Depression – Looking at it from the prospective of Brainstem Development & Inflammation
It used to be thought that depression was nothing more than a chemical imbalance within the brain, low serotonin specifically. But there are now different approaches that target and build up specific pathways within the brain and nerve system instead of globally altering the entire chemistry in the brain and body.
Because of more recent research, I believe there are really a couple things that get to the root of depression. One is how well and how evenly your brainstem developed specifically through the first 3 years of life. The second is looking at how much inflammation is within your body, what are you doing that is spiking inflammation, and what can be done to curb inflammation in the body. There is overwhelming new research linking depression and inflammation! So what can be done to help?
We know that you’re born with approximately 25% of your brain developed. It’s the only organ that’s not entirely developed at birth. And fast forward to 3 years of age, it’s already at 90% developed which is an incredibly fast rate.
In a very simplistic explanation of brain development, when you’re born, and you only have that 25% of brain development, you’re mostly just using your brainstem and primitive reflexes (which are like the training wheels of your brain) to function, operate, and survive. As your brainstem matures, it is in charge of developing the rest of the brain, the left and right hemispheres. The hemispheres are probably what you think of when you think of “the brain”. What can happen is if one side of the brainstem is more mature and developed than the other side for whatever reason, it can result in the mature side developing a stronger hemisphere and the more immature side developing a weaker hemisphere.
In general, left hemisphere is in charge of excitatory functions, and the right brain is in charge of inhibitory functions. If the brain developed in a way where the right brain is much stronger than the left brain, it could result in something like depression. And just the opposite, if the left brain is much stronger it can present as something like mania. They’ve found through fascinating studies that depressed patients usually have over-active and hyper-connected right hemispheres of the brain.
Fortunately enough, all the new neuroscience points towards “neuroplasticity” meaning the brain can change and does change every day based on what you stimulate it with. Which is much different than what science used to think: that you had what you were born with and you couldn’t change your brain’s ability to do anything. Through stimulating your senses, stimulating your vestibular system, otoliths, semicircular canals, etc. all in the correct way and fashion, you can boost the weak side of the brain (in depression, would most likely be the left) and see excellent results if that’s what is contributing to the issue.
The second thing that is now being talked about more and more with depression is the link of inflammation. This has been a buzz word for a little while now but it’s imperative to understand inflammation and what it’s doing to your body. I always think of inflammation as heat. It’s primarily excess heat in that isn’t wanted in your body (more or less). All chronic diseases can usually be traced back to an inflammatory problem. Why is inflammation becoming such a problem? It has to do with our current environment and the inflammatory process now often begins at birth.
We do many things in our current environment that deplete our microbiome from the beginning. Our microbiome is the vast field of good bacteria within our gut. It’s critical to our health and the gut-brain connection. So what are we doing to deplete our microbiome from birth?
The first thing is we are at an all-time high for C-section births. I live in Nebraska, and it’s ranked as the highest percentage of C-section births, not good. Why that’s a problem is because a natural delivery gives the baby it’s first exposure to the mother’s microbiome, which is what starts to develop the babies microbiome. If the baby misses that exposure, it doesn’t get the memo. Also, you want the first exposure to be the mother’s microbiome and not the bacteria you typically think of when you say “bacteria”.
Another reason is chronic antibiotics. The bad thing about antibiotics is they wipe out ALL bacteria. The good and the bad. So even though they’re getting rid of “the bad guys” they’re also wiping your healthy microbiome clean. This gives the bad bacteria an equal playing field to take over your microbiome.
Not breastfeeding at all or as long as you should. This can deplete the microbiome because once again, breastfeeding is another way for the mother to pass on her microbiome to the baby to help develop theirs. They pass on Immunoglobulin A to the child. Not that that matters at all but I still remember to this day studying for boards that they pass on IgA because mom’s milk is “grade A”. You truly do remember the most ridiculous things…
Among other things that are not good for your microbiome, once you have a depleted microbiome, you begin to get what’s called “leaky gut”. And it is exactly what it sounds like. Your gut starts to get these little holes or openings, and it becomes leaky and bacteria, viruses, pathogens, food particles, etc. that are not supposed to enter the bloodstream, do.
The natural and healthy thing for your body to do when it sees an invader in the bloodstream is to raise inflammation to help kill it. Think as if it’s trying to bake it out. So, these particles and pathogens enter the bloodstream and your body has an inflammatory response. When this happens once in a while, it’s perfectly normal but because the gut is continuously leaky the problem will keep repeating. Your gut will keep dumping things into the bloodstream, and the body keeps it’s inflammation up making it a chronic issue that is never-ending.
Chronic inflammation can lead to autoimmune issues like allergies, asthma, and eczema. Once you have leaky gut and chronic inflammation from that, it eventually causes “leaky brain” which just means the brains starts to get inflamed too. Once it reaches the brain, you can begin to see how it affects the brain function and depression.
There’s always more than one way to do anything and several different ways to help people with depression. These are just the two things I have in my “toolbox” to help. If these two factors are contributing to the depression, which usually it is, then I can help by strengthening the weak pathways within the brain (think weight training for the brain) and getting your nerve system to work correctly to decrease inflammation within the body!