The reality of daily life is that it’s easy to become stressed or out of balance. As a nation, Australians are facing increasingly complex pressures, juggling demanding jobs, relationships, and bombardment of unsettling news through a range of media. The statistics for Australia show a dramatic increase in the rate of depression and anxiety.
We now hold the record as using the second highest amount of antidepressant medication per capita in the world, only behind Iceland. Over 25% of our population is struggling with anxiety or depression. Science is only just beginning to be able to explain why some people have a higher capacity to remain resilient to stress, while others experience alterations in brain structure and function that may lead to anxiety, depression, insomnia and/or substance abuse.
A key discovery in neurology is that stress hormones can lead to changes to the structure of particular brain regions. When exposed to excessive cortisol, the tiny root-like structures of the neurons start to shrink and die off. This basically means that prolonged stress may fry your neurons! The result is decreased capacity of the brain to deal with emotions and think rationally.
Mood disorders are more than a single, neurotransmitter imbalance. Recent research is disputing the connection of a “chemical imbalance” in the brain as being the cause of depression. Depression is a whole body disorder, with cellular energy at a mitochondrial level affecting mood and energy. Whilst the most widely prescribed antidepressants focus on serotonin within the brain, another way of viewing serotonin may be that serotonin is fundamentally used in the body to regulate energy release.
The latest research has identified a pattern of high levels of inflammation being common to those with depression. Another way of thinking of this is to view the brain as being on fire. This is not surprising as chronic cortisol exposure triggers inflammation. Other contributors to this inflammation may be poor diet, lack of exercise, chronic pain, smoking, being overweight and digestive disorders. A way of screening for this type of inflammation is by a blood test called C – reactive protein.