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The Truth About Mental Illness and Its Causes, Part II

Author: Robert Brocato

This article is Part II of a three part series.

How the Body Influences the Chemicals in the Brain

Brain chemicals don’t exist in a vacuum in the head. The whole body takes part in producing the chemistry that ultimately affects our moods: healthy body, healthy mind! What we eat and other environmental factors that affect our bodies can also change the chemical balance in our brains.

  • Brain chemical imbalance usually has a root cause somewhere else in the body. Often getting to the root cause of the body’s imbalance is more effective than treating the imbalanced brain chemicals alone.  
  • What we eat has a profound impact on neurotransmitter production and balance through nutrition absorption, through immune system response, and through gut microbiota influence.
  • The gut microbiota of foreign microbes and their relative mix of populations can have a profound impact on our mood.
    95% of the human serotonin is produced in the gut for example. The vagus nerve connects the gut to the brain, and a two-way communication takes place. Part of this communication includes neurotransmitter information sent from gut to brain.
  • Outside chemical influence from our environment may alter brain chemicals. In addition to the food we eat, other environmental factors have an influence. Chemical toxins, overloads in otherwise beneficial substances such as copper, and interpersonal stressors are examples of outside environmental factors that may influence brain chemical balance.
  • Physical activity or the lack thereof can affect our minds and moods as well.

The Role of Thoughts and Events

This section will help you see the psychological influencers. At core, psychology can be thought of as the brain affecting the brain. Being such a complex organ, it is possible for the brain to impact the brain through what it is exposed to and through the thoughts you teach it to think.

  • Exposure to traumatic events whether short or long in duration may alter brain chemistry and affect neurotransmitter balance and production.
  • Various parts of the brain may be healthier and can have an impact on the other parts of the brain that may be less healthy. In other words, if we can tap into those parts of the brain that are still working, sometimes we can reset other parts of the brain that are out of balance. This is primarily the way in which talk therapy may work for some people.
  • Relaxation and other mind techniques can affect our mental health in a positive direction. For example, stress reduction techniques may help with serotonin production while it is helping with other aspects of our health throughout the body. For example, stress reduction may help heart disease as well as brain function.
  • Other illnesses may also be affected by tapping into healthy brain functions.
    For example, laughing our way to healing is very real and may help certain individuals. As the Bible says, “A cheerful heart is good medicine…” (Prov. 17:22a NIV).
  • Conversely negative thoughts may destroy health. “…a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” (Prov. 17:22b NIV).

The Role of Genetics

Not that long ago, it was thought to be a good idea to sterilize those with mental illness to not allow people to be born with inherited mental conditions. (This continued into the 1960s in the United States).  Today, we know what a very wrong-headed idea this is. Just about everyone has some genetic proclivity of one sort or another to have brain chemical imbalances. For example, only about 25% of the people in the world have no genetic SNPs (variations) in the MTHFR gene. So, 75% of us have a dirty MTHFR gene in varying ways. This one gene, above all others is often a major player in determining mental health tendencies. Now consider that there are many other genes that could also give tendencies toward mood conditions: COMT, DAO, MAOA, and others. In fact, we would need to sterilize everyone if we followed through with the logic that genetic tendencies determine outcomes. Besides this, given enough stress, even a person with perfect genes can develop mental health conditions.

  • Our genes carry inherited messages to our offspring making them more or less prone to develop mood disorders.
    These genetic codes are very likely not to change over time (for the most part). In other words, you are born with them. These genes may give a person a proclivity toward a particular mental illness condition or other condition. No one has perfect genes, so this applies to all of us in some sense to one degree or another.
  • The environment also plays a large role in the development of brain chemical imbalances. Our genes usually do not determine the outcome by themselves. Rather, having a proclivity is just that in most cases. A mental illness condition is therefore usually a combination of genetics and environment. In other words, two identical twins with the exact same genes may not always both develop schizophrenia. One may have it, and the other may not. Both have the proclivity for it, but both have different environments: the food they eat, the diseases they catch, the places they live, the stresses they encounter, etc.
  • Given enough stress in an environment, almost everyone can develop a mental illness condition regardless of genetics. For example, if a person has no gene variations at all and they go without Niacin (vitamin B3) for a significant amount of time they will develop Pellagra. One of the symptoms of Pellagra is mania. 
  • In addition to fixed, hard-coded messages, our genes also carry environmental messages to our offspring. It has been tested and repeated that mice born from purposely stressed-out parent mice tend to reflect anxiety through inheritance. They produce stressed-out, brain imbalanced offspring.
    • The Bible has much more in view here than just inherited traits, but genetic messaging does seem to fit in one passage of the Bible. To some extent, this may be part of what is described in the Bible when it says, “…visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me…” (Exo. 20:5b, NKJV). Additionally, it promises, “… but showing mercy to thousands, of those who love Me and keep My commandments.” (Exo. 20:6, NKJV).  

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This article is Part II of a three part series.