side effect of drugs, but by lowering your dosage or switching over to another drug; the side effect can’t often be improved and maybe even completely removed.

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7. Medical condition

Brain fog can often be a symptom of a medical condition. Medical conditions that include inflammation, fatigue, changes in blood glucose level are known to cause brain fog.

Conditions like chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, anemia, depression, diabetes, migraines, hypothyroidism, Sjögren syndrome, Alzheimer’s disease, Lupus and dehydration can all cause brain fog.[2]

The bottom line

If you haven’t been diagnosed, then never start browsing around Google for the conditions and the symptoms. Once you start looking for it; it’s very easy to (wrongfully) self-diagnose.

Take a step back, put away the laptop and relax. If you’re worried about being sick, then always check in with your doctor and take it from there.

Remember, the list of things that can cause brain fog is long and it can be something as simple as the wrong diet or not enough sleep.

Featured photo credit: Asdrubal luna via unsplash.com

Reference

[1]Food Allergy: Common Allergens
[2]HealthLine: 6 Possible Causes of Brain Fog

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