Inflammation: stress and depression

If you are interested in health and lifestyle you might be aware that… “inflammation” seems to be a big thing. Why is that?

It turns out that low – grade inflammation is the root of all diseases: from rinitis, celulitis to autoimmune disorders, cancer and neuro-degenerative ones like Alzheimer. Low – grade inflammation is below the pain threshold so… we don’t feel it.

You might be wondering… why would a psychoanalyst talk about… INFLAMMATION?

Chronic Stress

Well, there are three “control” systems in the body which are deeply connected: immune, endocrine and nervous system. I hope this blog helps you understand that they are the cornerstone of our wellbeing or… discomfort. Fortunately, the need for an integrative medicine is becoming more and more evident. However, as of today… medicine treats patients as strict compartments. Of course we need to go to an specialist to address our specific the problem, although… we need to bear in mind that most likely that specific disorder is related with an imbalance in this psycho – neuro – immune- endocrine axis. Why?

Chronic stress alters these systems which… at the end of the day, control everything. This is why as a psychoanalyst I am very interested on how anxiety and stress can impact the body. A link which is becoming more and more evident but which has been misunderstood and underestimated for a long time. Not only by medicine but also by ourselves (me included).

Being momentarily stress when facing certain situations is beneficial: let’s say there is a fire and we need to run: adrenalin and cortisol will go up to help us react quickly and scape. However, if we are stressed all the time, alert (unfortunately very typical in our lifestyle these days) our “control” systems begin to be impacted: raised adrenalin, triggers hormonal changes. More cortisol is produced. Cortisol impacts our immune system because it gives place to pro-inflammatory cytokines —> this is how stress leads to inflammation in the body. I hope you realised that… you can have a healthy lifestyle, exercising and following an anti-inflammatory diet but… It is not only about diet: we need to learn to deal with stress.

Otherwise, chronic stress can burn out these “control” systems. Overproducing cortisol can lead to adrenal fatigue: suprarenal glands are not able to produce cortisol anymore, chronic fatigue syndrome. We then don’t have energy for our daily lives activities. Very common these days.

We need to ask ourselves, WHY am I getting SICK? What is causing my imbalance?

Disease begins in the gut’

Let’s have a look at the GUT, the famous “second brain”. Already outstanding Hippocrates have quoted: “disease, begin in the gut”. Why would he say such a thing more than 2000 years ago?

Today we know a lot more. To begin with we know DISRUPTION in the gut MICROBIOTA is closely linked to inflammation. WHY? Because the intestinal mucosal barrier not only protects us from the entrance of pathogens but it also triggers hormonal changes. First of all, 70% of our immune system is in the gut (they produce cytokines). Secondly, 80% of the serotonin, yes, the happiness hormone… is produced in the intestine. Constipation, intestinal disorders… can impact the production of serotonin. If we don’t have serotonin, we get depressed. If we get depressed… they will end up giving us an antidepressant pill. Most of antidepressants are serotonin re-uptake inhibitors. However, in this case, to feel happier and healthier what I need is not an antidepressant… I need to fix my gut!

What can be… harming it?

And here it comes the so feared… GLUTEN. Gluten is the protein of wheat (and other cereals). Why does it have lately such bad press? Bread is so delicious! Unfortunately, bread we eat today is not the bread our grandmas ate… before gluten had 7 chromosome and now it has… 42! It has been genetically modified so it become resistant against plagues and other hazards. Modern “super gluten” can trigger leaky gut syndrome, all in all intestinal permeability. Is that… so bad? According to latest medical research… yes, IT IS: Main cause of inflammation is INTESTINAL PERMEABILITY. Remember, in the intestine, there are tons of immune cells. If the gastro-intestinal barrier is open, it is more likely that pathogens will get in . The entrance of pathogens activate the immune system (producing more stress hormones – noradrenalin and cortisol). Inmune system hoards more and more energy in detriment of other systems generating INFLAMMATION. There you have it: gluten generates inflammation.

Another thing which generates inflammation is OXIDATIVE STRESS. Energetic metabolism of the cells in the mitochondria generates free radicals. Exercise generates free radicals. This is why athletes (and everybody in general) need to eat a lot of anti-oxidants. This is normal, one of the reasons we age. However, environmental toxic substances, lifestyle and STRESS and DEPRESSION, can make it worse.

You can’t treat the body without treating the psyche

As a psychoanalyst, understanding and being aware of all these pathways and interconnections is key for your healing and successful result of your therapy because:

  • I can refer you to doctor who can help you fix physiologically your imbalance – an imbalance you might not be aware of.
  • Most importantly, I can treat you as a human being helping you understand the unconscious processes behind your disease or discomfort. What does this mean? It means our psyche, is always involved. Unconscious guilt plays a big role in getting sick and… holding the disease. You can have a healthy lifestyle but if you suffer from guilt…

I hope at this point, it makes sense that a psychoanalyst understands inflammation and the gut. Well, there is more to it: Inflammation, not only happens in the gut. It also happens in the BRAIN.

Inflammation also happens in the brain

Believe it or not, our BRAIN also has… immune system: we have the equivalent to the lymphatic system, the ‘glymphatic system”. It is in charge of getting rid of the trash generated in the mitochondria. Thanks to that, after a good night sleep we wake up refreshed. If we couldn’t sleep, we feel irascible, have food compulsion and our body cannot regulate the temperature. When we sleep well, lymphatic systems works better and hence the importance of sleep.

How many senses would you say we have? Traditionally we talk about 5: taste, smell, sight, hearing and touch. However, we also have 4 “inner” senses: immune system (communicates with all the others); endocrine system (mesures homeostasis along with central nervous system); thinking and emotions. ALL these nine SENSES, would give us a warning if we are in danger: again, let’s say there is a fire and we need to run.

Thanks to psychoanalysis, we know that the psychic apparatus is…. no where. It is not in the brain. If I am now interested in the brain is because … activation of those senses happens not only when danger is real but also when we… IMAGINE IT (and it is not real). When we have an idea, thought or worry rushing around in our head for a long time and we don’t solve it, our IMMUNE system is continuously activated. This could lead to the so feared… low-grade inflammation. And remember, at the beginning we said that this inflammation can give place to neuro-degenerative disease, autoimmune disease and … even cancer.

Do you know realise how important and … useful it is to know that… your ideas, fears and worries can lead to inflammation in the brain? This is where PSYCHOANALYSIS can help prevent disease. It helps you elaborate your conflicts and difficulties, you don’t need to sicken your body! And protecting your brain and your gut is a very good starting point:

Remember, when we talked about the gut we said 80% of the serotonin is produced there? Here is why serotonin is soo important:

There are several neurotransmitters which play important roles not only in our BRAIN but also across all the BODY.

Main neurotransmitters are:

  • Morning: DOPAMINE (physical and psychic awakening
    • NORADRENALINE / ADRENALINE —> Trigger action
  • Evening: SEROTONIN (to stop action)
  • Night: MELATONIN (to sleep)

Dopamine estimates motivation, pleasure, focus, awakening, taking initiative… it is the “starter” neurotransmitter. Serotonin regulates sleep cycle, mood, appetite, body temperature, sensitivity to pain, libido, intestinal peristalsis.

You might have heard of … Taurine, glutamate, glycine and Gabba (yes, RedBull has taurine). They are substances which can activate or deactivate these transmitters. How? By regulating chemical reactions happening in the neurons, mainly CALCIUM/MAGNESIUM exchanges. Magnesium is responsible for the activation of more than 300 metabolic reactions in the body. Its antagonist is calcium: calcium tightens and magnesium relax.

According to traditional medicine, inadequate levels of these transmitters and substances could give place to many mental disorders from insomnia, lack of focus, lack of motivation to depression and even eschizophrenia.

What could disrupt this delicate balance? INTESTINAL PERMEABILITY: if the gastro-intestinal barrier is open, it is more likely that pathogens will get in and reach the brain through the “blood-brain barrier” activating all the process we saw before. Another case in which… in order to help the brain (and hence… our whole body) we need to fix the gut!

Depression causes inflammation

More and more psychiatrists are taking into account markers which could hinter inflammation in the brain such as pro inflammatory cytokines (specially Interleukin 6). For example, if that marker is elevated and the person is depressed, they could interpret those elevated cytokines are responsible for brain inflammation and hence depression.

PSYCHOANALYSIS approach has a different angle: because that person was depressed, his brain got inflamed and hence the elevated Interleukin 6. Depression exactly the same as chronic stress can cause inflammation. There are already studies showing how psychotherapy can alter the values of cytokines. What neurologists and psychiatrist address with pills, psychoanalysis address it with therapy.

Psychoanalysis opens up new possibilities of healing that traditional medicine has not considered. They can’t because they do not take into account the concept of unconscious mind. That is why according to traditional medicine, many diseases, specially the autoimmune ones, are chronic. They treat the symptoms but they can not cure them. According to psychoanalysis, health is something to be built.