Mental Illness & Physical Disease

At A4M/MMI, we believe that all of the body’s systems are interrelated, and function through a consistent mind-body connection. Indeed, recent research indicates that the intimate ties between mental health and physical disease represent a dual diagnosis rooted in concrete, tangible evidence.

While doctors once believed that the link between mental and physical health problems was purely behavioral, scientists are now learning that “seemingly unrelated psychological and physical issues” may have close connections and correlations. There is a physiological change that additionally occurs: a new study that focuses on the physical and mental health of people afflicted with psoriasis, a dermatological autoimmune disease that results in red, flaky scales and patches on the skin’s surface, demonstrates that depression is common among these people, due to social stigma and discomfort.

Still, researchers also found that patients with psoriasis and a diagnosis of depression were 37% more likely to develop psoriatic arthritis—a complication that involves joint inflammation—than those without depression. Authors articulate that depression can spur behaviors that act as triggers for the condition, or exacerbate pre-existing causes. For those with a genetic predisposition to the disease, factors such as poor nutrition and physical inactivity can negatively impact the severity of the symptoms. Yet the association still held when authors controlled for many of these behaviors, which suggests that the root cause of the depression has a direct influence on the development of psoriatic arthritis.

Research over the last several decades has demonstrated that inflammation in the body—one of the primary triggers of psoriatic arthritis—can also drive the development of depression. The processes are now known to be similar to those that drive some physical illnesses, as well. Moreover, elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol may link psychological and physical conditions, as high levels of cortisol areas associated with depression and can likewise contribute to an inflammatory state—and conditions like diabetes and heart disease.

Previous studies have confirmed the link between depression and an increased risk of conditions like stroke and diabetes, while a study last year found that depressed mood was as strong a predictor of heart disease as other well-known risk factors, like high cholesterol and obesity. Other mental-health diagnoses, including bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, have synonymously been associated with increased risks of physical health problems.

The silver lining, however, is that treating depression and other comorbid mental health conditions may help improve overall physical symptoms, or reduce the risk of future problems—particularly if doing so can ultimately lower cortisol levels, and other markers of inflammation. Correspondingly, treating physical illnesses and controlling symptoms can help improve general mental health.

International Blog Spotlight: Thailand

The King of Chinese Herbs

Dr. Jira Thawornpradit (Royal Life Clinic – Bangkok Hospital) 

Cordyceps or worm grass is known in Thailand as “Tang Shao”. It is a famous Chinese medicine with diversity of at least 680 types according to the difference of worms and mushroom spores that grow in the worm. The most famous type that has been mostly studied is Cordyceps sinensis (Berk.) is found primarily on the Himalaya and Bhutan.

In China, Cordyceps have been registered as medicine since 1964 for immune stimulation, improving functions of lungs, kidneys and liver, preventions of cancers, reduce fats, promote health and fighting free radicals. It also improves sexual ability so is also called “Himalayan Viagra”. Health benefits of Cordyceps was demonstrated in the 1993 Chinese national competition where three female runners broke world records of 1500, 3000 and 1000 meter races. They were examined thoroughly for stimulants but test results came out negative. After a while, the trainer Mr. Ma Zunren disclosed to the public that the racers took Cordyceps drink. The United States Olympic Committee has then legalized Cordyceps because of the health benefits and safety profile.

There have been several studies in animals and human showing biological and pharmacological benefits of Cordyceps, as follows.

  • Reducing blood sugar
    A study among 20 diabetic patients taking 3 grams of Cordyceps resulted in 95% control of blood sugar compared with 54% cases treated with modern medicine
  • Immune stimulation
    Cordyceps stimulate white blood cells, particularly Natural Killer (NK) cells which play key roles in cancer prevention
  • Reconstitute renal functions
    It was found that renal functions of 51 chronic renal failure cases who took 3-5 grams of Cordyceps a day had improved. Furthermore, after one month, complications of renal failure such as high blood pressure, proteinuria and anemia was reduced. At the same time, an antioxidant, superoxide dismutase (SOD) was found to be increased.
  • Improve sexual function
    A study among 22 male subjects who regularly took Cordyceps found a 33% increase of sperms with reduction of deformed sperms by 29%. Another study among 189 male and female subjects who started to lose sexual functions, taking Cordyceps could improve their libido by 66%.
  • Decrease fatigue and increase overall general body functions
    With clear health benefits, evidence on complications and toxicity are still trace. There are some reports on dry month, nausea, and diarrhea. Prescribing Cordyceps for diabetic patients should be careful as they could further reduce blood sugar. However, the major concern is not only on Cordyceps themselves, but on lead poisoning. There have been some reports where lead filaments were inserted to increase weight of Cordyceps in the market.

Cautions and side effects of using Cordyceps may include:

–Among diabetic patients because Cordyceps could further reduce blood sugar
–Among patients on anticoagulants because Cordyceps also possess some anticoagulation properties
–Among those on immune-suppressive therapy because Cordyceps stimulate immune responses

With various pharmacologic effects, coupled with over a century of effective use, Cordyceps requires increased scientific research and further clinical trials.

Cordyceps must be carefully used. Different types of mushrooms and worms have been cultivated. This requires more research. Data among pregnant and lactating women are still inconclusive.

National Celiac Awareness Day

September 13th of each year marks National Celiac Disease Awareness Day. This day was created in order to honor those affected by celiac disease, raise awareness about the disorder, promote educational initiatives, and commemorate the birth of Dr. Samuel Gee who was a pioneer in celiac disease research.

Celiac disease affects approximately 3 million Americans, yet it is often undiagnosed or misdiagnosed due to the very slow, gradual bodily damage, and the fact that the symptoms are so widely varied. Diagnoses of celiac disease can sometimes take years.

This autoimmune disorder is triggered by the consumption of gluten: a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley; when people with celiac disease eat gluten, their bodies mount an immune response that attacks the small intestine—ultimately triggering damage that disables the body from properly absorbing necessary nutrients. This can eventually lead to malnourishment, in addition to loss of bone density, miscarriages, infertility–even the onset of neurological diseases and certain cancers.

There are no pharmaceuticals or drugs that treat or cure celiac disease. The only fully effective treatment for the disease is a 100% gluten-free diet, yet Nexvax2—a therapeutic vaccine designed to protect patients with celiac disease against the effects of gluten exposure—has been largely effective in several randomized controlled trials, through its ability to alter a patient’s immune response to gluten.

In order to learn more about autoimmune and inflammatory disorders like celiac disease, sign up for our Fellowship in Metabolic, Nutritional and Functional Medicine. Module VII: A Metabolic and Functional Approach to Inflammation & Autoimmune Disease primarily focuses on autoimmune and inflammatory diseases through the gut-immune-brain connection.