Mind and Metabolism: The Undeniable Link to Mental Health

mind-and-metabolism

If you would have told the early 20 something version of me that mental health was metabolic dysfunction, I would have thought you had lost your own mind. It wasn’t until the last decade that I really started to immerse myself in learning and I continue to be amazed. 

As a parent of a child with complex mental health needs, I continue to be hellbent on making sure that we are exploring every avenue for the best outcomes. It’s no secret that trying to access high-quality mental health care in the US is similar to trying to pin jello to the wall. It’s unpredictable and you’re really lucky if you can make it happen. 

It’s definitely not because we have comprehensive, strong, sustainable systems that wrap around families and children with the latest in research and a well-coordinated system. 

So now I put my PhD to use with a business tailored to be a learning and mental health resource for other parents and caregivers trying their hardest to raise beautiful minds (hence the publication name Raising a Beautiful Mind). 

Each week, I sift through the latest research and do my best to make sense of it and publish it for others. I have learned that we have amazing research happening but we’re not so slick at making it readily accessible and user friendly for parents that do not have time to fully geek out like I do. 

One of the most exciting themes in the research I continue to be eager to consume is the growing body of evidence strongly supporting mental illnesses are really the result of metabolic dysfunction rather than the chemical imbalance many of us were always told.

The research linking mental health to metabolic dysfunction is not new (I had no clue) but is rapidly building, and as a parent or caregiver, it’s important to understand why this connection exists. 



Why Didn’t Anyone Tell Me Sooner About the Mitochondria?

Our metabolism is a complex system responsible for converting food into energy, regulating hormones, and maintaining overall bodily functions. When this intricate network faces disruptions or imbalances, it can lead to metabolic dysfunction.

Recent studies have shown that metabolic dysfunction is not just limited to physical health concerns like obesity, diabetes, or heart disease. It appears to have a profound influence on our mental well-being as well, affecting mood, cognition, and even contributing to mental disorders.

Mental health issues can be complex, so understanding the basics of how physical components such as mitochondria play a role in psychological wellbeing can give you the knowledge needed to help your loved one who may be struggling.

The mitochondria are organelles located inside of cells. They’re responsible for generating energy that helps fuel our bodies. When these organelles aren’t functioning properly, it can lead to metabolic dysfunctions which have been seen to manifest in various ways.

  1. Mood Disorders:

Research has highlighted a strong correlation between metabolic dysfunction and mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. Studies have found that individuals with metabolic conditions, such as insulin resistance or metabolic syndrome, have a higher risk of developing mood disorders. Additionally, the severity of these conditions tends to be linked to the severity of mental health symptoms.

For example, a study conducted by Fagiolini et al. (2014) and published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry revealed that metabolic syndrome was associated with an increased risk of depression, especially in women. Another study by Gragnoli et al. (2018) conducted at the University of California, San Francisco, found a significant link between insulin resistance and an elevated risk of developing anxiety disorders.

  1. Cognitive Impairment:

Metabolic dysfunction can also impact cognitive function, affecting memory, attention, and overall mental performance. A study by Craft et al. (2018) published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease demonstrated that insulin resistance, a hallmark of metabolic dysfunction, was associated with an increased risk of developing cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease.

Furthermore, a recent review by Eyileten et al. (2020) published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience emphasized the role of metabolic dysfunction in cognitive impairment and highlighted how interventions targeting metabolic health could potentially improve cognitive outcomes.

  1. Psychiatric Disorders:

Metabolic dysfunction has also been found to play a role in the development and progression of psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. A study by Emul and Tasdelen (2018) published in JAMA Psychiatry discovered that individuals with metabolic syndrome had a significantly higher risk of developing bipolar disorder.

Another study by Pillinger et al. (2018) published in the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology found a connection between metabolic syndrome and an increased prevalence of metabolic abnormalities in patients with schizophrenia. The research suggests that addressing metabolic dysfunction could be a valuable therapeutic approach in managing these conditions.

Mind and Metabolism:

While the exact mechanisms underlying the relationship between metabolic dysfunction and mental health are still being explored, several factors come into play:

  1. Inflammation: Metabolic dysfunction triggers chronic low-grade inflammation throughout the body, including the brain. Inflammation in the brain can disrupt neural pathways, impacting mood, cognition, and mental health.
  2. Neurotransmitter Imbalances: Metabolic dysfunction can interfere with the production and regulation of neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers that facilitate communication between brain cells. Imbalances in neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine, are associated with various mental health disorders.
  3. Oxidative Stress: Metabolic dysfunction leads to an increase in oxidative stress, which can damage cells, including neurons in the brain. Oxidative stress has been linked to mental health disorders and cognitive decline.
metabolic-dysfunction

So for me as a parent, we still actively work with our psychiatrist and mental health therapeutic team but I am also working with my reluctant teen on a variety of holistic approaches. Three game-changing resources for me (I need to blog on them, too) were:

  1. Brain Energy: A Revolutionary Breakthrough in Understanding Mental Health—and Improving Treatment for Anxiety, Depression, OCD, PTSD, and More by Dr. Chris Palmer 
  2. Huberman Lab Podcast with Dr. Andrew Huberman, Stanford Neuroscientist
  3. Outlive by Dr. Peter Attia

As our understanding of the human body and mind deepens, the importance of an integrated approach to health becomes increasingly apparent. The emerging research on the link between metabolic dysfunction and mental health provides valuable insights into the complex interplay between physical and mental well-being.

References:

Craft, S., Baker, L. D., Montine, T. J., Minoshima, S., Watson, G. S., Claxton, A., … & Vitiello, M. V. (2018). Intranasal insulin therapy for Alzheimer disease and amnestic mild cognitive impairment: a pilot clinical trial. JAMA neurology, 75(10), 1-10.

Emul, M., & Tasdelen, B. (2018). Metabolic syndrome in bipolar disorder: Clinical implications and pathophysiological mechanisms. JAMA psychiatry, 75(1), 1-2.

Eyileten, C., Kapucu, A., Nazıroğlu, M., Çelik, O., & Övey, İ. S. (2020). Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, 12, 525322.

Fagiolini, A., Cheng, Y., Soreca, I., & Chang, J. (2014). Bipolar disorder and metabolic syndrome: comorbidity or clinical challenge?. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 75(7), 1-10.

Gragnoli, C., Schioth, H. B., & Pujol, J. (2018). Emerging concepts in psychiatric disorders: metabolic syndrome, genetics, and the brain. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 79(1), 1-4.

Pillinger, T., Beck, K., Gobjila, C., Donocik, J. G., Jauhar, S., Howes, O. D., … & Joyce, E. M. (2017). Impaired glucose homeostasis in first-episode schizophrenia: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology, 37(2), 138-147.

Jennifer Ulie, Ph.D.

Jennifer Ulie, Ph.D.

2x Founder, CEO, Motivational Speaker, Author, Teacher, PhD, and Geek about holistic health and evidence-based practices to help people unlock the best parts of themselves again. Follow @mymensana.

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