Major Study Finds Pregnancy Issue Actually Linked to Autism, And It’s Not Vaccines

It’s a common but erroneous belief among anti-vaxxers that if a pregnant woman gets jabbed, she puts her unborn child at risk of autism.

This couldn’t be further from the truth. Instead, a growing body of research suggests that when a mother goes unvaccinated, that is when she truly leaves her child vulnerable.

A new study of nearly 1.8 million children in Sweden has found that the risks for autism and depression are significantly higher if your mother was hospitalised with an infection during pregnancy.

The results build on a nascent but burgeoning idea that specific infections, when contracted during pregnancy, can harm a developing brain, boosting the risk of psychiatric disorders coming on later in life, including conditions such as bipolar disorder, schizophreniadepression, and autism.

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This new study, however, paints a much broader stroke. Instead of revealing one or two bad infections, the authors found that the results remained the same whether or not the hospitalisation was due to severe infections – like influenza, meningitis and pneumonia – or much more mild UTIs.

In other words, it isn’t necessarily a specific virus, but infection in general that appears to be causing these problems, and it seems to be the case even when the affliction can’t reach the fetal brain.

“The results indicate that safeguarding against and preventing infection during pregnancy as far as possible by, for instance, following flu vaccination recommendations, may be called for,” says Verena Sengpiel, an expert in obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of Gothenburg.

Drawing on data from the Medical Birth Register for almost 1.8 million children, born in Sweden between 1973 and 2014, the authors tallied how many of their mothers had been hospitalised with an infection during their respective pregnancies.

The researchers then tracked these children and their mental health through the inpatient register until 2014, when the oldest ones were turning 41.

Statistical analysis of the data revealed a worrying link between a child’s mental health and their mother’s immune system.

While the study did not find an increased risk of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, the authors did find that when a pregnant woman goes to the hospital for an infection, her child is more likely to seek hospital treatment for depression and autism later on in life.

In fact, among these children, the increased risk was 79 percent for autism and 24 percent for depression.

“Overall, we found evidence that exposure to maternal infection during fetal life increased the risk of autism and possibly of depression in the child,” the authors write.

“Although the individual risk appears to be small, the population effects are potentially large.”

As fascinating as it is, the study is only observational, so it can’t tell us exactly how a maternal infection would impact a child’s developing brain.

Nevertheless, recent studies on animal models have suggested that these infections might be causing an inflammatory reaction in the nervous system, altering gene expression in the brain and changing its architecture.

The thing is, many of these studies also note there are a multitude of genetic factors at play, so the answer to this puzzle could be highly complex.

“Our results cannot exclude the possibility of increased risk for psychopathologic conditions as a result of a dual “hit”: an inflammatory fetal brain injury on a background of genetic susceptibility,” the authors of the new study write.

More research will be needed before we can say for sure what is going on. In the meantime, however, the best thing a pregnant mother can do is stay healthy and adhere to the best medical advice out there. Getting all your vaccinations is a good start.

Source: JAMA Psychiatry.

Schizophrenia Tied to Elevated Breast Cancer Risk

Rates of breast cancer are higher in women with schizophrenia than in women in the general population, new research shows.

Investigators in China and Maryland conducted a meta-analysis of studies that included more than 120,000 women and found that schizophrenia was associated with a significantly higher risk for breast cancer, although there was also significant heterogeneity found between the studies.

I think the association with breast cancer in female patients with schizophrenia is an important focus for clinicians, first author Chuanjun Zhuo, MD, PhD, Department of Psychiatric Laboratory, Tianjin Medical University, China, told Medscape Medical News.

I think clinicians should screen women with schizophrenia and monitor cancer markers frequently, he said.

The study was published online March 7 in JAMA Psychiatry.

Cancer Risk “Uncertain”

The risk of cancer in patients with schizophrenia remains uncertain, the authors write.

This population suffers from numerous chronic health conditions that typically are risk factors for the development of cancer (eg, smoking, alcohol and substance abuse, obesity, and lack of exercise), but results of epidemiologic studies have been inconsistent regarding the cancer risk, the investigators note.

Several analyses have shown that increased risk may be associated not only with factors related to an unhealthy lifestyle but also with genetic mechanisms and other potential factors that may be involved in the interaction between schizophrenia and cancer pathogenesis.

Because schizophrenia has been associated with a lower risk for certain types of cancer (eg, colorectal cancer, malignant melanoma, and prostate cancer), it is possible that genetic factors involved in schizophrenia pathogenesis may be protective against cancer, the authors write.

However, some studies have suggested an increased risk for breast cancer in schizophrenia patients, compared with the general population, and other studies have had mixed results or have used flawed statistical methods that did not adequately account for heterogeneity.

In the current study, the investigators set out to perform an updated meta-analysis to lead to better prevention and early treatment of breast cancer in women with schizophrenia.

In the meta-analysis, only cohort studies were included. In addition, studies had to be published as a full-length article in English, include adult women (age ≥18 years), have schizophrenia exposure identified at baseline, have a control group consisting of women from the general population without schizophrenia, have a documented incidence of breast cancer on follow-up, and report the standardized incidence ratios (SIRs), at least adjusted for age and corresponding 95% confidence intervals (CIs) for breast cancer incidence in women with schizophrenia, compared with control persons.

The researchers used several statistical approaches to the data. They extracted data of SIRs and established the lower and upper limits of 95% CIs to calculate log SIRs and their corresponding standard errors (SEs).

These logarithmically transformed SIRs and their corresponding SEs were used to stabilize the variance and normalize the distribution.

To evaluate the heterogeneity among the included cohort studies, the researchers used the Cochran Q test and the I 2 statistic, as well as a random-effects model, for meta-analyzing the SIR, because this model is considered to produce a more generalized result by considering heterogeneity between studies.

Shared Mechanisms?

The researchers identified 11 studies published between 1992 and 2016 that met the inclusion criteria. Participants (n = 125,760) were drawn from Europe, the United States, and Asia.

Of the 12 cohorts, five included hospitalized patients with schizophrenia; the remaining studies did not specify the source of the patients.

Study sizes ranged from 1388 to 446,447 patients with schizophrenia; the number of breast cancer cases ranged from 42 to 1042.

Six of the studies excluded breast cancer cases that were present prior to the diagnosis of schizophrenia. The remaining studies did not specify whether those cases were excluded.

Schizophrenia was found to be associated with a significantly increased risk for breast cancer in women (SIR, 1.31; 95% CI, 1.14 – 1.50; P < .001), with significant heterogeneity (P < 0.001; I 2 = 89%).

Because of the substantial between-study variance, which was reflected by the wide prediction interval (PI; 0.81 – 2.10), it is possible that a future study will show a decreased breast cancer risk in women with schizophrenia, compared with the general population, the authors comment.

The researchers investigated sensitivity of the findings by omitting one study at a time, but this did not significantly alter the results. The SIR varied between 1.29 and 1.38 (all Ps < .01).

The subgroup analyses found that the association between schizophrenia and increased breast cancer incidence was significant in studies in which breast cancer occurred before the diagnosis of schizophrenia was excluded (SIR, 1.34; 95% CI, 1.20 – 1.51; P < .001; I 2 = 84%) as well as studies with >100 breast cancer cases (SIR, 1.31; 95% CI, 1.18 – 1.46; P < 0.001; I 2 = 84%).

However, the association between schizophrenia and breast cancer incidence was not significant in studies that did not specify the exclusion of breast cancer cases that occurred prior to the diagnosis of schizophrenia (SIR, 1.38; 95% CI, 0.89 – 2.14; P = 0.15; I 2 = 91%) or in studies with <100 breast cancer cases (SIR, 1.50; 95% CI, 0.78 – 2.87; P = 0.23; I 2 = 93%)

The differences between subgroups were not statistically significant.

The researchers determined on the basis of the Egger regression test that there was no potential publication bias (P = .64).

The authors speculate that several potential mechanisms may be involved in the association between schizophrenia and increased breast cancer risk, including obesity and nulliparity, and possible shared pathophysiologic factors, including pathways involved in angiogenesis and cell-cycle regulation.

Increased prolactin levels, which have been observed in women with schizophrenia, may raise the risk for breast cancer, particularly in women receiving certain antipsychotics, they suggest.

Most psychiatrists focus only on treatment of positive and negative symptoms in patients with schizophrenia and tend to neglect the physical status, especially in female patients, said Dr Zhuo.

But psychiatrists should not ignore cancer markers and should remain aware of them, he added.

Be on the Lookout

Commenting on the study for Medscape Medical News, Gail Daumit, MD, MHS, professor of medicine, psychiatry, and behavioral sciences, epidemiology, health policy and management, and mental health, Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, Baltimore, Maryland, who was not involved with the study, called it a nicely done meta-analysis.

One limitation was that the analysis incorporated studies that measured cancer incidence in different ways, such as the use of cancer registries and the use of billing data, she noted.

Nevertheless, the analysis shows a signal of increased risk of cancer in this population that should prompt clinicians to be on the lookout and make sure that women with schizophrenia get the recommended breast cancer screening appropriate for their age and risk factors, since this population is often ignored in their physical needs.

Additionally, the potential role of prolactin in increasing breast cancer risk warrants further research.

Antipsychotic medications are widely used not only for schizophrenia but also for other conditions, and more work regarding a possible prolactin connection needs to be done, she said.

Zhuo noted that his future research will focus on cancers for which the incidence is lower in patients with schizophrenia than in the general population.

There is a high rate of smoking in people with schizophrenia, compared to the general population, but no higher rate of lung cancer, suggesting a possible protective factor, which I am interested in exploring, he said.

These Major Mental Illnesses Share Unexpected Levels of Gene Activity

How is autism linked to schizophrenia?


On the surface, diverse mental health conditions like autism, alcoholism, and schizophrenia seem to have few things in common with one another.

A fresh look at the genes being expressed in the brains of individuals diagnosed with one of five mental illnesses reveals an unexpected degree of overlap, suggesting many psychiatric disorders are more similar than their symptoms would suggest.

Five years ago, a team of researchers used data supplied by the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium experiment to show people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, and schizophrenia often share a handful of genetic variations.

While somewhat unexpected, it also didn’t say much about how those genes might relate to any of those conditions.

A follow-up study has added new details to the discovery, revealing levels of similarity between diverse disorders that aren’t just surprising, but downright counterintuitive.

The international team of scientists produced what’s known as a transcriptomic profile on 700 brain samples taken from deceased patients who had been diagnosed with either ASD, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, or alcoholism.

This gave them a library of not just the genes present in these specimens, but of their relative activity in the brain’s outer layer, the cortex.

These libraries were then compared with samples taken from just under 300 patients who had no diagnoses, as well as close to 200 individuals who had inflammatory bowel disease.

While we might expect conditions with related symptoms to share similar gene expressions, these results were a lot harder to explain.

Bipolar and depression are both classified as mood disorders, for instance, so there’d be no surprise if they shared fundamental biochemistry.

The fact the transcriptome for bipolar had more in common with schizophrenia came as quite a shock.

“This is not what clinicians would’ve expected,” says psychiatric geneticist Kenneth Kendler from Virginia Commonwealth University.

“It certainly suggests the idea that these are sharply different kinds of disorders is not valid.”

Links were also found between schizophrenia and autism. This isn’t exactly a revelation, but the research did show that many of the genes in both conditions are more active in those with ASD.

Genes known to be related to the rate at which neurons fire in the brain were found to be quieter in samples taken from people with ASD, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder.

Besides a bunch of interesting correlations, the team failed to find any similarity between alcoholism and the other four illnesses.

Previous research on twins had suggested individuals with alcohol dependence and depression are more likely to share certain genes, hinting at an overlap in neurology.

If there is, this research suggests those shared genes aren’t expressing themselves. The team found no similarity in transcriptome between samples from people diagnosed with alcoholism and those with depression.

Studies such as these show just how fuzzy the concept of disease is, especially when it comes to mental health.

Far from having distinct boundaries, genetic research is revealing how tangled the roots of seemingly diverse mental illnesses really are.

“We’re beginning to see the bits of the puzzle starting to slowly get clearer,” says Kendler.

Which is a great thing for improving how we diagnose and treat suffering in people who experience mental illness.

A Pungent Life: The Smells in My Head

I am in my kitchen smelling dirt. Three new plants — a white kalanchoe and two red begonias — sit on a stand at my window. It is April, nearly a decade ago, and I have bought them because it is finally spring. I admire their small, dense flowers and green, waxy leaves.

But I hadn’t planned on their powerful, raw smell. Working around the house, I try to think about something else. When I go upstairs, the smell follows me, earthy, pushy, almost wet. I wonder how it is that I can smell three small houseplants on the floor below.

That afternoon, at the grocery, I can’t shake their dank odor. Could the smell somehow have gotten into my clothes? A day later, miles away at my doctor’s office in Manhattan, I am shocked that it smells there, too. But she has no potted plants.

I finally get it. This assertive smell, my uninvited companion for almost two days, is inside my head, not out. Mortified, I think I must smell. Talking to friends, I cover my mouth with my hand. I brush my teeth more often, swish mouthwash compulsively. But my husband says I smell fine — no bad breath. I finally call my doctor.

I discover that I suffer from phantosmia. “Osmia,” from the Greek osme, means “smell.” Coupled with “phanto” (like “phantom”), it refers to an illusory sense of smell. I smell a smell when no odorant is present.

Inevitably, medical tests followed. I had an M.R.I. of my brain (ruling out a tumor), then a CT scan of my sinuses (looking for infection), and finally, an EEG (olfactory hallucinations do occur in epilepsy). The results were negative, and two rounds of antibiotics (was there a hidden nasal or sinus infection?) constituted my only — and fruitless — treatment.

One day a year later I realized that the earthly smell was finally gone. But to my dismay a new smell immediately took over. My husband had burned a big pot of chili. Burned chili became my new default odor. At least it smelled better than dirt.

Then, about seven years ago, a trip to Provence erased the chili. Lavender wafted in the air, becoming my new smell du jour. Southern France’s lavender-infested landscape — dried bouquets, scented soaps and candles, even flavorings for food — trailed me back home. Some might think me lucky — lavender is hugely popular. But I hated this smell that had squirmed its way into my brain.

I tried in vain to fool my nose. Holding lemons under my nose didn’t kill the odor. Smearing pungent perfumes and lotions around my nose didn’t work either. A powerful odor like ammonia might trump the lavender for a moment, but that cure is worse than the disease.

Sometimes I can’t tell whether a smell is inside or outside my head. Walking my dog, I cried as I smelled manure, convinced it would lodge in my head. At home, I rejoiced that the stink was gone. The next day, the horrid smell reappeared at the same spot. This time I noticed the warning sign: gardeners had spread fertilizer. Only then did I know the smell was real.

Avoiding gruesome odors is my first line of defense. There’s a coffee shop nearby that I simply won’t enter. It’s jam-packed with wooden barrels of reeking coffee beans; locals complain they can smell the roasting blocks away. I send my husband to buy coffee while I wait in the car with the windows up.

I’ve tried the opposite tactic, going out of my way to imprint favorite perfumes, fresh flowers, that wonderful bakery smell. Alas, my phantosmia specializes in the disagreeable.

That is typically the case, I now know. Dr. Donald Leopold, chairman of the department of otolaryngology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, has studied smell disorders for 30 years. In phantosmia, Dr. Leopold says, both the upper nasal passages and the brain play a part, especially the brain, “where the actual smell perception is generated.”

Almost always the patient has lost some ability to smell. Dr. Leopold says that the brain, “which has a propensity to make smell,” overcompensates by offering up odors, usually disagreeable ones, that may have existed previously but were suppressed. It appears that certain “traffic cop” neurons, which had worked to exclude such odors, turn off.

Though Dr. Leopold assures me that “treatment is available,” I haven’t tried the nasal saline drops, antidepressants, antiseizure medicines or sedativesrecommended by one doctor or another. Mainly I try to think past the phantosmia, forcing my attention elsewhere. If that fails, I try to laugh at it, more absurd than awful. I win more of these skirmishes than one might expect.

I learn that this disorder is best kept private. Some friends squirm when they hear about it, as if I were crazy. For that matter, phantosmia is linked to certain psychiatric disorders (schizophreniadepressionAlzheimer’s), but I don’t have them. I do wonder, though, what it means to hallucinate smell. Those neurological explanations aren’t entirely satisfying. There’s nothing plainer than the nose on my face, but nothing more mysterious, either.

6 Subtle Signs of Depression You Should Never Ignore

In an astounding announcement, the World Health Organization reports that depression is now the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide. Since depression increases the risk of many chronic diseases, Today gives six signs of depression you may miss, but need to watch out for. Those include: changes in sleep patterns, befuddled thinking, worrying or thinking too much, weight changes, pulling back from socialization, and experiencing an unusual amount of pain.

It may be surprising, but teenagers are particularly susceptible to feelings of depression: An estimated 500,000 American teens struggle with depression, and more than three-quarters of them are girls. Mental disorders are also the second most common cause of disability among Americans of both sexes, having risen sharply since 1980, so it’s obvious there is an immediate need for addressing this serious issue.

Many may think the answer lies in a prescription for a mind-altering drug, but research shows your diet can have a profound effect on your mental health. Gastrointestinal abnormalities have been linked to a variety of psychological problems, including depression, anxiety, hyperactivity and schizophrenia. It is now well established that the vagus nerve, which runs from your brain stem to your gut, is the primary route your gut bacteria use to transmit information to your brain.

Besides diet, sunlight also has a profound impact on your mental health — more so than any other weather phenomenon, according to a study looking at links between weather and depression in a group of students. Another important factor is the amount of red, near-, mid- and far-infrared light that you’re exposed to. One of the most beneficial wavelengths of light is the near-infrared (810 to 830 nm), which penetrates deep into your body and has many biological effects.

‘Ride the Tiger’ — a Documentary About the Bipolar Brain

Story at-a-glance

  • An estimated 5.1 million Americans have bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, characterized by unusual and typically dramatic shifts in mood and energy
  • When it comes to treatment, lifestyle changes are often the most powerful, and need to be included in the treatment if it is to be successful
  • Scientists are investigating strategies to control the illness by helping the brain rewire itself. This includes the use of optogenetics, deep brain stimulation, electroconvulsive therapy and transcranial magnetic stimulation.

Watch the video.URL:

An estimated 5.1 million Americans have bipolar disorder,1 also known as manic-depressive illness, which is characterized by unusual and typically dramatic shifts in mood and energy. Emotions tend to be intense, with the patient seesawing between ecstatic joy and hopeless depression.

Hallucinations and delusions of grandeur are common during the manic phase, leading the patient to engage in risky and irrational behaviors, such as not looking both ways before crossing the street because they think they’re invincible, or jumping out of a window, convinced they can fly.

The PBS documentary, “Ride the Tiger: A Guide Through the Bipolar Brain,”2originally aired on April, 2016, explores our current understanding of the illness, and puts a human face on the struggle with commentary by those challenged with it.

Highly accomplished individuals diagnosed with bipolar featured in the program include actress Patty Duke, who was diagnosed in 1982, and Patrick Kennedy, a former U.S. Representative.

By seeking to understand how the bipolar brain malfunctions, researchers believe they can get closer to understanding the inner workings of the brain, potentially unlocking treatments for other types of psychiatric problems as well.

Drugs Versus Lifestyle

While medication is typically the first-line of treatment for bipolar and other mental illnesses, they can take up to two months to work and are often frustratingly ineffective. Lithium is a “gold standard” treatment for bipolar, but even lithium works for only one-third of patients.

Another drug shown to offer relief from severe depression and bipolar depression within mere hours of administration is ketamine, a dissociative anesthetic normally used for starting and maintaining anesthesia. Research suggests ketamine helps induce neuroplasticity, allowing your brain to grow new neurons and connections.

However, this drug also fails to work in many, and often fails to provide long-lasting relief. When it comes to treatment, lifestyle changes are often the most powerful, and as noted in the program, need to be included in the treatment if it is to be successful. This includes:

  • Maintaining a regular sleep cycle
  • Exercising
  • Addressing your diet and avoiding stimulants such as caffeine, drugs and alcohol
  • Stress relief
  • Maintaining healthy emotional connections with family and friends

Scientists are also turning to more novel strategies in an effort to control the illness, seeking ways to possibly “preempt, fix or rewire” the patient’s brain back to normal.

Treatments That Help Rewire the Brain

Optogenetics is one such strategy. The technique involves the use of light and light-responsive proteins to control neuronal activity. Using this technique, the scientist can control not only the physical movement of the subject, but also the behavior.

For example, by shining a light on a specific gene-altered neuron, it can dial down the activity to reduce anxiety. Kafui Dzirasa, Ph.D., has taken it a step further, creating what he calls a closed loop actuator.

Using brain map data obtained through optogenetics, the closed loop actuator circumvents “broken” or dysfunctional areas between neurons to reestablish normal communication in that specific area of the brain. The upside of this is that you’re only stimulating and correcting the area that needs it.

Drugs, on the other hand, affect the brain in its entirety, for better or worse. While it may correct one problem, it often creates others. While showing great promise, Dzirasa is not about to implant the device in human brains any time soon.

But he hopes the device may eventually lead to other treatment strategies. Other devices used in the treatment of bipolar disorder and severe depression include:

  • Deep brain stimulation, which acts much like a pacemaker for the brain, using electrical impulses to stimulate certain brain areas to regulate mood
  • Electroconvulsive therapy, which has been shown to induce remission in up to 80 percent of patients and appears particularly effective for those with bipolar depression. One significant drawback is the potential for permanent memory loss
  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation, a noninvasive procedure using magnetic fields to stimulate brain cells

These techniques basically employ electricity or magnetism as a way to change the way neurons connect, allowing your brain to create new neuronal connections and pathways (neuroplasticity), thereby bypassing the “traffic jam” that’s blocking normal communication between the neurons.

But such devices are not the only way to rewire your thought circuits. Talk therapy, meditation, prayer and “positive thinking” have also been shown to have a distinct and positive influence on the wiring in your brain.

Nutrition Is Essential for Proper Brain Function

An estimated 1 in 20 Americans over the age of 12 struggles with depression.3 Dr. Hyla Cass, a psychiatrist who uses integrative medicine in her practice, places great focus on nutrition and healthy lifestyle habits. As mentioned earlier, this is crucial regardless of what type of mental disorder you’re facing.

One of Cass’ mentors was Dr. Abram Hoffer, a co-founder of orthomolecular medicine, which refers to the concept of nutritional deficiencies being a source of mental illness. In particular, Hoffer used high doses of niacin (B3) to successfully treat schizophrenics. Amazingly, he was able to get many of these severely ill mental patients well enough to get married and go on to lead normal lives.

As it turns out, pellagra, a disorder caused by extreme niacin deficiency, produces the same psychiatric symptoms found in schizophrenia. In fact, Hoffer discovered that many schizophrenic patients were niacin dependent, meaning they needed far more niacin on a regular basis than normal in order to remain well.

Other researchers have found niacin may also be successfully used in the treatment of other mental disorders, such as attention deficit disorder, general psychosis, anxiety, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Food sensitivities can also play a role. For example, gluten can produce symptoms of depression if you’re sensitive to it. In such a case, the key is to remove gluten from your diet entirely. You cannot simply cut down. It must be removed completely. Cass has seen many patients recover from severe depression when going gluten-free. It’s also important to avoid junk food, as it promotes gut inflammation.

According to Cass, one of the first steps in addressing a mental health problem is to clean up your diet and address your gut health. Otherwise, you’ll have virtually no chance of getting emotionally and mentally well. On her website,, you can find a free report called “Reclaim Your Brain,” which details nutritional substances you can use to address conditions like anxiety and depression.

Nutritional Deficiencies Implicated in Psychiatric Disorders

In one recent meta-analysis, fish oil, vitamin D, methylfolate (an effective form of folic acid) and S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe) were found to improve the effectiveness of serotonin reuptake inhibitors, serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors and tricyclic antidepressants.4,5,6 Fish oil produced the most significant improvement, which makes sense if you understand the importance of animal-based omega-3 for brain health. Although not studied, krill oil would likely do better, and clean fish would do the best.

In fact, considering antidepressants have the clinical effectiveness of a placebo,7,8,9,10 it’s no wonder nutritional supplements can “boost” the drugs’ effectiveness. The supplements may well have been the true benefit, but that possibility was not taken into consideration in this analysis. Still, studies have shown that both omega-3 and vitamin D11 can improve mental health all on their own.

The 2001 book, “The Omega-3 Connection,” written by Harvard psychiatrist Dr. Andrew Stoll, was among the first works to bring attention to and support the use of omega-3 fats for depression. Omega-3s have also been shown to improve more serious mental disorders, including schizophrenia, psychosis and bipolar disorder.12

While there’s no set recommended dose of omega-3 fats, some health organizations recommend a daily dose of 250 to 500 milligrams (mg) of EPA and DHA for healthy adults. If you suffer from depression, higher doses may be called for. In one study,13an omega-3 supplement with a dose range of 200 to 2,200 mg of EPA per day was effective against primary depression.

As for vitamin D, researchers have suggested vitamin D may play a role in depression by regulating brain chemicals called monoamines, which include serotonin.14 As a general rule, depressed individuals have lower vitamin D levels than non-depressed people,15 and having a vitamin D level below 20 ng/mL can raise your risk of depression by 85 percent compared to having a level greater than 30 ng/mL.16

B vitamins are also really important for proper brain function, and deficiencies of one or more B vitamins can result in psychiatric symptoms. For example, vitamin B12 deficiency can trigger confusion, agitation, depression,17 mania, psychosis and paranoid delusions.18,19 One recent study20,21 found vitamins B6, B8 (inositol) and B12 in combination were very effective for improving schizophrenic symptoms when taken in high doses — more so than standard drug treatments alone. Low doses were ineffective.

Lowering Inflammation Is Important for Mental Health

Studies have also linked depression to chronic inflammation and dysfunction of the gut-brain axis.22 One likely theory as to why certain nutrients work so well for depression is because they are potent anti-inflammatories. Indeed, many studies have confirmed that treating gastrointestinal inflammation helps improve symptoms of depression.23 The gut-brain connection is well-recognized as a basic tenet of physiology and medicine, so this isn’t all that surprising, even though it’s often overlooked.

A previous article24 titled “Are probiotics the new Prozac?” reviews some of the supporting evidence. For example, animal research has linked changes in gut flora to changes in affective behaviors, and in humans, probiotics (beneficial bacteria) have been shown to alter brain function.25

Previous research has also shown that certain probiotics can help alleviate anxiety. For example, one study26 found the probiotic Bifidobacterium longum NCC3001 normalized anxiety-like behavior in mice with infectious colitis by modulating the vagal pathways within the gut-brain.

Other research27 found that the probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus had a marked effect on GABA levels — an inhibitory neurotransmitter involved in regulating many physiological and psychological processes — in certain brain regions and lowered the stress-induced hormone corticosterone, resulting in reduced anxiety- and depression-related behavior. (It is likely other lactobacillus species also provide this benefit, but this was the only one that was tested.)

Gut Bacteria May Play a Role in Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia

Researchers have also found strong connections between the gut microbiome and schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.28 As recently reported by Psych Central:29

“The gut and the brain are connected by what is called the enteric nervous system [ENS]. While the ENS can act independently, it can also influence the central nervous system. It does this through millions of neurons as well as neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, glutamate and norepinephrine. When one of these systems dysfunctions, it can heavily impact the other, causing symptoms of depression and anxiety.

One way the digestive system can dysfunction is with an alteration in the gut’s microbiome. The immune system is also vulnerable to changes in the microbiome … Part of the immune response to harmful microorganisms is inflammation. This inflammation occurs throughout the body, including areas around the brain, which can trigger or worsen symptoms of bipolar disorder.”

For example, studies have found:

  • Schizophrenics have less biodiversity overall and 400 times higher population of lactic acid producing bacteria than healthy individuals. Certain metabolic pathways differ as well, including those for glutamate and vitamin B1230
  • Schizophrenics also have significantly higher amounts of Lactobacillus phage phiadh, a microorganism associated with a higher risk for diabetes, than healthy controls31
  • Those with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia tend to have chronic low-grade inflammation, associated with gut dysfunction and an imbalanced gut microbiome
  • People with bipolar or schizophrenia also have elevated levels of antibodies against Saccharomyces cerevisiae, a yeast associated with Crohn’s disease. Many are also sensitive to lactose and gluten, which can trigger inflammation32
  • Individuals hospitalized with acute mania have increased exposure to antibiotics.33 While the authors suggested this finding means these patients tend to have higher rates of bacterial infections, this link could also point at the hazards associated with killing off your microbiome with antibiotics, which decimate both good and bad bacteria without discrimination

Holistic Mental Health Suggestions

Regardless of the nature or severity of your mental health problem, in order to successfully treat it, you need to take a holistic approach. Rarely will medication be the sole answer. Following are some guidelines and suggestions — presented in no particular order — to keep in mind.

Withdraw from antidepressants and other drugs under medical supervision

If you’re currently on an antidepressant and want to get off it, ideally you’ll want to have the cooperation of your prescribing physician. Some are happy to help you to withdraw if they know you’re going to be responsible about it.

Others may not want to bother, or they don’t believe you can get off the medication. As noted by Cass, you may need to do some reading in order to be better prepared.

Dr. Joseph Glennmullen from Harvard wrote a very helpful book on how to withdraw called “The Antidepressant Solution.” You can also turn to an organization with a referral list of doctors who practice more biologically or naturally, such as the American College for Advancement in Medicine

Once you have the cooperation of your prescribing physician, start lowering the dosage of the medication you’re taking. As noted by Cass, there are protocols for gradually reducing the dose that your doctor should be well aware of. At the same time, start taking a multivitamin.

Start taking low doses. If you’re quitting an SSRI under doctor supervision, Cass suggests going on a low dose of 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP). For bipolar patients, holistic psychiatrists may prescribe nutritional supplements such as fish oil (omega-3 fats), inositol, niacin, tryptophan and others, depending on your individual needs.

Address Lyme disease

Bipolar symptoms can also be related to Lyme disease, so if Lyme infection is present, that needs to be addressed, also by a more functionally oriented doctor.

Combat inflammation

Keeping inflammation in check is an important part of any effective treatment plan. If you’re gluten sensitive, you will need to remove all gluten from your diet. A food sensitivity test can help ascertain this. Switching to a whole food diet as described in my optimal nutrition plan can go a long way toward lowering the inflammation level in your body and brain.

Optimize your vitamin D level

Vitamin D deficiency is another important biological factor that can play a significant role in mental health, especially depression. A double-blind randomized trial34 published in 2008 concluded that supplementing with high doses of vitamin D “seems to ameliorate these symptoms indicating a possible causal relationship.”

Recent research35 also claims that low vitamin D levels appear to be associated with suicide attempts.

Ideally, maintain your vitamin D level between 40 and 60 ng/mL year-round. If you cannot get sufficient sun exposure to maintain this level, taking an oral vitamin D3 supplement would be advisable. Just remember to also take vitamin K2 and magnesium, as these all work together.

Nourish your gut microbiome

Reducing gut inflammation is imperative when addressing mental health issues,36 so optimizing your gut flora is a critical piece. To promote healthy gut flora, increase your consumption of fiber and probiotic foods, such as fermented vegetables, kimchee, natto, kefir and others.

Clean up your sleep hygiene

Make sure you’re getting enough high quality sleep, as sleep is essential for optimal mood and mental health. A fitness tracker that tracks your sleep can be a useful tool. According to Cass, the inability to fall asleep and stay asleep can be due to elevated cortisol levels, so if you have trouble sleeping, you may want to get your saliva cortisol level tested with an Adrenal Stress Index test.

If you’re already taking hormones, you can try applying a small dab of progesterone cream on your neck or face when you awaken during the night and can’t call back to sleep. Another alternative is to take adaptogens, herbal products that help lower cortisol and adjust your body to stress.

There are also other excellent herbs and amino acids that help you to fall asleep and stay asleep. Meditation can also help.

Add to your self-help tool bag

Slowing your breathing using the Butyenko breathing technique increases your partial pressure of carbon dioxide (CO2), which has enormous psychological benefits and can quickly reduce anxiety.

Other helpful tools include Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), and Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT). EFT is well-studied, and research shows it can significantly increase positive emotions and decrease negative emotional states. One scientific review found statistically significant benefits in using EFT for anxiety, depression, PTSD and phobias.

EFT is particularly powerful for treating stress and anxiety because it specifically targets your amygdala and hippocampus, which are the parts of your brain that help you decide whether or not something is a threat.37,38 For serious or complex issues, seek out a qualified health care professional that is trained in EFT39 to help guide you through the process.

Eat real food and avoid all processed foods

High sugar and starchy nonfiber carbohydrates lead to excessive insulin release, which can result in falling blood sugar levels, or hypoglycemia. In turn, hypoglycemia causes your brain to secrete glutamate in levels that can cause agitation, depression, anger, anxiety and panic attacks. Sugar also fans the flames of inflammation in your body.

In addition to being high in sugar and grains, processed foods also contain a variety of additives that can affect your brain function and mental state, especially MSG and artificial sweeteners such as aspartame.

Recent research also shows that glyphosate, used in large quantities on genetically engineered crops like corn, soy and sugar beets, limits your body’s ability to detoxify foreign chemical compounds.

As a result, the damaging effects of those toxins are magnified, potentially resulting in a wide variety of diseases, including brain disorders that have both psychological and behavioral effects.

Get adequate B vitamins

Vitamin B12 deficiency can contribute to depression and affects one in four people. Niacin (B3), B6, biotin (B8) and folate (B9) deficiencies can also produce psychiatric effects.

Get plenty of high quality animal-based omega-3 fats

The animal-based omega-3 fats DHA and EPA are crucial for good brain function and mental health.40,41 Good sources include fatty fish that are also low in mercury, such as wild caught Alaskan salmon, sardines and anchovies.

If you don’t eat these types of fish on a regular basis, it would be advisable to take a high-quality omega-3 supplement such as krill oil, which has a number of benefits over fish oil, including better absorption.42

Beneficial herbs and supplements: SAMe, 5-HTP and St. John’s Wort

SAMe is an amino acid derivative that occurs naturally in all cells. It plays a role in many biological reactions by transferring its methyl group to DNA, proteins, phospholipids and biogenic amines. Several scientific studies indicate that SAMe may be useful in the treatment of depression. 5-HTP is another natural alternative to traditional antidepressants.

When your body sets about manufacturing serotonin, it first makes 5-HTP. Taking 5-HTP as a supplement may raise serotonin levels. The evidence suggests 5-HTP outperforms a placebo when it comes to alleviating depression43 — more than can be said about antidepressants.

One caveat: Anxiety and social phobias can worsen with higher levels of serotonin, so it may be contraindicated if your anxiety is already high. St. John’s Wort has also been shown to provide relief from mild depressive symptoms.

Get adequate daily exercise

Studies show there is a strong correlation between improved mood and aerobic capacity. There’s also a growing acceptance that the mind-body connection is very real, and that maintaining good physical health can significantly lower your risk of developing depression in the first place.

Exercising creates new GABA-producing neurons that help induce a natural state of calm. It also boosts your levels of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, which help buffer the effects of

Too much activity in certain areas of the brain is bad for memory and attention

memory deficits

Don’t Forget.

Neurons in the brain interact by sending each other neurotransmitters, of which gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is the most common inhibitory one. GABA is important to restrain neural activity, preventing neurons from getting too trigger-happy and from firing too much or responding to irrelevant stimuli.

Researchers led by Dr Tobias Bast in the School of Psychology at The University of Nottingham have found that faulty inhibitory neurotransmission and abnormally increased activity in the hippocampus impairs our memory and attention.

Their latest research, published in the academic journal Cerebral Cortex, has implications for understanding cognitive deficits in a variety of brain disorders, including schizophrenia, age-related cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s, and for the treatment of cognitive deficits.

The hippocampus plays a major role in our everyday memory of events and of where and when they happen—for example remembering where we parked our car before going shopping.

This research has shown that a lack of restraint in the neural firing within the hippocampus disrupts hippocampus-dependent memory; in addition, such aberrant neuron firing within the hippocampus also disrupted attention—a cognitive function that does not normally require the hippocampus.

Increased activity can be more detrimental than reduced activity

Dr Bast, said: “Our research carried out in rats highlights the importance of GABAergic inhibition within the hippocampus for memory performance and for attention. The finding that faulty inhibition disrupts memory suggests that memory depends on well-balanced neural activity within the hippocampus, with both too much and too little causing impairments. This is an important finding because traditionally, memory impairments have mainly been associated with reduced activity or lesions of the hippocampus.

“Our second important finding is that faulty inhibition leading to increased neural activity within the hippocampus disrupts attention, a cognitive function that does not normally require the hippocampus, but depends on the prefrontal cortex. This probably reflects that there are very strong neuronal connections between hippocampus and prefrontal cortex. Our finding suggests that aberrant hippocampal activity has a knock-on effect on the prefrontal cortex, thereby disrupting attention.”

“Overall, our new findings show that increased activity of a brain region, due to faulty inhibitory neurotransmission, can be more detrimental to cognitive function than reduced activity or a lesion. Increased activity within a brain region can disrupt not only the function of the region itself—in this case hippocampus-dependent memory—but also the function of other regions to which it is connected—in this case prefrontal cortex-dependent attention.”

Adding to existing research findings

Dr Bast’s research is motivated by recent clinical findings that patients in early stages of schizophrenia, age-related cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s show faulty inhibition and increased activity within the hippocampus. The new study, where inhibition in the hippocampus of rats was disrupted before the animals took part in tests of attention and memory, revealed that such faulty inhibition and aberrant activity within the hippocampus causes the type of memory and attentional impairments seen in patients.

This research adds to the team’s recent findings, where they found that attention was disrupted by faulty inhibition and increased activity within the prefrontal cortex, a brain region important for attention.

Dr Bast, said: “Overall, these findings highlight that higher brain functions, such as attention and memory, depend on well-balanced neural activity within the underlying brain regions.”

Potential target for new treatments

This research has important implications for treating cognitive impairments.

The findings show that simply ‘boosting’ the activity of the key memory and attention centres in the brain (the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex), which has been a long-standing strategy for cognitive enhancement, will not necessarily improve memory and attention, but can actually impair these functions. What’s important is to re-balance activity within these regions.

Dr Bast, said: “One emerging idea is that early stages of cognitive disorders, such as schizophrenia and age-related cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s, are characterised by faulty inhibition and too much activity; this excess neural activity leads then to neuronal damage and the reduced brain activity characterizing later stages of these disorders. So, rebalancing aberrant activity early on may not only restore attention and memory, but also prevent further decline.

“We have new studies on the way where we aim to identify medicines that might be able to re-balance neural activity within hippocampus and prefrontal cortex and to restore memory and attention.”

Feeling Depressed? Your Genes May Be to Blame

MTHFR variations are linked to depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, ADHD and autism.
MTHFR variations are linked to depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, ADHD and autism.

MTHFR could be messing with your mind. No, we’re not talking about some kind of texting shorthand for an obscenity that you might exclaim in your darkest moment. MTHFR is the gene that makes methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase, an enzyme important to processing amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. A faulty MTHFR could be the real impediment for your battle with depression.

MTHFR variations are thought to increase the risk of a host of physical disorders (from cardiovascular disease and migraines to some cancers). But mutations of the gene are also linked to mental health issues, including depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism.

Maybe it’s not the utter hopelessness in a world rent by oppression and injustice that is the culprit for the blues.

When the MTHFR process is impaired, mental health issues can follow.
When the MTHFR process is impaired, mental health issues can follow. 

How MTHFR Works

Without going into complex scientific discourse, here is how the gene could be impacting your mind:

MTHFR is responsible for the production of an enzyme which helps convert the amino acid homocysteine to methionine. This process is essential to the body’s (including your brain) growth and repair.

“The body then uses methionine to make proteins and other important compounds, including neurotransmitters (serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine),” according to Traci Stein, Ph.D., M.P.H., writing “These brain chemicals are essential for a number of aspects of mental health; thus, when this process is impaired, it can increase the likelihood of [mental health issues]. ”

Given MTHFR’s essential role in the body’s function, maintenance and repair, mutations in the gene can also interfere with the effectiveness of certain medications, including antidepressants and certain chemotherapy drugs.

And while you can treat or manage a genetic disorder, unfortunately, you can’t cure most faulty genes. But the good news is that incorporating certain foods into your diet (more below) may help dissipate the cloudy veil of depression.

Who Should Get Tested for Faulty MTHFR

Can’t beat the blues — even with antidepressants? Any family members have a history of depression? MTHFR variations can be detected with a genetic test.

“This area of personalized medicine, genetic testing and nutrigenomics is new, and more research is needed. But it’s clear that it’s also an exciting way of looking at disease that’s worth exploring,” writes Mark Hyman, M.D., director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine and author of “The UltraMind Solution, Fix Your Broken Brain by Healing Your Body First.”

Some argue that widespread testing is too costly, says Monya De, M.D., M.P.H., a physician of internal and integrative medicine. Dr. De notes, however, that there are relatively inexpensive testing services like that provided by 23andMe, which offers a $199 mail-in DNA kit, as well as the government’s Precision Medicine Initiative.

Fill your diet with foods rich in folate, including kale, broccoli, lentils and beans.
Fill your diet with foods rich in folate, including kale, broccoli, lentils and beans. 

Mutated MTHFR? Eat Your Vegetables!

So now that you’ve got mutated genes to worry about — no, that doesn’t make you a member of the X-Men — you might be wondering how to treat MTHFR variants.

Discuss options with your doctor who may suggest treating your particular brand of depression with, in part, vitamin supplements, including a methylated form of B-12 known as methylcobalamin, and a diet rich in folates, including leafy greens, broccoli, lentils and beans, according to Dr. Stein.

Dr. Hyman describes treating a patient with debilitating dementia with healthy foods, herbs and nutrients like kale, watercress, cilantro, milk thistle, selenium and zinc. Also, high doses of folate were included in the treatment to help lower his homocysteine. So what happened to this patient’s mind on nutrients?

“Well, after a year of aggressive therapy that was matched to his particular imbalances, genes and causes of his symptoms — not his diagnosis — he had a remarkable and dramatic recovery.” The patient’s dementia had been so bad previously that he wasn’t able to manage his business and his grandchildren would avoid him altogether, but treatment allowed him to function again and repair his relationships, according to Dr. Hyman.

Dr. De also cites “some intriguing work” in which patients with depression treated with B vitamins (also including folate) did better than those given placebos. Yet another example how you can feed your happiness.

What Do YOU Think?

Have you had difficulty treating depression? Do you think a genetic mutation may be the answer? Have you been tested by one of the DNA testing companies? If so, how was the experience?

Why Does Schizophrenia Start In Adolescence? An Inside Look At The Teen Brain

Late adolescence is such a critical time period for mental health, new study finds. 

Adolescence is a time of growth and change — but psychologists also know it’s a time when the first signs of certain mental health conditions, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, can appear. The precise link between mental health and adolescence was unclear, but a new study on brain changes that occur in teenagers helps explain why late adolescence is such a critical time period for mental health.

MRI scans of teens revealed that brain regions which have the strongest link to the schizophrenia risk genes are developing most rapidly. These regions are critical hubs that control how different regions of the brain communicate, so when something goes wrong, it can have wide-ranging implications.

Late adolescence is such a critical time period for mental health, new study finds.

The study, now published in the online journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that the outer region of the brain, known as the cortex, shrinks in size and becomes thinner during late adolescence. This process causes an increase in levels of myelin, the sheath that insulates nerve fibers and allows them to communicate effectively, Medical Xpress reported. This increase in myelin occurs in areas of the brain that act as major connections between different regions of the brain network.

“Adolescence can be a difficult transitional period and it’s when we typically see the first signs of mental health disorders such as schizophrenia and depression,” explained Ed Bullmore, head and professor of psychiatry at Cambridge, Medical Xpress reported. “This study gives us a clue why this is the case.”

The study is one of the most detailed investigations into the adolescent brain, and involved using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to study the brain structure of almost 300 individuals aged 14 to 24 in order to compare the brain structure of teenagers of different ages. The MRI scans were then compared to the Allen Brain Atlas, a tool which maps regions of the brain by gene expression.

“As these regions are important hubs that control how regions of our brain communicate with each other, it shouldn’t be too surprising that when something goes wrong there, it will affect how smoothly our brains work,” explained Bullmore.

The team hope this finding will help to spark further research into mental health and the young brain, and eventually even lead to better diagnosis and treatment for mental health conditions.

Why Does Schizophrenia Start In Adolescence? An Inside Look At The Teen Brain

Adolescence is a time of growth and change — but psychologists also know it’s a time when the first signs of certain mental health conditions, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, can appear. The precise link between mental health and adolescence was unclear, but a new study on brain changes that occur in teenagers helps explain why late adolescence is such a critical time period for mental health.

MRI scans of teens revealed that brain regions which have the strongest link to the schizophrenia risk genes are developing most rapidly. These regions are critical hubs that control how different regions of the brain communicate, so when something goes wrong, it can have wide-ranging implications.


Late adolescence is such a critical time period for mental health, new study finds.

The study, now published in the online journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that the outer region of the brain, known as the cortex, shrinks in size and becomes thinner during late adolescence. This process causes an increase in levels of myelin, the sheath that insulates nerve fibers and allows them to communicate effectively, Medical Xpress reported. This increase in myelin occurs in areas of the brain that act as major connections between different regions of the brain network.

“Adolescence can be a difficult transitional period and it’s when we typically see the first signs of mental health disorders such as schizophrenia and depression,” explained Ed Bullmore, head and professor of psychiatry at Cambridge, Medical Xpress reported. “This study gives us a clue why this is the case.”

The study is one of the most detailed investigations into the adolescent brain, and involved using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to study the brain structure of almost 300 individuals aged 14 to 24 in order to compare the brain structure of teenagers of different ages. The MRI scans were then compared to the Allen Brain Atlas, a tool which maps regions of the brain by gene expression.

“As these regions are important hubs that control how regions of our brain communicate with each other, it shouldn’t be too surprising that when something goes wrong there, it will affect how smoothly our brains work,” explained Bullmore.

The team hope this finding will help to spark further research into mental health and the young brain, and eventually even lead to better diagnosis and treatment for mental health conditions.

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