Brain Health

 “Your brain is the hub of your nervous system.  It is made of 100 billion neurons, about the same as the number of trees in the Amazon rainforest.  Each cell is connected to around 10,000 others.  So the total number of connections in your brain is about 1000 trillion—about the same as the number of leaves in the rainforest” 

“The human brain is highly complex and for normal function relies on the interaction of over 100 neurotransmitters (brain chemical messengers) with 300 types of receptors”(1) 

“Everything you have ever experienced, felt or conducted in life is due to brain function.  The ability to enjoy, perceive, sense and experience life is dictated by the firing rate of your brain.  It is impossible for a person to become healthy mentally or physiologically without a healthy brain.”(2)

who-meDo You Have a Healthy Brain?

  • Do you have mental fatigue, lack of drive or depression?
  • Do you have difficulty focusing and completing tasks?
  • Do you have difficulty remembering names, phone numbers or where you put your keys?
  • Do you have anxiety, nervousness or difficulty “winding down”?
  • Do you have unclear thinking or “brain fog”?

If your answer to any of these questions is “yes”, you may be suffering from the new 21st century epidemic of “broken brains”.(3)  If so, read on.  You may be surprised to find out how common these conditions are.


The 21st Century Epidemic of Broken Brains

We are now seeing an epidemic of brain disorders affecting 1.1 billion people worldwide.  Depression is now the leading cause of world-wide disability affecting 120 million people worldwide.(4)  Mental disorders affect 1 in 6 children, 1 in 2 elderly people and will cripple 1 in 4 people during their lifetime.(5)

      • istock_000001935364xsmall
      • istock_000001935364xsmall

       Consider the following:

      • Psychiatric disorders affect 26% of our adult population, over 60 million Americans
      • More than 20% of children have some type of psychiatric disorder(6, 7)
      • More than 40 million people have anxiety
      • More than 20 million people have depression
      • The use of antidepressants has tripled in the last decade
      • 1 in 10 Americans now takes an antidepressant
      • In 2006, expenditures on antidepressants soared to over $1.9 billion
      • The cost of psychiatric disorders on our healthcare system exceeds $200 billion/year, 12% of total healthcare spending(8)
      • Alzheimer’s disease will affect 30% (some experts say 50%) of people over 85 years old and will affect 16 million people by 2050
      • 8.7% of children between 8 and 15 have been diagnosed with ADHD(9)
      • More than 8 million children, or 1 in 10, now take stimulant medications like Ritalin(10)
      • Autism rates increased from 3 in 10,000 children to 1 in 166 children (a 20-fold increase) from 1997 to 2007(11) and now affects 1 in 88 children (38-fold increase since 1997)
      • Learning disabilities affect between 5 and 10% of schoolchildren(12)
      • The indirect cost to society of all these broken brains is unimaginable 

      Broken brains show up in two major ways:

      1. Psychiatric disorders (emotional disturbance)
      2. Neurological disorders (neurological impairment)

      Examples of broken brains:

      • Anxiety
      • Depression
      • Bipolar disease
      • Personality disorders
      • Eating disorders
      • Addictions
      • Obsessive-compulsive disorders
      • ADD
      • Autism
      • Asperger’s
      • Learning disabilities
      • Dyslexia
      • Alzheimer’s
      • Dementia
      • Parkinson’s

      Psychiatric or psychotropic medications are the #2 selling class of prescription drugs, after cholesterol medication.(13)

      antidepressantsPsychotropic medications are among the most widely prescribed medications in the United States. As a class, they represented 8.8% of the prescription drug market in 1994, and their use has been increasing rapidly in recent years.(14) In fact, antidepressants are one of the fastest growing classes of prescribed drugs. In 2010, more than 253.6 million prescriptions were filled for antidepressants, according to a report published by IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics on the use of medicine in the U.S. in 2010. (15)

      antipsychoticsThe antipsychotic aripiprazole (Abilify) continues to have the highest sales, at nearly $6.9 billion, according to the latest data from research firm IMS Health.(17)  A 1998 article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) concluded the patterns of psychotropic medication use in outpatient medical practice changed dramatically between 1985 and 1994, especially in psychiatric practice. It went on to say:

      alprazolam“There have been a number of changes in the prescription patterns of psychotropic medications among office-based physicians.  Recent years have seen enormous changes in the health care system and in the availability and applications of new and older psychotropic drugs.”

      “There have been additional indications approved for other marketed medications (eg, in 1990, alprazolam was approved for panic disorder). Much of this information has been systematically integrated into practice guidelines, which also affect the selection of medication.”(18)

      depression-woman-head-covered-armsThe Modern Scourge of Depression

      Depression disrupts the lives of approximately 1 in 10 Americans–and women in particular.  Approximately 1 in 25 Americans fit the criteria for major depression according to the Centers for Disease Control.(19)  It is a leading cause of disability and suicide in the U.S. Suicide was the tenth leading cause of death for all ages in 2010. There were 38,364 suicides in 2010 in the United States–an average of 105 each day. Suicide results in an estimated $34.6 billion in combined medical and work loss costs.(20)   As many as two thirds of people with depression do not realize that they have a manageable illness and do not seek help. Only 50% of persons diagnosed with major depression receive any kind of help.(21)

      depression-young-womanPoorer Quality of Life

      People suffering from depression experience a worse quality of life than people suffering from other health problems such as diabetes, arthritis and back pain.  They lose pleasure in doing the things they used to love doing.  They lose the ability to enjoy their favorite food, hobbies or music. They lose the ability to appreciate and enjoy being with family and friends.  They often feel overwhelmed with ideas to manage and feelings of inner rage or unprovoked anger.  They have feelings of sadness for no reason.  And they often have poor and restless sleep which makes them even more miserable.

      prozac-nation-young-depressed-AmericaDepression is Not a Prozac Deficiency

      Is medication the answer to our brain disorders? Do we really need more anti-depressants, stimulants, anti-psychotics and memory medications?  Is depression really a Prozac deficiency?  Hardly.  But these types of medications are the only therapies known to most medical doctors.  The drug companies are well aware of trends in healthcare, particularly the increased incidence and diagnosis of psychiatric health issues, and are manufacturing more and more drugs which impact brain chemistry which target some of these biochemical pathways.  As a result, the use of these drugs is sky-rocketing.

      autism-prevalenceThe Epidemic of Autism

      Many experts believe we are facing the largest childhood epidemic in history.  The meteoric rise in autism may be the most pressing social issue of our time. Just two decades ago, the likelihood of having a child with autism was 1 in 10,000.  Today it is 1 in 88, and 1 in 54 in boys and there is new evidence indicating the gap in total prevalence is closer to 1 in 40!(22)  Here in Silicon Valley, home to the highest percentage of high-technology firms, the rates are much higher.  It is estimated that the incidence of autism in Silicon Valley is 1 in 15!(23)  Having one or both parents with strong left-brain skills is a well-documented risk factor of having an autistic child.(24)  Why is that?

      functional-disconnection-syndromeFunctional Disconnection Syndrome

      Well, we don’t know for sure but Dr. Robert Melillo, a leading researcher in this field believes it is related to the pathology and neurological imbalances that have been associated with autism, namely left-brain dominance and abnormal or relatively slower development of the right hemisphere of the brain, which he terms “functional disconnection syndrome”.(25)   This theory holds that the functional disconnect between the two hemispheres of the brain disrupts the communication between regions of these two sides of the brain.  autism-triadThis explains the unevenness of skills that are the hallmark of autism.  It is why a child may be great at math which is left-brain-based but find reading difficult.  It explains why autistic children appear to be drawn into their own world and are challenged in the area of social skills, which are right-brain-based.  It also explains why autistic children are commonly fixated on repetitive tasks such as counting, or repetitive movements such as arm-flapping, which are left-brain based activities.(26)

      autsim-boySilicon Valley: A “Breeding Ground” for Autism?

      This theory explains why we see such an increased rate of autism in areas that have a high rate of parents in the sciences and technologies, such as here in Silicon Valley.  The Valley is a “hotbed” of left-brained thinkers, which attracts computer scientists, engineers and programmers from all over the world.  Other documented risk factors for the development of an autistic child are increased age of parents at conception (especially the mother), a history of psychiatric illness or undetected brain imbalances of one or more parents, maternal stress during pregnancy, the health of the mother-to-be, certain autoimmune diseases, smoking, fetal exposure to certain medications, chemicals (such as certain pesticides), heavy metals, a sedentary lifestyle and vitamin D deficiency.(27)

      drug-use-childrenAmerican Children Using Far More Psychotropic Drugs Than European Counterparts

      The annual prevalence of any psychotropic medication in youth was 6.7% in the U.S., significantly greater than in the Netherlands (2.9%) and in Germany (2.0%).”(28)

      This means 1 in 15 kids in the U.S. is now medicated for some type of mental condition! Why do our kids need psychotropic medications?  Are our kids being targeted by pharmaceutical companies as potential users of their medications? Are these medications even effective?  Sometimes, but often not. What are the side-effects to these medications?  Let’s look at some of the recent evidence on the efficacy of one of the most commonly-prescribed class of psychotropic medications: antidepressants.

      antidepressant-suicidal-thoughtsAntidepressant Medications Shown Not to be Effective for Mild to Moderate Depression

      Most people taking anti-depressants either don’t respond or have only a partial response to medication.  Success is considered a 50% improvement in half of the symptoms.  This minimal result is achieved in less than half the patients taking these medications.  86% of those who do find some relief have one or more side effects, including:

      • sexual dysfunctionselective-publication-antidepressant-trials
      • fatigue
      • insomnia
      • loss of mental abilities
      • nausea
      • weight gain
      • increased risk of suicide

      A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine discovered that drug sleight-of-handcompanies selectively published studies on antidepressants.  They published nearly all the studies that showed benefit and almost none of the studies that showed they don’t work!(29)  This kind of selective reporting warps our view and leads us to think that antidepressants (and other psychiatric medications) work when they don’t.  The real problem is actually worse than it sounds because the positive studies often show hardly any benefit in the first place!

      JAMAHowever, one of the most interesting studies on antidepressants was recently published in the prestigious Journal of American Medical Association.  This was a meta-analysis study which concluded that anti-depressants are no more effective than placebo for mild to moderate depression.(30)  Meta-analysis studies are “super-studies”: they are comprehensive studies that look at the data of all the other studies available on a particular topic that meet the inclusion criteria, analyze this data and draw conclusions based on all the data available.  antidepressants-don't-workThis recent meta-analysis published in JAMA concluded that the antidepressant class of medications are no more effective than sugar-pills for the majority of depression. In the last year alone, 30 million patients in the U.S. spent over $12 billion on antidepressants.  Who has benefitted from Americans spending all this money on antidepressant medication?  But the real question that needs to be asked in order to fix this epidemic of broken brains is: Why is there a chemical imbalance in the first place?

      New-PsychiatryWhy Traditional Psychiatry Typically Doesn’t Work

      Psychiatry has its roots in the notion that previous life experiences or traumas control mood and behavior.  Yet most of these disorders we see today are the result of imbalances in the body that relate to other organs and organ systems, including the endocrine system, immune system, gastrointestinal tract, and liver detoxification capacity.  Psychoanalysis or therapy will not reverse the depression that comes from profound omega-3 fatty acid deficiencies(31), a lack of vitamin B12(32), a low functioning thyroid(33) or chronic mercury toxicity.(34)  Modern psychiatry has progressed into an elaborate field of science that attempts to control brain chemistry with drugs, as if all mental illness can be reduced to a brain chemistry imbalance and all we have to do is match the right drug to the mental illness.  It’s definitely not as simple as that.

      Why do people have brain chemical imbalances? How can we restore this state of balance?

      Like most other drugs, psychoactive drugs don’t cure the problem.  They only suppress the symptoms and tendencies.  There is a reason why there are imbalances in neurotransmitters in the brain.  These medications do not address the causes of these imbalances.  To cure the epidemic of broken brains we have to ask a new set of questions:

      • What is the cause of this epidemic?
      • Are we defectively designed?
      • Is it the result of imbalances in our body?
      • Are more drugs really the answer?

      Is there a way to address the underlying causes of this epidemic so that we regain our mental (and physical) health without the use of medication?

      It’s shouldn’t be a surprise to learn that the answer of how to fix our broken brains lies in the health of our body.  The best way to improve the health of your brain is by addressing the issues that affect the health of the body.

      Improve the health of your body and you will fix your broken brain

      The solution to the epidemic of broken brains is not found in more psychoactive medications or better psychotherapy.  The brain is mostly downstream from the real causes, which are found in the biology of your whole body. Brain problems, or “disorders” are almost always systemic disorders (that affect the entire body), and the cure will be found outside the brain—in your body.  The brain can be affected by many types of underlying causes, including hormonal imbalances (such as hypothyroidism or blood sugar problems), liver detoxification problems or excessive chemical or heavy metal exposure, gastrointestinal problems or dysbiosis (imbalances in the gut flora), food sensitivities, nutritional deficiencies, lack of sleep, lack of physical exercise and stress.  All of these things can lead to brain disorders.  Each of these imbalances has to be considered by the clinician in order to have a long-lasting positive outcome.  The successful resolution of brain disorders is much more complex than taking a medication.

      why-isn't-my-brain-working“Mental disorders” or “brain disorders” are simply the names of common responses our bodies have to a variety of insults and deficiencies. Fixing those underlying problems in the body may allow the brain to heal, and bring the neurotransmitters and other brain chemicals back into balance.  As we begin to discover the nature of how the brain works and how its function is intimately connected to the rest of the organ systems of the body, the medical myths that we have been taught are falling apart.  Read on to learn more about these medical myths…

      In the other articles in this series, you will discover why so many people suffer from brain disorders, how the brain is intimately connected to all the organ systems of the body, why conventional medicine doesn’t work very well for most of these brain conditions and other myths of conventional medicine.  You will also discover how you can fix your broken brain by addressing your health issues and nutritional deficiencies that are at the root of this problem naturally, without medications, plus a lot more!

      Related Articles:

      The Myth of Diagnosis, One Disease, Many Causes—One Cause, Many Diseases, Gluten: One Food Compound That Causes Many Problems

      The Myth of Medication, The Rapid Increase in Prescriptions for Mood-Altering Drugs and their Side Effects

      The Brain-Body Separation Myth, Autism: A Systemic Disorder that Affects the Brain, The Blood-Sugar and Alzheimer’s Disease Connection

      The Brain is the Master Organ, The Health of the Brain is Often Overlooked in Medicine, Conventional Medicine Offers Little for Neurodegenerative Disorders

      We Really Don’t Have an Evidence-Based Model of Medicine, What People Consider “Aging” is Really Neurodegeneration, Neurodegeneration is Always Progressive, Preserving Brain Plasticity

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      2. Datis Kharrazian, D.C., Brain and Neurotransmitters Seminar, San Francisco, CA, Nov. 22-23, 2008
      3. The UltraMind Solution.  Mark Hyman, MD.  Simon and Shuster. 2008
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