Understanding the Functional Approach is Key


bundant research now supports the concept that distorted immune responses can impact mental health.

Immunity not only protects us from pathogens like viruses and bacteria, it also gears up when we’re exposed to pollution in our air, water and food.

The challenge that living in a highly industrialized world presents to our immune systems is different in important ways from the pathogenic forces against which it evolved to protect us. Microbial exposures tend to come and go. Industrial toxins tend to stick around after they enter the air, the water table, the food supply and our bodies.

When our immune systems activate, the cytokines and other chemical messengers they generate induce “sickness behavior,” our tendency to become grumpy, to desire being left alone, feeling fatigued and craving peace, quiet and solitude. This concept rests in part on the recognition that, under the conditions in which humans lived for millennia, a reasonable degree of isolation not only freed up much of an individual’s energy for healing but also served to offer a degree of protection to others in the tribe from infection.

Bottom line: exposure to industrial pollutants in air, water and food can ruin our mood and make progress in therapy more challenging.1,2,3,4,5,6

Cytokines, the chemical messengers that carry the call to inflammatory arms from one part of the immune system to another, rise and fall with feelings of social disconnection and depressed mood.7 So do other pro-inflammatory control pathways.8,9 We tend to dismiss positive social interactions, and overfocus on the negative when we’re inflamed10 and social anxiety increases inflammation.,11 Not only that, but it’s easy to become addicted to things that inflame us,12,13 and research shows pro-inflammatory foods increase the risk of severity of syndromes such as schizophrenia.14

Inflammation is involved in perinatal programming of the developing fetus’ brain in ways that can later contribute to depression, obesity, autism and even schizophrenia.15 Babies of women exposed to air pollution when they were pregnant give birth to children who later express autism at significantly higher rates.16,17,18,19 One study looking into this association documented it in Los Angeles, the town were I was born.20

But while being the child of an inflamed mother may not be the best preparation for life, it’s not only children who suffer. Adults who are inflamed also become depressed, anxious, bipolar or worse.21,22,23

And it’s not just environmental pollution with which we need be concerned. Inflammation can have many sources: chronic infections can cause inflammation contributing to schizophrenia and bipolar features.24

The good news: reducing food-generated inflammation is entirely doable and helps reduce anxiety and depression.25,26,27

Inflammation, Immunity & Agricultural Chemicals

A great place to start one’s exploration of what happens when modern agricultural practices meet the human body is this gripping twenty-five minute video by Zach Bush, MD.

He hits all the right notes as he pins the blame for humanity’s current epidemic of inflammatory diseases squarely where it belongs: the chemical industry. It seems that rather than bringing us better living, Big Ag has gotten addicted to the classic post-capitalist style of pushing short-term productivity at the long term cost of our health.

Find it online here.

Learn More About How Immunity and Inflammation Impact Mental Health

Knowledge is power. Understanding the impact that modern levels of ambient industrial pollutants have on our mental health is the first step towards harnessing new research and clinical models to clean our heart and minds. This is one way to support inner peace, especially when other routes haven’t come through all on their own.

The machinery on which the body runs is wet, soft, easily spoiled, wiggly.
It depends on complex solutions of organic molecules dancing intricate metabolic minuets.

Inflammation is a little like throwing a handful of fine grit into the machinery. So first let’s take a look at what it is inflammation messes with.

The animators at Harvard Extension outdid themselves when they put together this three-minute visualization of the metabolic structures and pathways in action inside the cell.

The intricate dance of proteins, peptides, receptors, membranes, cellular organelles … all of this works best, like any other complex system, when it’s kept clean.

These are the delicate structures sandblasted by the grit inflammation blows into their world.

Mitochondria are the powerhouses of our cells.

Their structural and genetic resemblance to bacteria has led to speculation that aeons ago early bacteria struck a bargain with early cells: we’ll make energy for you if you protect us from a harsh environment.

The deal, if it indeed was that, seems to have worked out pretty well for all involved.

It’s surprisingly easy to become addicted to our favorite foods, especially if we eat them every day.

This article explains how all that works: stress hormones are released when immune systems gear up, these pull sugar into the bloodstream and that gives us a strong neuroendocrine reward.

Even while leaving us inflamed.

This excerpt from 60 Minutes’ The Flavorists is strong medicine for anyone in denial about corporate goals when it comes to designer foods.

It’s a two-minute grab of the pivotal moment in the full 13-minute video to the right or just below.

In this segment of Robert Lustig’s viral vid The Bitter Truth, Lustig explains the economics of fiber removal from the Standard American Diet.

It seems it’s easier to store, ship and prep fast food when the fiber is gone.

Of course this also removes a healthy microbiome’s prime fuel source and so helps set the stage for the chronic inflammatory diseases of modern life when the microbes that prefer the kinds of nutrients found in industrialized diets take over from the ones we’ve lived with since time immemorial.

The Bitter Truth is Robert Lustig MD’s entrance into online celebrity.

Lustig deconstructs the dodgy statistics behind the science behind the low fat prevents heart disease, suggesting why that approach appears to have accomplished the opposite of what it intended.

The reason: quantities of fructose far in excess of anything our ancestors would have encountered before industrialization. With one exception, as we’ll see:

The wealthy and powerful.

A look at the two-way communication between the brain and the gut.

Turns out the microbes that inhabit our digestive tracts may have a little more to do with the choices we think we’re making with our brains than we realize.

Fermented foods, for those who can tolerate them, are the richest and least expensive ways to feed healthy bacteria into the gut.

The more we introduce microbes that live in harmony with us, the harder it is for pathogenic microbes (the ones that keep us inflamed) to survive.

Some people are histamine-intolerant however, and since fermented foods tend to contain lots of histamine this approach may not work for everyone.

One of the earliest groups organized around industrialized food’s impact on behavior was the Feingold Association. Building from the success of a best-selling book, Russ Feingold inspired millions of parents to put their children on cleaner, less-industrialized diets.

This vid’s a great introduction to the movement.

By far the most charming intro to any of these approaches to understanding links between nutrition, inflammation and mental health is a series called Presley’s Perspective. Starting quite young, this series documents the progress of Presley, a child raised without the exposures to artificial colors and flavors so common in today’s kids’ foods.

As you’ll see … Presley’s entirely capable of speaking for themself.

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 2. Kelley KW, Kent S. The Legacy of Sickness Behaviors. Front Psychiatry. 2020 Dec 3;11:607269.

 3. Eisenberger NI, Moieni M, Inagaki TK, et al. In Sickness and in Health: The Co-Regulation of Inflammation and Social Behavior. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2017 Jan;42(1):242-253.

 4. Engler H, Benson S, Wegner A, et al. Men and women differ in inflammatory and neuroendocrine responses to endotoxin but not in the severity of sickness symptoms. Brain Behav Immun. 2016 Feb;52:18-26.

 5. Lasselin J, Elsenbruch S, Lekander M, et al. Mood disturbance during experimental endotoxemia: Predictors of state anxiety as a psychological component of sickness behavior. Brain Behav Immun. 2016 Jan 11. pii: S0889-1591(16)30003-4.

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 7. Eisenberger NI, Inagaki TK, Mashal NM, Irwin MR. Inflammation and social experience: an inflammatory challenge induces feelings of social disconnection in addition to depressed mood. Brain Behav Immun. 2010 May;24(4):558-63.

 8. Irwin MR, Cole S, Olmstead R, et al. Moderators for depressed mood and systemic and transcriptional inflammatory responses: a randomized controlled trial of endotoxin. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2019 Feb;44(3):635-641.

 9. Figueroa-Hall LK, Paulus MP, Savitz J. Toll-Like Receptor Signaling in Depression. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2020. 121: 104843.

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11. Moieni M, Irwin MR, Jevtic I, et al. Trait sensitivity to social disconnection enhances pro-inflammatory responses to a randomized controlled trial of endotoxin. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2015 Dec;62:336-42.

12. Petrulli JR, Kalish B, et al. Systemic inflammation enhances stimulant-induced striatal dopamine elevation. Transl Psychiatry. 2017 Mar 28;7(3):e1076.

13. Wallace CW, Fordahl SC. Obesity and dietary fat influence dopamine neurotransmission: Exploring the convergence of metabolic state, physiological stress, and inflammation on dopaminergic control of food intake. Nutr Res Rev. 2021 Jun 28;1-42.

14. Cha HY, Yang SJ. Anti-Inflammatory Diets and Schizophrenia. Clin Nutr Res. 2020 Oct 28;9(4):241-257.

15. Bolton JL, Bilbo SD. Developmental programming of brain and behavior by perinatal diet: focus on inflammatory mechanisms. Dialogues Clin Neurosci. 2014 Sep;16(3):307-20.

16. Volk HE, Hertz-Picciotto I, et al. Residential proximity to freeways and autism in the CHARGE study. Environ Health Perspect. 2011 Jun;119(6):873-7.

17. Volk HE, Lurmann F, et al. Traffic-related air pollution, particulate matter, and autism. JAMA Psychiatry. 2013 Jan;70(1):71-7.

18. Kalkbrenner AE, Windham GC, et al. Air Toxics in Relation to Autism Diagnosis, Phenotype, and Severity in a U.S. Family-Based Study. Environ Health Perspect. 2018 Mar 12;126(3):037004.

19. Young AM, Chakrabarti B, et al. From molecules to neural morphology: understanding neuroinflammation in autism spectrum condition. Mol Autism. 2016 Jan 20;7:9.

20. Becerra TA, Wilhelm M, et al. Ambient air pollution and autism in Los Angeles county, California. Environ Health Perspect. 2013 Mar;121(3):380-6.

21. Michopoulos V, Powers A, et al. Inflammation in Fear- and Anxiety-Based Disorders: PTSD, GAD, and Beyond. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2017 Jan;42(1):254-270.

22. Felger JC. Imaging the Role of Inflammation in Mood and Anxiety-related Disorders. Curr Neuropharmacol. 2018;16(5):533-558.

23. Howes OD, McCutcheon R. Inflammation and the neural diathesis-stress hypothesis of schizophrenia: a reconceptualization. Transl Psychiatry. 2017 Feb 7;7(2):e1024.

24. Tanaka T, Matsuda T, et al. Infection and inflammation in schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Neurosci Res. 2017 Feb;115:59-63.

25. Chong HX, Yusoff NAA, Hor YY, et al. Lactobacillus plantarum DR7 alleviates stress and anxiety in adults: a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Benef Microbes. 2019 Apr 19;10(4):355-373.

26. Lu C, Gao R, Zhang Y, et al. S-equol, a metabolite of dietary soy isoflavones, alleviates lipopolysaccharide-induced depressive-like behavior in mice by inhibiting neuroinflammation and enhancing synaptic plasticity. Food Funct. 2021 May 26. doi: 10.1039/d1fo00547b.

27. Kalkman HO, Hersberger M, Walitza S, Berger GE. Disentangling the Molecular Mechanisms of the Antidepressant Activity of Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid: A Comprehensive Review of the Literature. Int J Mol Sci. 2021 Apr 22;22(9):4393.

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