Let’s give the floor to Professor Brant Cortright, author and psychiatrist, on the power of neuroplasticity. “I think there are more neurotoxins in the environment than there have ever been before…”
Anxiety, depression and cognitive decline: what findings today?
These three phenomena break records compared to what they were 50 years ago. Rates of anxiety, depression and cognitive decline – even among young people – are much higher than before. Schoolchildren today have eight times higher rates of anxiety and five to eight times higher rates of depression. And it’s not thanks to better diagnosis.
These conclusions stem from the same standardized tests used in the 1960s. One in four women between the ages of 20 and 45 takes an antidepressant. Alzheimer’s rates are five times higher than they were then. It is alarming to see that these problems also concern young people, and are skyrocketing.
For what ? One reason is that there are common brain mechanisms behind these three disorders. They have different psychological mechanisms, similar brain mechanisms. It is therefore a question of proceeding with a holistic approach, which consists in considering man in his entirety, as psychophysical beings. We cannot be reduced to one or the other.
We are multidimensional beings, which means that we exist on different levels: physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.
Everything we experience, we experience through the brain. It is therefore a question of seeing how a weakened brain is sensitive to these evils and how a fragmented and fragile self is more vulnerable to them.
We must today heal both sides of who we are, the physical part and the psychological part.
What holistic approach to brain health?
As a transpersonal oriented therapist and teacher for many years, I have always been interested in the different levels of consciousness, and I would say that this holistic approach to our brain health is all about consciousness.
We can think of the psyche as the combination of different levels of consciousness. We have our body, the “physical” level of consciousness in which we move and which gives us sensory information.
We have an emotional level where our emotional cells provide us with information about the world and the people around us. And that we can’t get any other way.
The way we feel also really determines the quality of our life. If we feel good, our life is positive. If we feel bad, our life appears to us as … failed. Our mental acuity is an important part of our perception of the world and our spirituality. These are very different things happening on different levels, cognitive, spiritual, emotional and semantic as well.
Until recently, I was more concerned with the psychological side than the physical side, like depression, for example. There are two opposing theories to explain depression: a biological disease is at the origin of depression, or inappropriate behavior causes depression in the person, by causing changes in the brain.
Back to the story of the chicken and the egg! But I’ve come to think that it’s actually a chicken AND the egg thing. The end result is that the depressive disorder results from the combination of the two.
What are neurotoxins and how can they affect our neuroplasticity?
There is a kind of brain dysfunction that is happening today. I think there are more neurotoxins in the environment than ever before. We know some of them: mercury, aluminum, arsenic, lead, but there are many, many, many more…unidentified – unbrought to light.
Like emotional neurotoxins: mental and spiritual neurotoxins. And of course the food. I wanted to know how food influences the brain.
How food builds the brain and what neurotoxins really impact the brain. And if I can add one decisive thing, it is that contrary to what we often hear – namely that the brain is a computer, the latter is a living process, in perpetual growth, in perpetual motion.
It is more like a large amoeba that is constantly making new connections to itself, depending on the environment. Neuroplasticity, called synaptogenesis, has been known for years, but neurogenesis, the creation of new brain cells, was discovered only 20 years ago. At first, the researchers did not know the importance of this, but then they realized that the rate of neurogenesis and neuroplasticity had a direct impact on our functioning.
It turns out that the rate of neurogenesis, or the rate at which new brain cells and connections are made, is the most important biomarker of brain health – which most people don’t. have never heard of.
So when the brain is alive, when it moves, when it has a high rate of neurogenesis, we feel good, life is good. When this neurogenic rhythm slows down, when the movements of the brain slow down, when they become lethargic, there is anxiety, depression and cognitive decline. And all of this happens in the hippocampus.
What is the mechanism of the hippocampus of the brain?
The hippocampus is the only part of the brain that develops new brain cells. And this funny crescent moon-shaped structure is spread over the right and left sides of the brain. We actually have two seahorses. One is involved in processing new memories, the other in regulating emotions. You should know that the hippocampus does not store new memories. He treats them.
He creates them. So when our rate of neurogenicity is high, we learn new things, we are engaged. Memory is the basis of all sense of “me”. This is how in the case of Alzheimer’s disease, which massively attacks the hippocampus, new memories are no longer formed. And when that happens, executive function disappears, memory disappears, self disappears.
The other half is involved in the regulation of emotions, in particular in the regulation of anxiety and depression. So when levels of neurogenesis and synaptogenesis are high, we are protected against stress, anxiety and depression and we feel good. This neurotoxic environment in which almost all of us live today affects our neuroplasticity and slows the rate of neurogenesis.
Almost everyone lives at a rate where the level of neurogenesis and synaptogenesis is lower than it should be… It’s true that we’ve been having a hard time lately, but when our brains are working well, we don’t panic, we face things.
Setbacks happen, but we get over it. Hence the importance of working on our neuroplasticity.
How does stress influence neuroplasticity?
Stress is a neurotoxin when chronic. We need a certain amount of stress. In fact, the brain develops through moderate stress and short-term stress.
This increases neuroplasticity: neurogenesis and synaptogenesis. The brain needs to be challenged and when challenged, it responds by bringing out its own potentials.
The brain wants to be engaged with the world in this way, but it’s not the kind of stress most people complain about. The problem of the century is chronic stress, which considerably slows down neurogenesis and synaptogenesis. And which causes inflammation in the brain at the origin of the latter.
How can diet increase our rate of neuroplasticity and help heal and strengthen the brain?
In my book Holistic Healing, I talk about the four pillars of a brain-healthy diet: neurogenic, ketogenic, anti-inflammatory, and gut-friendly.
With a healing phase and a maintenance phase. Neuroplasticity also goes through food. Holistic Healing for Anxiety, Depression, and Cognitive Decline, Brant Cortright