Improve Your Emotional Well-Being: by Improving Overall Brain Health
Mar 31, 2019 12:57PM
By Gus Vickery, MD
Our thinking and feeling states are based in the function of our brain. For the mind to work properly, the brain must be healthy. For us to create accurate interpretations about reality and to manage our emotions, it is important for our internal signaling processes to work properly.
Our brain uses electrical energy and chemicals called neurotransmitters to create our thinking and feeling states. Our brain also sends signals to our body using chemical messengers called hormones. It’s more complex than I am describing but the main point is this: In order to function properly, we must have the right balance of neurotransmitters and hormones.
Our moods (how we feel) are strongly influenced by the availability and balance of various neurotransmitters. Good mental health and feeling emotionally healthy are foundational to good health and living our best life.
Depression is a negative emotional state that can present with many different symptoms:
Reduced level of interest or pleasure in activities
Changes in weight or appetite
Thoughts of worthlessness or guilt
Reduced ability to think or concentrate
Frequent thoughts of suicide or death, or suicide attempts
The last item on the list is perhaps the most devastating. Suicide rates increased in the U.S. by 25 percent from 1999 to 2016, according to studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Depression is absolutely a risk factor for suicide.
Major depression is a serious medical illness affecting up to 16 million American adults or approximately six percent of the adult population in a given year. Unlike normal emotional experiences of sadness, loss or passing mood states, major depression is persistent and can significantly interfere with an individual’s thoughts, behavior, mood, activity and physical health.
There are many potential contributors to major depression. Neurotransmitter imbalances significantly influence depression. Also, chronic stress and other factors can significantly influence the functioning of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal or HPA axis. This is one of the major signaling pathways from the brain to the body. Over time, hyper-stimulation of the HPA axis can cause changes in this signaling pathway that can influence our mood as well as our energy.
Historically, we have addressed mood disorders with medications and psychotherapy. While these treatments have been helpful, there are additional resources that can help individuals improve their mental and emotional health.
If neurotransmitters and hormones are major influencers of how we feel, then it makes sense that optimizing these chemical messengers can help us with our mental health. Neurotransmitters such as serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine are made from nutrients called amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. We get amino acids by eating protein. Our body can make some, but not all, amino acids. The ones our body cannot make, meaning we must get them in our diet, are known as essential amino acids. The amino acids that are used to make the above neurotransmitters are essential aminos.
This means we can actually become deficient in the key building blocks of the neurotransmitters that regulate our moods. Nutrient deficiencies can be a primary influencer of depression and other mental health disorders.
The good news is that there is hope. There are accurate tests that can provide information about a person’s neurotransmitter balance and HPA axis function. With this knowledge, a person can use a holistic approach to restoring neurotransmitter balance and restoring normal function of the HPA axis. This can result in a person feeling physically and mentally much healthier. If a person is deficient in key neurotransmitters, then supplementing with the amino acids and other nutrients that build those neurotransmitters can improve their levels.
It is important to note that medications cannot provide the nutrients necessary to support normal mood function. Medications may help by increasing or decreasing certain neurotransmitter functions in the brain, but they cannot provide the building blocks for those neurotransmitters. For medications to be effective, our brains must have the right balance of nutrients.
That is why treatment of mental health has to be holistic. Nutrition, sleep, gut health, stress and other lifestyle factors need to be addressed to optimize mental health. Our mind and body are responding to all the different messages being received based on these lifestyle factors.
In order to experience your best health, you need to provide your body with the right information. In the past, we could not always find out what pieces of information needed to be addressed to feel our best. Thankfully, we can now objectively assess these needs through a variety of tests. Urinary neurotransmitter testing and salivary hormonal assessments can provide clarity about what the body and mind need to function well.
With this information, the targeted use of supplements such as essential amino acids and other nutrients and targeted lifestyle interventions can be utilized to improve physical and mental health. If we embrace this approach, perhaps we will begin to see rates of depression and other mood disorders reduce. We all benefit if we are all healthier.
Sanesco International (SanescoHealth.com) provides urinary and salivary testing resources to healthcare providers to measure their patients’ neurotransmitter and hormonal balance. Dr. Vickery uses these tests to help his patients improve their health.
Dr. Gus Vickery is a board-certified physician, keynote speaker and the author of Authentic Health (MJ Publishing, 2018). He specializes in a holistic approach to health and wellness. Find more information, including free resources, at HealthShepherds.com. For more information and to learn where you can get tested please contact
Lorri Franckle, PA at 727-804-7754, [email protected]