Too Good to Be True? Nutrients Quiet the Unquiet Brain reads like a 21st century mystery novel. It is the story of four generations touched by bipolar disorder and the efforts of David Moyer, a mental health professional, to weave his way through the sometimes baffling justice and mental health systems. There are two particularly important points we learn from his journey. Be proactive and consider everything, while accepting nothing as an absolute.
The most challenging frontier is the human brain. Once considered too complex to understand, we can now use our minds to unlock the secrets of our brain. The 1990s were the “Decade of the Brain.” The research of the last decade has launched us into a century and a millennium of increasing potential to understand the world within us. Already it is apparent that human consciousness and mental functioning are constantly impacted by a multitude of interactive systems within us and around us.
David Moyer’s journey is energized by a very powerful motivation. His father and his adult son are ill and in need of assistance. He is unwilling to accept the status quo. So too, we all have the responsibility, freedom, and empowerment to pursue opportunities for the best possible health care for our family and ourselves. We live in a free country, with freedom of information and freedom of opportunity to pursue the health care provider and methods of our choice. The Internet offers unlimited opportunities to access uncensored, worldwide sources of medical information for researchers, health care professionals and patients. Unlike medical ethics, medical information evolves on a daily basis. To use this new information effectively, we need to retain humility and flexibility, as some of the dogmatic views of the present quickly become the rejected and outmoded ideas of the future.
David Moyer’s father and son suffered from a condition we currently call “bipolar illness.” Patients with this condition display an excessive intensity of mood, cyclic mood swings, and moods that do not always appropriately reflect their current life situation. The moods of these patients are not adequately regulated. Although the symptoms of this condition are readily described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association, the actual cause or causes remain a mystery. There are theories, hypotheses, and speculation, but no one knows for sure.
Even without knowing the causes of this illness, we have treatments that are sometimes very effective, though not curative for everyone. Advances in medicine are discovered by a combination of determination, ingenuity, and luck. The most important discoveries in medicine are yet to be made. A treatment that is dramatically effective for one person may be a failure for someone else. No two people are the same, not even identical twins. Bipolar illness is a syndrome of a cluster of related symptoms that appear to have a number of different causes. But what are these causes? Knowing this will give us more insight into more effective treatment options. We must start by reviewing some basic biology.
All biological systems are in a dynamic balance with their environment. An adequately balanced ratio of different resources is needed to maintain health. An insufficient amount of any resource can result in a deficiency, while an excess of any resource or substance can cause toxicity. Either a deficiency or toxicity can cause an impairment of our functioning and regulatory processes. In addition, there is increasing evidence that low-grade trauma to the brain and body is caused by chronic low-grade infections. Some of this trauma is a direct effect from microbes such as viruses and bacteria, while some is caused by our own immune system as it is provoked into action by the presence of these microbes. Chronic stress can further compromise our recuperative abilities. The interactive effects of deficiencies, toxicity, infections, dysregulated immune effects, chronic stress and other possible causes result in a very slow and microscopic trauma to our brains. Injury to different neural pathways can result in a decline in our functional capacities, which may contribute to causing psychiatric illness and even criminal behavior in some cases.
These insights provide new treatment options. Lithium and herbs are ancient treatments. Research with infectious diseases has demonstrated that anti-microbial treatments cure some cases of mental illness. The distinction between a psychoactive medication and a nutrient is not always clear, and there is increasing evidence that nutritional approaches have their role in the treatment of mental illness. David Moyer’s findings reflect some of my clinical experience, as I have seen patients demonstrate a significant improvement of their mental symptoms from nutritional approaches. This book raises some interesting and highly relevant questions for providers as well as recipients of mental health care. It has given me some new ideas, but it has also left me with a major question. How do we combine the best of traditional psychiatric treatments with the best of innovative approaches?
I have made some very broad statements. To look at these issues in more detail, read the book and discover how one family’s journey transformed their understanding and their treatment of bipolar illness. I think you will find their journey to be most intriguing and thought-provoking. I certainly did.
Robert C. Bransfield, M.D.