X is for Xenoestrogens

sugar skull

X- is also for X-ray. Here’s a fancy skull for you.

I knew “X” would be a difficult letter. I know very few words that start with “X” never mind words that have to do with mental health. I settled on xenoestrogens. I’ve been seeing this term pop up  more frequently lately and I didn’t know much about it, so I thought I would educate myself at the same time. There are plant and fungal-derived xenoestrogens, but the ones I’m referring to are the synthetic, industrial kind. You are probably familiar with some of them; polychlorinated bipehenol (PCBs), bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates.

Why am I talking about xenoestrogens when I’m writing a mental health blog? High levels of xenoestrogens (causing estrogen dominance) cause symptoms similar to depression. Whenever I see a new doctor, they want to check my thyroid to make sure that’s not the cause of depression. No one has ever wanted to test my estrogen levels before. Here are some of the symptoms high levels of xenoestrogens share with depression;

  • Anxiety
  • decreased sex drive
  • weight changes
  • fatigue
  • migraines
  • headaches
  • insomnia
  • irratability
  • memory loss

Hmm,  maybe I should get my estrogen levels checked.

Xenoestrogens are similar in structure to the estrogen produced by our endocrine system. They mimic the function of estrogen in our bodies, except they are more potent. The Endocrine Society views xenoestrogens as environmental hazards to humans and wildlife. They interfere with natural hormonal signalling causing precocious puberty in children and complications of the reproductive system (example: cancer) in adults. They act as free radicals turning on genes and causing hormonal imbalances that contribute to conditions like cancer and estrogen dominance.

The impact of xenoestrogens is becoming a great concern in first world countries. Estrogen levels in individuals living in America are incredibly high compared to those living in undeveloped countries. This is because in developed countries, we contact these compounds everyday. They are used in agriculture to fatten animals up and in fertilizers to ensure good crops. This means you’ll find them in all non-organic produce. They are also used in water, plastics, household cleaners and cosmetics/toiletries. I use all of these on a daily basis and I’ve never really considered what’s in them. My strategy for buying products is what works best and costs the least. I think that’s a strategy a lot of people use. I know it’s better to buy organic meat, fresh, raw vegetables and avoid processed foods. I’ve also heard about food absorbing xenoestrogens from the plastic containers or saran wrap they are stored in and I know not to microwave food in plastic, but what I didn’t know was the threat posed by cosmeticstoiletries. This includes not only make-up, but lotions, soaps, sunscreens and your plastic toothbrush. I admit I don’t pay attention to what’s in my cosmetics/toiletries. I buy whatever has SPF in it and is not tested on animals. Xenoestrogens are 10 times more potent when absorbed through the skin! Eek! Reading this sent me to the bathroom to read the ingredients on all my make-up! The results were not good. Here’s a good website to learn about what is in your cosmetics/toiletries and how harmful they are: http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/

I wonder if I ate organic and eliminated xenoestrogens from my diet and household products, would it make a difference in my mental health? Does anyone do this? Have you noticed a difference? I would love to hear from you!

Sources:

Skin Deep

Olga’s Whole Life

Center for Brain

Better Nutrition Magazine

V is for Visceral Voices

When I say visceral voices, I mean thoughts, your inner monologue or self-talk. The thought processes that occur so naturally that you often over look them. Often in anxiety and depression these visceral voices lean towards the negative. You have to take the time to learn to recognize when you are having a negative thought and challenge it.

When I think of negative self-talk, I imagine the angel and the devil on my shoulders battling it out. But what if it was more complex than that? According to Edmund Bourne’s Anxiety and Phobia workbook, there are four main types of negative-self talk; the victim, the worrier, the critic and the perfectionist. I can see components of all 4 personas in my internal monologue. No wonder the angel is often overwhelmed, the odds are 4 to 1!

The Angel and The Devil

The Angel and The Devil

 

The Victim. Characterized by feelings of hopelessness, the victim usually contributes to both anxiety and depression. I give myself anxiety by telling myself that I’m not making enough progress, that I’m not smart enough to complete the task at hand. Depression comes from the sense of being unworthy. I will never achieve my goals, nor do I deserve to. It’s the everything sucks and will never get better attitude. I don’t intend to have this attitude, in fact, I don’t want it. It’s just so subtle and innate that I don’t realize I’m doing it until I reflect on the situation.

The Worrier. Anxiety is created by imagining the worst-case scenario and anticipating embarrassment and/or failure. The worrier is always apprehensive and on the lookout for trouble. I know I do this. My reasoning is that I want to be prepared and able to handle the worst-case scenario, but in doing this I create dread, so I’m not really doing myself any favours.

The Critic. This voice promotes low self-esteem. I am constantly comparing myself to others, evaluating my behaviour and magnifying my mistakes. This makes me feel like a failure most of the time.

The Perfectionist. A state of chronic stress is created by thinking nothing is ever good enough, I should be working harder, I should always have everything under control. I am only worth the sum of my external achievements.

4 to 1

To combat these attitudes, I’ve been told to give myself positive counter-statements. Sounds easy, logical. The problem is getting myself to believe the positive talk. I’m hoping an open mind and some repetition will do it.

R is for Recent Research

Researchers are always looking for new antidepressants since current methods are not putting all individuals with depression in remission. Approximately one third of patients with depression are resistant to current treatments. A recent proposal has been Ketamine aka Special K. Its mood altering properties are often enjoyed by club goers. Yes, it’s most commonly known as a street drug, but before you rule it out, note that is has been used in medicine safely for over 40 years! Veterinarians use Ketamine as a tranquilizer for cats and horses. Doctors use it in anesthesia during surgery. In fact, even dentists use it because it doesn’t have cardiac or respiratory effects. This is why dentists are able to put you under, without having all the equipment that a hospital has. Ketamine is commonly used in third world countries where medical monitoring equipment is in short supply. Something else that makes Ketamine safe is it’s half-life. This is how long the drug stays active in the body. Ketamine has a half-life of 3 hours, which is not long enough to cause any neurotoxicity. This is great, but it also means that the antidepressant effects will wear off as well.

A recent study showed that 71% of treatment-resistant bipolar sufferers responded to Ketamine. The primary side effects were mild dissociative symptoms, but this was only reported during infusion (first 40min.). A UK study found that participants who responded to Ketamine found relief within days after infusion. Days?! Can you imagine a treatment where you didn’t have wait a month or more just to find out if it works!? The same study reported the beneficial effects of Ketamine to last anywhere between 25 days and 8 months. A third study found Ketamine in the form of a nasal spray to be just as potent as intravenous administration. Researchers are also hoping that Ketamine could be a substitute for electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) which is usually used for those with treatment resistant depression. ECT has had some positive results, but memory loss has been reported as a side effect. This doesn’t happen with Ketamine.

Much of what we currently know about Ketamine is from its use in anesthesia. So we know a one-time dose has no detrimental effects, but what about long-term usage? It may be that the ability of the brain to process the drug decreases over time. Studies on Ketamine-dependent individuals show changes in white matter in the brain.

Ketamine has potential. I think it would be great if it were available as a medical rescue for people who come to the ER in crisis, but it has a long way to go before it’s ready for the market.

red rose

R is for Red Rose too!

P is for Plasticity

I had a plethora of “P” words; Prozac, psychology, psychiatry, polarized thinking, phobias, panic attacks, perfectionism, pet therapy, powerlessness, Post Partum Depression and Psychotic Depression. I think this was the longest list of options I’ve had for any letter. The problem is, none of them inspired me. Well, that’s not true, I wrote about perfectionism and pet therapy recently. I was actually pretty happy with my perfectionism post. Read it if you get a chance.

Finally, I stumbled over plasticity, which I thought was a good word. Plasticity is the ability to be malleable and resilient. It was once thought that the mature brain was fixed, unable to repair damage. This is no longer the case, science has shown that the brain changes throughout life. It is plastic. Learning a new skill like a language for example, causes new connections between neurons to be made in the language area of the brain. This takes mere minutes. If you don’t use what you have learned and forget, the brain shrinks and and those connections are lost.

It has been shown that those who suffer from chronic stress, like those with anxiety and depression, have less brain plasticity. The hippocampus, the area of the brain for learning and memory, is highly influenced by stress hormones. Under chronic stress, the neurons in that part of the brain retract causing connects to be fewer and less efficient. This coincides with the difficulties in concentrating and remembering experienced by those with depression.

The damage caused by stress is not permanent though. Things like exercise and socializing can improve the connections in your brain. People with depression can have recovery of their lost connections through treatment with antidepressants that promote neurogenesis (the growth of neurons). Studies have shown that recovery from anxiety/depression with selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) coincides with the formation of new neurons in the hippocampus.

portrait 2

This has nothing to do with anything, but “Portrait” is a “P” word, so here it is.

Natural Remedies for Depression

Marilyn Manson sang the lyrics “I don’t like the drugs, but the drugs like me”. He wasn’t talking about anti-depressants, but that is often how I feel about them. I wish I weren’t taking them, but my body does better on them. Emotionally, I feel better on them and they help with the pains and lack of energy.  I did try going off antidepressants once. I was off for almost 8 months. It was a scary 8 months, let’s just put it that way.

home remediesOften drugs just mask the symptoms of depression. They don’t get to the root of the problem. The experts say the best way to treat depression is with psychological work and inner reflection. You need to focus on your self-esteem, healing wounds and psychological growth. This takes a long time. People usually take to antidepressants to start to feel better in the short-term. If you are against medication or haven’t been able to find one that works there are some natural remedies you can try. Here are some of them.

 

Acupuncture.

Acupuncture has become more popular, but it is still treated with suspicion. How can treating the body help the mind? With Eastern Medicine, the mind and body are seen as one hollistic system, treatment of one affects the other. Studies have shown that acupuncture works best as part of a treatment regiment along with diet and psyhcotherapy. A 2013 study compared three groups of people with moderate depression receiving different treatments. One group got acupuncture, the second group had pyschotherapy and the third was given the usual care you would get from your family doctor. After 3 months, those in the acupuncture and psychotherapy groups were neck and neck with improvement. Approximately 30% of the people in each group reduced their depressive symptoms by 50%. After 12 months, all three groups had shown the same amount of improvement. What does this tell us? Time heals all wounds, but acupuncture and/or psychotherapy may give you a jump-start.

Herbs.

  • St. John’s Wort – This a common ingredient in herbal teas. Studies have proven it’s potency as a mood improver. You have to be careful when taking it though, it has been known to interfere with the effectiveness of other prescription medications. Also, if taken with certain anti-depressants, it can lead to life threatening increases in serotonin. It’s best to talk to your doctor before trying this one.
  • Valerian Root – Many drugs are synthetic versions of compounds found in herbs. Valerian root is one of these, used to make Valium. It has been used for centuries to relieve insomnia. People often put it in their baths to help them relax. More recently, it has also been used to treat muscle/joint pain, mild tremors, chronic fatigue syndrome and attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder. It acts as a central nervous system sedative and has been shown to be safe in short-term use. The results of long-term use are still unknown. One of the side effects is feeling sluggish the morning after taking it. It’s not recommended to take other CNS depressants (alcohol, Xanax, Benzodiazepines) while taking valerian root.

Diet.

What you put in your body can have an effect on your mood in the short-term and the long-term. A poor diet can create chemical imbalances which can worsen the symptoms of depression. Cutting out harmful foods can make a difference in the short-term. This is hard for some people (like me) who find comfort in eating. Comfort eating leads to weight gain which just perpetuates the depression cycle. Sugary carbs are bad for serotonin levels too. It’s recommended to stick with whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats. Looking in the mirror and seeing a healthier you will give you more confidence.

Studies show that people with depression have low levels of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). These are synthesized from omega-3 fatty acids and are important in brain functions. Omega-3s are essential fatty acids, meaning they are needed by our bodies but can only be obtained from diet. Studies show that consuming more fish raises levels of EPA and DHA relieving moderate to severe depression symptoms. Apparently adding omega-3s to your diet doesn’t work as well for those with milder forms of depression.

Natural Remedies to Avoid

  • Marijuana – Many people have told me to just smoke a joint and I’ll feel better. Many people self-medicate with marijuana because the initial high is relaxing allowing them to forget their troubles. Marijuana however, is a depressant and over the long term leads to a greater chemical imbalance in the brain and a deeper depression.
  • Alcohol – This is also a CNS depressant and will have the same effect as marijuana in the long-term.

Does any of this really work?

There are enough scientific studies to suggest these remedies do help some, but it is recommended that they be used in conjunction with other therapies and not on their own. I haven’t tried acupuncture. The thought of needles gives me the heebie-geebies. I wouldn’t mind trying the valerian root in a bath because it wouldn’t interact with my medications that way. That would involve actually taking a bath. I’m a shower person, I don’t think I’ve taken a bath since I was young enough to bring my little pony in the tub with me. Actually, my apartment doesn’t even have a tub.

I have been trying to change my diet. I’ve been eating a lot more veggies, sticking to lean protein and having salmon more often. I do feel better when I eat cleaner. It’s the dessert that is hard for me to give up. Today someone recommended that I try giving up wheat. They said it improves their mood. I think I’ll give that a try next.

If there is something you have tried that worked for you? I’d love to hear about it!

Sources:

WebMDMacPherson et al., 2013
National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine

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