It’s easy in today’s world to feel overly connected, yet lonely. Many of us have hundreds of friends on social media yet lack deep meaningful connections. The number of people who feel socially isolated is immense. Studies report anywhere between 1 out of 10 to 1 out of 5 adults suffer from loneliness. The statistics aren’t any better for teens and young adults.
This loneliness was worsened by the isolation we experienced during the pandemic. Within the first month of the COVID-19 pandemic, loneliness increased by 20 to 30 percent, and emotional distress tripled.
Loneliness is one factor that leads to future depression. Prioritizing meaningful relationships is one of the 5 modifiable lifestyle factors that are key to optimal health. I talk more about this in my book, The Path of Intention: Five Habits to Optimize Your Health and Create a Life You Love. We only have the capacity for 5 meaningful relationships in our life. Who are your top 5?
Another factor that leads to feelings of depression or anxiety is a deficiency of the brain neurotransmitters serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. As a conventional medical doctor in my former family practice office, I’d treat patients with these symptoms with SSRI, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Examples of these medications include Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, Celexa, and Lexapro. The medication Effexor is a SNRI, serotonin, and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor. The medication Wellbutrin is an NDRI, norepinephrine, and dopamine reuptake inhibitor. These medications often work. They increase the levels of the neurotransmitters in the brain by blocking their recycling. They, therefore, stay in the synapse longer, resulting in higher perceived levels.
If you are feeling depressed, how do you know which neurotransmitter you are lacking? The truth is, in conventional medicine, we didn’t. We just guessed. Good ole trial and error. Often it worked, but if it didn’t, we’d try a different one hoping we’d get it right. I remember telling patients that I wish we had a blood test that could tell us what the specific deficiency is, but we don’t. The truth is there is a test, I just didn’t know about it from my conventional training and insurance companies don’t pay for it.
Why do the neurotransmitters get low in the first place? There are 4 reasons.
- Deficiency → The neurotransmitters are made from amino acids. If you aren’t eating enough protein or digesting protein properly or absorbing the digested protein properly, you may be deficient.
- Damaged neurons → Neurons in the brain can be physically damaged (for example: concussion) or metabolically damaged by toxin exposure.
- Genetics → Some people are genetically predisposed to poor neurotransmitter production.
- Gut dysfunction → 95% of serotonin and 50% of dopamine are produced in the gut. Gut health and brain health are closely interconnected.
In my conventional medical practice, I used the prescription medications referred to above to help patients feel better by making it seem like the concentration of the neurotransmitters was higher in the brain than they actually are.
Functional medicine, on the other hand, is all about root cause resolution. First, we identify through testing which neurotransmitters need to be replaced. Then, we give natural precursors so the body can make more of the neurotransmitters. If there is a deficiency problem, it usually corrects pretty quickly, within 3 months. If there are damaged neurons, it’s important to figure out where the damage is coming from and fix that, if possible, while supporting neurotransmitter production. If the problem is genetic, treatment is likely needed lifelong. And of course, we always need to be striving for a healthy gut. A healthy gut equals a healthy you.
What you eat matters. It isn’t just about calories, it’s about nutrients. Our food can be taking us down a path of inflammation and malnourishment OR down a path of nourishment and optimal health. Which path do you choose? Every tiny step matters. They don’t all need to be forward, just more steps forward than backward. You’ve got this, my friend. [vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][vc_cta h2=”Take the Next Step in Your Journey” h4=”Sign up for Dr. Libby’s Enrollment List to work with her one-on-one; take back your health – and your life!” add_button=”bottom” btn_title=”Sign Up” btn_style=”custom” btn_custom_background=”#ecaa00″ btn_custom_text=”#ffffff” btn_link=”url:https%3A%2F%2Fbestlifefunctionalmedicine.com%2Fwork-with-dr-libby%2F”]Signing up for Dr. Libby’s enrollment list grants you access to exclusive information to learn more about what it looks like to work with her one-on-one. You will learn more about her approach to functional medicine and have the opportunity to apply to work with her on an individual level.[/vc_cta][/vc_column_inner]