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Natural Awakenings Washington DC Metro

Depression: We Can Learn from Robin Williams

Sep 04, 2014 02:06AM
by Dr. Chas Gant, M.D.

The tragic suicide of beloved comic actor, Robin Williams, left most of us with sadness and shock. It is time to ask the difficult questions: how and why do tragedies like this happen, and what can be done about it?

The solution to this epidemic begins by asking—how many people, including professionals,are awarethat depression can havemany biochemical causes which are reversible and that the symptoms labeled as depression are the natural responses of the body to biochemical imbalances?

As an example, researchers are now finding that a significant proportion of chronic psychiatric problems like depression and schizophrenia are caused by chronic Lyme, candida and other co-infections. A partial list of causes for depression include:

  • Chronic infections
  • Allergies, like gluten allergy or celiac
  • Toxins like mercury or lead poisoning (neurotoxicity poisoning from heavy metals)
  • Poly-pharmacy toxicity – the taking of many medications at the same time
  • Regular psychotropic drug use – illicit (e.g., cocaine), recreational (e.g., alcohol) or prescriptive (e.g., codeine or sedatives)
  • Metabolic disturbances like hypoglycemia
  • Endocrine imbalances like testosterone deficiency
  • Nutritional deficiencies  (neurotransmitter imbalances from amino acid precursor deficiencies; nutritional deficiencies for specific vitamins and minerals; brain neuroplasticitydistortions from essential fatty acid imbalances and oxidative stress; gastrointestinal imbalances from mal-digestion)
  • Genetic quirks called SNPs or single nucleotide polymorphismsthat seriously predispose people to addiction and depression

Once one understands that there are many biochemical causes, the next question is, why would the body respond to these causes of depression by exhibiting the symptoms of depression?

To answer this, a more fundamental question must be asked: why do symptoms happen at all?  The answer is simple. Symptoms are the attempts of the body to heal itself and bring itself back into balance, called homeostasis.

Cough and diarrhea are attempts of the body to rid itself of toxins. Fever is an attempt of the body to preventor inhibit microorganism replication by turning up the heat. These symptoms should not be thwarted out of the mistaken impression that they are harmful, unless they are so extreme that they might pose a threat. Severe diarrhea can cause dehydration. Interminable cough can prevent normal sleep and rest. Very high fevers can cause convulsions. Otherwise, symptoms should be redefined as beneficial attempts of the body to heal itself.

How does depression fit into this line of reasoning?A clue concerns the effects of what is called cytokines on the pituitary, the master gland. Cytokines, acting like hormones, are cell-to-cell communication molecules in the immune system. The master gland, the pituitary, when exposed to high cytokine levels starts cutting back on the pre-hormones which govern much of the endocrine system.

Thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) lowers and the thyroid consequently decreases production of thyroid hormone. Anti-diuretic hormone (ADH) levels drop, which causes us to urinate more often, get thirstier and drink water more often, a detoxification strategy.  Pre-hormones that control sex hormones like testosterone and estrogen all fall, making us relatively less interested in sex and less capable of reproduction.  Growth hormone (GH) drops, decreasing anabolism, metabolism and hunger.  Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH)lowers and cortisol levels fall, so the protective value of cortisol on stress is minimized and we become easily exhausted, burned out and inclined to rest more.

In an attempt to deal with immune stress, the effects of cytokines on the pituitary essentially causes more downtime, lowering of energy levels, causing more sleep, driving disinterest in daily activities, creating vegetative symptoms.

Do these symptoms sound familiar?  Yes, they are the symptoms of depression. Depression is a protective response to immune stress.

So it goes with toxic stress, oxidative stress, cognitive emotional stress, energetic stress and stress caused by nutritional deficiencies.  The latter can be observed during one’s daily routine. Just stop eating and see what happens. Deprived of glucose, some people will become depressed within six to eight hours of not eating. Others become hungry, which is a response to decreased neurotransmitter production which are synthesized from certain plummeting amino acids.

When the body becomes less capable of dynamic activity and calorie burningdue to immune, allergic, metabolic, infectious, toxic, nutritionally-based or genetically predisposed causes, itlowersits metabolism and functions at lower levels. You might say the body “shuts itself down.” That's called depression and it’s perfectly normal and predictable.

Depression is an attempt to protect the body from heightened activity challenges it is incapable of meeting. Handle the causes and the body will respond by once again increasing metabolism. Addictions to alcohol, tobacco, psychiatric medications or illicit substances are merely desperate attempts to bypass these uncomfortable symptoms with brain-injurious, psychotropic chemicals, which only results in more imbalances, heightened toxicity and often deeper depression.

So, how do we rapidly and accurately identify and reverse these causes of depression and other similar disorders?  Answer:  By taking advantage of the medical science of functional medicine and nutrigenomics, which is becoming widely available to most consumers and is largely insurance reimbursable. Why do health care consumers not avail themselves of these technologies?  Answer: health care professionals who are skilled in delivering these services are still relatively few and far between and a great deal of medical education needs to occur.

Did we lose one of the most beautiful and talented human beings who ever lived because we did not provide the correct assistance that was required?When he reached out for help did he find clinicians who could have provided the technologies of functional medicine and nutrigenomics which could have saved his life?

We may never know the answer to these questions. With vast economic resources, perhaps Robin Williams had these technologies available to him and decided that they were too difficult to utilize. Making the lifestyle, dietary, detoxification and reconstructive psychotherapeutic changes that are needed to overcome depression and addiction can sometimes take strenuous effort. We do know that his death provides an opportunity to share hope with those who face similar challenges as we mourn the loss of our beloved funny guy who tickled our funny bones and healed us with his talents.


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