The Future of Psychiatry: Treating the brain via the body
When a child has behavioural or emotional problems, we seek the help of psychiatrists. The psychological and medical worlds have, traditionally, inhabited completely separate spheres - brain vs body. The blood/brain barrier was assumed to be completely impermeable, so how could the body affect the brain?
Recent neuroscientific discoveries have, however, shown this assumption to be false. The blood brain barrier is, in fact, permeable, with the immune system, toxins and excitatory foodstuffs capable of crossing it. In fact, some 60-80% of the chemicals in our brains (‘neurotransmitters’) are manufactured in our guts. Moreover, we are increasingly learning about the pivotal importance of the gut biome to healthy neuronal functioning.
To treat behavioural and emotional difficulties without treating the body, appears increasingly outdated. However, this is still how it continues to be done. Children suffering from hyperactivity, depression or anxiety continue to be routinely prescribed brain altering medications in the complete absence of any scientific biomarkers, on a ‘trial and error’ basis. The drugs suppress symptoms, rather than treat underlying causes and the risks are significant. Potential side effects include stunted physical growth, personality changes, dependency problems and even increased risk of depression/suicide. While fast-acting medications may be necessary in the short term, longer term, surely a more enlightened approach would be to improve brain functioning from the body up?
A good place to start, is gut health. An imbalanced gut biome directly impacts behaviour, interfering with neurotransmitter production, releasing neurotoxins and causing brain altering inflammation. A simple gut repair programme may be all that is needed to improve mood/behaviour. For others, particularly those diagnosed with ADHD or Autism, difficulty digesting gluten and milk results in morphine-like molecules, crossing into the brain, causing hyperactive behaviour. Substituting these substances in the diet can be a game-changer.
Perhaps most excitingly, we now hold the keys to being able to rebalance brain chemicals without drugs. The Walsh Institute’s ground-breaking work identifies specific biochemical imbalances in the body which produce brain imbalances, making us more depressed, anxious, hyperactive or aggressive/violent. Most importantly, these imbalances can be tested for and treated using highly targeted vitamin/mineral supplementation, called ‘Nutrient Therapy’. The success rates are better than for many drugs and without the side effects or cost.
Walsh also identifies five distinct biotypes of depression, rather than one, each with a different biochemistry, requiring different treatment. This is why the ‘one size fits all’ approach of SSRI antidepressants only works for 38% of the population, while proving dangerous for some, fuelling a suicidal depression or rage. Interestingly, 18 out of the last 20 school shootings in the US, the teenagers involved were taking SSRIs, including the most recent shooting at Gilroy. None of these children were tested to ascertain their depression biotype prior to receiving their prescription.
As numbers of childhood mental health problems continue to rise, it is heartening that new science is providing us with the key to more effective, cheaper, less risky options for helping them to get better, without recourse to drugs.