Hot weather and other factors, autoimmune disease, and psychosis

I’m thankful to bloggers who wrote about their experience with diet and depression. I’ve learned through the blogs and then my own observation that I was making my mental health worse by eating gluten in all possible forms – pasta, sandwiches, Subway, wraps, tempura, soy sauce. I have also established that casein in cow’s milk makes me more psychotic, so I had to give up a lot of delicious habits – taro bubble tea, cheesecake, easily ordering a coffee with milk at Denny’s – I now usually carry goat milk in a cooler with me everywhere, in case I want to add it to tea. This post won’t be about diet though, I have posted on diet previously:

Autoimmune Encephalitis and Diet

This post is about the fact that changing your diet may improve your mental health but it won’t necessarily cure you. I think it’s important to remember that in order to not constantly blame yourself. I used to do that when I was on strict AIP diet – I used to blame myself for feeling depressed. After I noticed that the AIP diet was actually helping, I became convinced that I would soon be cured, as long as I stay on the diet. Probably I’ve read too many blogs claiming that grains contain lectins that cause brain inflammation and therefore depression. There are a lot of success stories online with bloggers stating that their depression vanished after going on AIP diet or paleo or keto or vegan, you name it. It’s easy then to start blaming yourself each time you feel depressed again – if all those people were cured, maybe then I am slacking, not avoiding enough foods, not being strict enough. I think we may go into the blaming state because we want to believe that we can have full control of our mood and it would be nice if as long as we didn’t eat certain ingredients, we would never be depressed or psychotic.

Blaming yourself only makes you feel worse though and it doesn’t let you accept the reality that mental health problems are caused by many factors. I think yes – you should definitely strive for a healthy diet – avoid fried foods, high glycemic foods, red meat, etc., but should you feel guilty about the brown rice bowl that you ate yesterday because AIP and paleo bloggers claim that all grains cause inflammation? No, I am not sure if there is any evidence that grains are an issue, some research actually suggests that the healthiest diets are ones that include whole grains – such as the Mediterranean and MIND diets. I think we have to accept that there are other factors affecting our mental health and some we cannot control. Periods are definitely one of them and they suck. I find that my paranoia and obsessive thoughts are definitely exacerbated during the first three days of my period. Can I cure this issue with diet? I don’t think so. Being female, my hormones will always fluctuate with the menstrual cycle, there is nothing I can do about that. I can remind myself that it’s only worse for three days and it will get better, I am not always psychotic, I can try exercising more, going for a walk. But cure? I don’t know of one.

Menstrual Psychosis: A Forgotten Disorder?

I have recently realized that heat increases my intrusive thoughts. I had observed for a while that hot weather makes me lethargic and quick-tempered, but now I have also correlated hot weather with psychosis. It had occurred several times during the past month when I experienced exacerbated negative commentary in my head. I noticed that each time this happened on a weekend when I was away, camping. Supposedly camping is better than work  – I was not alone, I was with friends, eating meals together – just as I like. Also I was moving – swimming, kayaking. Getting enough vitamin D. Definitely sniffing a lot of soil (reference to the antidepressant bacteria Soil Bacteria Work In Similar Way To Antidepressants), always bringing my own food in a cooler – tempeh, mung beans, buckwheat, freeze-dried vegetables, oatmeal. Stuff that I usually eat, so that was a constant factor. When analyzing what caused an event, we have to look into the differences, and the only factor that I could think of is heat. This summer has been very hot in Ontario, multiple days above 30 degrees. Every weekday though I am in an extremely air conditioned air building where I often wear my shawl. At home I have two functioning ACs. It was only during the camping that I was exposed to extreme heat for many hours in a row. I think I have to accept this fact – I love camping, but hot weather increases my aggression and psychotic symptoms.

There is also research supporting the idea that heat exacerbates mental health problems. “Above a threshold of 26.7°C, we observed a positive association between ambient temperature and hospital admissions for mental and behavioral disorders. Compared with non–heat-wave periods, hospital admissions increased by 7.3% during heat waves.

The Effect of Heat Waves on Mental Health in a Temperate Australian City

Heat exposure associated with mental illness – A mental hospital-based study in Hanoi, Vietnam looked at if there is a relationship between heat exposure and mental health problems. The results showed significant increase in hospital admissions for mental illnesses during periods of heatwaves, especially during longer periods of heat exposure.

Heat exposure associated with mental illness

Exposure to sun can also exacerbate autoimmune disease symptoms, and for me this directly means worsening of mental problems. ”

“‘Photosensitivity can trigger the whole darn disease, including full systemic flare and joint pain and kidney failure,’ Dr. Connolly said. ‘The younger patients sometimes say, ‘The heck with this, I’m tired of carrying sun block,’ and they’ll stay out there, and it’s not just that they are going to give themselves a bad rash. This is something to take seriously.’

The link between the sun and lupus flare-ups is thought to be a set of inflammatory protein molecules called cytokines, which are activated when ultraviolet light hits the skin. The skin inflammation that results can create a chain reaction of other symptoms.

A Sunny Day Can Mean All Sorts of Distress

This is all sad news, but I still want to go outside. I want to go hiking, kayaking down whitewater rivers, canoeing through uninhabited islands. I still have to accept that sometimes camping might make me feel worse. Probably I need to give up on t-shirts and always wear long sleeves when it’s hot. I do always wear a hat and sunscreen. Also going outside is important for vitamin D and we do need UV light to set our circadian rhythm. Therefore no, you shouldn’t lock yourself up in the house, but it’s better to not be out in the sun in the swim suit for too long. I’m going to stick with pants, shirts, running shoes, and caps. On the other hand I’m also not going to blame myself if I do feel worse. I did not create this disease, it’s not my fault that I react to weather, I can’t control the weather and I can’t avoid the weather. Let’s not feel worse by blaming, let’s learn from the available information and also remember that even if you are doing everything right, sometimes psychosis may still occur and we won’t know why. Maybe we will in the future and you will have this device that will tell you in real time ‘your dopamine levels are going higher than the suggested threshold, eat this scientifically advanced cookie and it will fix the problem’. I do hope for such a future, but for now it’s just science fiction. Research has shown that one way to reduce suffering during a psychotic episode is to accept the experience but not act on it. Accept also that there will be a peak of the symptoms but then they will diminish, it will pass.

Are you sure your depression is in your brain?

I’m not. Actually I’m pretty sure that’s not where my depression started. I am quite positive that the encephalitis  – brain inflammation – had developed after several years of chronic gut inflammation. What if my irritable bowel/gastritis was stopped right after it started? What if I had known about celiac disease and stopped eating gluten not two, but ten years ago? My assumption is that I would not have developed brain inflammation then, I would not experience seeing the old women asking me to help them die, I would not feel the walls of my room closing in on me. There would be no primal fear, no encephalitis. Whatever has happened to me, happened, no point to dwell on the past, but I am writing for others, for whom such terrifying experiences may be prevented. It’s important to ask the question – are you sure your depression is only in your brain?

meds

Above is my combination of the psychiatric meds that I was given by my first psychiatrist. She never questioned the origins of my depression – to her it was all a chemical imbalance in my brain, therefore she combined SSRIs, antipsychotics, benzodiazapines, and she failed at treating me. She started treating me in November 2015 and in May 2016 I bought hibachi grills and drove away into a forest with the two grills and a bag of charcoal, police had to track me. In June I could no longer work and became unemployed. Clearly I did not improve in the six months that I was her patient.

I did not improve because I don’t just have some serotonin imbalance, I have autoimmune encephalitis – brain inflammation. I also was diagnosed previously with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and chronic gastritis – gut inflammation. Did one lead to another? I believe so. I believe my depression started in the gut and there is research to support this theory.

“Recently, studies have emerged focusing on variations in the microbiome and the effect on various CNS disorders, including, but not limited to anxiety, depressive disorders, schizophrenia, and autism.2,8,9 Therapeutic interventions to treat dysbiosis, or disturbance in the gut, and mitigate its effects on the GBA (gut-brain axis) are only recently coming to the forefront as more is known about this unique relationship. As a result, research has been done on the use of probiotics in treatment of anxiety and depression both as standalone therapy and as adjunct to commonly prescribed medications.”

“When the human microbiome is challenged with changes in diet, stress, or antibiotics, the physiology of the normal microbiome undergoes change. A dysbiotic state leads to increased intestinal permeability and allows contents such as bacterial metabolites and molecules as well as bacteria themselves to leak through the submucosa and into the systemic circulation, a phenomenon aptly named leaky gut syndrome. … Increased intestinal permeability leads to detrimental effects on the host immune system, which have been demonstrated in diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), diabetes, asthma, and psychiatric disorders including depression, anxiety, and autism.2,4,10,34,35

“Depressive disorders are characterized by both neuroplastic, organizational changes, and neurochemical dysfunction.42 Illness is thought to begin when there is deregulation of these systems and can largely be attributed to cytokine release secondary to an exaggerated systemic response to stressors.39,41 Endotoxin infusions to healthy subjects with no history of depressive disorders triggered cytokine release and subsequent emergence of classical depressive symptoms. The study established a direct correlation between increased levels of IL-6 and TNF-a with symptoms of depression and anxiety,43 indicating that pro-inflammatory cytokines play a role in the development of anxiety and depression. These effects correlated with a state of chronic inflammation and altered immune cells in the peripheral blood. However, TNF-a administered to healthy subjects resulted in no depressive symptoms,38 suggesting that toxin induced inflammation caused the mood disturbance.”

Gut microbiota’s effect on mental health: The gut-brain axis

There has also been found a link between IBS and depression and recent studies are indicating that probiotics may help with both issues.

“For the new research, scientists from McMaster University in Canada recruited 44 adults with IBS as well as mild to moderate anxiety or depression. They were followed for 10 weeks; half took a daily dose of the probiotic Bifidobacterium longum, and half took a placebo. The probiotics were manufactured and provided by Nestle, which also funded the study. (Nestle was not involved in collection, analysis or interpretation of study data.)

After six weeks, twice as many people who took the probiotic had decreased depression scores compared to those who took the placebo: 64% versus 32%. Results were similar after 10 weeks, as well. When people in the study were given functional MRI scans, the researchers found that improved depression scores were associated with changes in activity of several brain areas involved in mood regulation.”

How Probiotics May Help Depression

If you are suffering from treatment resistant depression – you are not improving with the SSRIs/SNRIs/TCAs/MAOIs/NASSAs/etc., it’s important to ask yourself whether you are also suffering from any other conditions. If I had previously known all the information about the gut-brain axis, inflammation, and autoimmune diseases, it would be more evident to me that the cause of my psychiatric issues was likely gut inflammation. My severe depression started in 2015 but other health problems were starting long before that. I experienced dry and peeling skin since I was 11 years old and after the age of 12 I developed severe acne. When I was 17 I started having strong abdominal pain in the evenings. Sometimes the pain was so severe that I found it difficult to sit up. I also remember difficulties with falling asleep because as I lay down I would feel my stomach grumble and I could not relax. Later on more symptoms were added such as facial swelling, gastric pain, rapid weight gain, and brain fog. Then the depression and psychosis came. A coincidence ? Just a chemical imbalance unrelated to the other health issues? Clearly not and these symptoms were all related. They developed together as I continued to have a diet, unknowingly, that was terrible for me – pasta, bread, pizza, cheesecakes, and the symptoms declined together as I changed my diet, got treated with steroids, and started consuming fermented foods.

Now that I am equipped with all of this information I hope that I will continue to improve. I no longer have a feeling that it will only get worse and worse. I hope this will be useful to you as well and I hope I can help you feel happier again. There is more and more research now on other possible treatments for depression in addition to existing antidepressants, so I am optimistic that something will work for you, there are many things to try, don’t give up!

Yes, I am using this self-made incubator instead of Zoloft to treat depression

Here is my self-made incubator. It was constructed at home from several cheap and available components – a nice big Styrofoam cooler, a light bulb, a light bulb socket, a temperature controller, and some tape. That’s all, very simple. The cooler I got from Canadian Tire for about $14, light bulb, socket, and tape also from Canadian Tire. The temperature controller I purchased on Amazon for $35. What does the incubator do? The light bulb goes inside the cooler, so does the sensor from the controller. You close the lid and choose the desired temperature. The controller keeps the light bulb on until the chosen temperature is reached, then it turns it off. If the temperature drops, the light bulb is turned back on.

20180628_191328

20180628_191428

How is any of this relevant to depression treatment? Well turns out that it is, and this incubator has been helping me a lot more than my previous trials of anti-depressants. I use the incubator to make fermented foods and research shows that eating probiotic foods can reduce chronic inflammation in the body and this in turn can reduce symptoms of depression. I have been making goat kefir, goat yougurt, sourdough, fermented fruits. I have also ordered a tempeh starter – spores of a specific mold, Rhizopus, that is used to ferment soy beans. I have also been buying natto (another type of fermented soy beans) in a Japanese store and eating it for breakfast.

It has been a bit more than a month since I started all this fermented food consumption and I think it has definitely improved my brain function in many ways. Correlation doesn’t mean causation, but I have noticed improvement in the way I think, the way I react to stressful events, my ability to sit down and spend time on meditation. I have rediscovered my interest in violin playing and my interest in the opposite sex. Last week I found my headphones because I wanted to listen to David Guetta in the subway on my way to work. Maybe that doesn’t sound like much, but if you’ve experienced severe depression and if you’ve seriously considered suicide, I think you would understand that this means progress. If you have experienced a state of mind in which your only desire was finding a way to end your life, then you know that going to a state where you have a desire for something else, anything else, is definitely an improvement.

I think therefore that constructing this incubator was the best decision this year so far. Last year the best decision that I made was pursuing immunosuppressant with intravenous steroids. I was treated with IV Solu-Medrol for five days in December and after that I saw my mind opening up. No, my depression did not vanish, but I started to have ideas, to be more proactive. Participating. I through of sharing my experience with autoimmune encephalitis, so I started a blog. I took the psychiatrist’s advice to do aerobic exercise in order to reduce brain inflammation. I researched further anti-inflammatory treatments and decided to build an incubator. I also became interested in helminthic therapy, so I learned how to use bitcoin and purchased some helminth larvae in order to infect myself. I don’t think this is all a coincidence, I think the steroids treatment did reduce inflammation that was there in my brain and some neural pathways opened up, more ideas started coming in. My tunnel vision became broader, the world became less black and white.

You can read my previous post about fermented foods and depression treatment here:

Bacteria, yeast, stinky tofu, desire?

My case of severe depression and improvement after immunotherapy is another piece of evidence supporting the idea that depression and suicidal thoughts are not always just caused by imbalance of serotonin, but inflammation can also play an important role.

Recently researchers at the University of Manchester conducted a study measuring level of inflammation in the brains of patients with clinical depression. “Dr. Talbot and colleagues measured the levels of translocator protein (TSPO) in the brains of people diagnosed with major depressive disorder. TSPO generally plays a role in the immune response system and cell death.

In the brain, elevated TSPO levels activate the microglia, which are immune cells specific to this organ. Microglial activation indicates brain inflammation, so this is what the scientists targeted.

People with depression who were experiencing suicidal thoughts were found to exhibit significantly higher levels of TSPO, associated with microglial activation and indicating inflammation of the brain.

Depression: Is brain inflammation tied to suicidal thoughts?

I was suffering from treatment resistant depression, but now I believe that it is not resistant, the treatment was just incorrect. I was put on mirtazapine, bupropion, risperidone, sertraline, multiple combinations of antidepressants and antipsychotics were tried. Well none of those combinations worked, but today I am still alive. I cannot thank my psychiatrist who continued to treat me with the same medications just in different doses and mixes, but I am thankful to all the researchers, journalists, and bloggers, who have written on the topic of the link between inflammation, suicidality, and depression. I am very thankful for Susannah Cahalan for her book “Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness” about her terrifying experience with anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis. I think, maybe not in the average psychiatrist’s office, but in general there has been progress in understanding the impact of our diet, lifestyle, and chronic inflammatory conditions, on mental health. Diet matters, exercising matters, so does our gut microbiome, blood glucose levels, inflammatory markers. All of this cannot be fixed by just taking Zoloft or Prozac and I believe that is why many people don’t get better on antidepressants. They are not treatment resistant, the right treatment is available, it just hasn’t been applied.

Industrialization, autoimmune diseases, and depression

I used to think that I was in control of my own mind, but it’s clearly not the case. I don’t choose how to feel and how to emotionally respond to situations, just as I don’t choose when to feel hungry. I don’t choose my thoughts as well. I don’t know which thought is going to come next, it’s just going to pop up in my conscious mind and I will observe it, I will react to it. Someone recently told me that all the choice that we have in life is the direction of our view. We don’t choose our emotions, we don’t choose our thoughts, we don’t choose the environment around us, we can only turn our head and change the view, and observe.

That’s why doctors prescribe antidepressants – people don’t choose to be depressed and they can’t just “think their way out of it”. And sometimes antidepressants help, maybe for some people depression is just a lack of serotonin and SSRIs fix that imbalance. The chemical imbalance theory is not 100% confirmed, some scientists debate whether this is a cause of depression at all, perhaps antidepressants help some people not by increasing serotonin, but by decreasing inflammation. Autoimmune diseases are what can cause chronic inflammation.  This is when “the immune system prompts white blood cells to attack nearby healthy tissues and organs, setting up a chronic inflammatory process”. Turns out the brain can be affected by this process as well. “People who had been treated for a severe infection were 62% more likely to have developed a mood disorder than those who never had one. An autoimmune disease increased the risk by 45%. Multiple infections or the combination of severe infection and an autoimmune disease boosted the odds of developing depression, bipolar disorder, or another mood disorder even further.”

Infection, autoimmune disease linked to depression

Next I am going to speculate and talk about the possible causes of rising incidence of autoimmune disease. I am going to mention the idea that the lifestyle that we obtained through industrialization turned out to be pro-inflammatory. I am not proposing to go back to living in a village, but I want to propose making practical lifestyle changes that can help reduce chronic inflammation and in turn depression.

We are participating in less physical activity and are gaining higher body weight

One result of industrialization is we are eating more sugar, moving less, and weighting more. “How could carrying extra weight and sofa-sitting be connected to higher levels of inflammatory chemicals in the body and the development of diabetes?

Researchers discovered that excess body fat, especially in the abdomen, causes continuous (chronic), low levels of abnormal inflammation that alters insulin’s action and contributes to the disease.

The body becomes less sensitive to insulin and the resulting insulin resistance also leads to inflammation. A vicious cycle can result, with more inflammation causing more insulin resistance and vice versa. Blood sugar levels creep higher and higher, eventually resulting in type 2 diabetes.

Are Diabetes and Inflammation Connected?

We are eating high glycemic foods

We are eating more processed and high glycemic foods. The bread that people used to eat when they lived in villages was usually not the white bread from refined flour, it was sourdough, which has more nutrients, and a low glycemic index. I doubt anyone used to eat pasta, pizza, or fries often, if at all. I know that in peasant Russia there was fermented cabbage, sourdough rye bread, barley, and broth, sometimes meat and fish. Also fermented milk products. None of those foods have a high glycemic index.

According to Harvard researchers, healthy, middle-aged women who ate the meals with the lowest glycemic load had the lowest levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation in the body.

In overweight women who had greater levels of C-reactive protein to begin with, eating higher amounts of low glycemic index foods had an even greater impact on their inflammatory markers.

The Link between Glycemic Index, Diabetes, Inflammation and Heart Disease

We are eating fewer fermented foods

How often do you drink kefir or yougurt, eat kimchi or sauerkraut? Do you eat natto or fermented bean curd? Tempeh? Sourdough bread? Cassava fufu? If the answer is pretty often, I would say that’s good, but many people in US and Canada rarely eat fermented foods. Maybe sometimes yougurt, but it’s questionable whether store bought yougurt has live probiotics. Previously people ate fermented foods more often. They didn’t really have much choice since refrigerators weren’t available. Milk goes bad pretty quickly, so you need to make it into kefir or yougurt. In winter you don’t have fresh vegetables, you have fermented vegetables in jars that you prepared during the summer. Same with fruits. There have been several papers recently linking fermented foods to mental health, here is what is stated in one of them: “The extent to which traditional dietary items may mitigate inflammation and oxidative stress may be controlled, at least to some degree, by microbiota. It is our contention that properly controlled fermentation may often amplify the specific nutrient and phytochemical content of foods, the ultimate value of which may associated with mental health; furthermore, we also argue that the microbes (for example, Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteriaspecies) associated with fermented foods may also influence brain health via direct and indirect pathways.

Fermented foods, microbiota, and mental health: ancient practice meets nutritional psychiatry

We have lost our “old friends”

One of recent theories is that the rise in autoimmune disorders could be due to our gut microbiome depletion. With sanitary toilets, pasteurized milk, less time with animals (urban citizens rarely hang out with farm animals, neither do they milk cows, and now few even have pets due to smaller apartment sizes), we have lost many microbes and parasites that used to inhabit our gut. Turns out this might not be a good thing. It could be that because we as species cohabited with these organisms for so long, our immune system evolved to train on these parasites, and now we are lacking this training. “Diminished exposure to immunoregulation-inducing Old Friends in the perinatal period may enhance the consequences of psychosocial stressors, which induce increased levels of inflammatory mediators, modulate the microbiota and increase the risk for developing all known psychiatric conditions. In later life, the detrimental effects of psychosocial stressors may be exaggerated when the stress occurs against a background of reduced immunoregulation, so that more inflammation (and therefore more psychiatric symptoms) result from any given level of psychosocial stress. This interaction between immunoregulatory deficits and psychosocial stressors may lead to reduced stress resilience in modern urban communities.

Microbial ‘Old Friends’, immunoregulation and stress resilience

Do we need to move back to the village? Or to a cave?

Well I’m hopeful that I won’t have to, because my job is in downtown Toronto, and it would be hard to commute there from a remote village. I hope that given the recent research, we can use this information to improve our immune system function, while still living in a city. We can cook more food at home instead of buying processed food. I rarely buy anything at the food court during the work day, I bring everything from home. I am also making fermented foods – kefir, yougurt, sourdough bread, kombucha. I also purchased some at Asian grocery stores – they have fermented bean curd, natto, fermented Chinese cabbage.

In terms of moving around, I try not to sit at my desk at work for too long. I get up to make tea, go for a walk during lunch. Walk to the subway in the morning instead of taking the streetcar. Walk home after work with a friend. Gym I personally found very boring, but I do exercise at home with an aerobic step. Doctors suggest at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise a day, heart rate needs to go up!

In terms of bringing back “old friends” – this can partly be done by consuming probiotic and prebiotic foods to increase gut microbiome diversity. There are also soil bacteria that are considered beneficial, we can obtain them by spending time near soil and breathing in the particles. Having a dog is stated to have beneficial effects on our gut microbiome. There is also experimental helminthic therapy – infecting yourself with parasites on purpose. I am planning on trying this therapy and I will write more on this topic later on.

Depression, inflammation, and what you could do

I am not a doctor, but I have been to many, so I am going to write out here the information that I have collected over the few years. The first step, if you are feeling depressed, would be going to a doctor. In Canada you can visit your family doctor if you have one, or you can go to ER. In October 2015 I was waiting for a subway train in the station and I thought of jumping under it. The thought was not spontaneous, I have been getting more and more depressed over a period of time. I told my boyfriend about my thoughts of jumping and he convinced me to go to the ER. I was terrified when the doctor who examined me said that I would be involuntarily hospitalized in the psychiatric unit. The first thing that came to mind was probably a scene from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Given that I was in a psychotic state, I imagined that my boyfriend and the doctors conspired to lock me up for an indefinite amount of time. Well, none of this happened. The law is that you can be involuntarily hospitalized for three days, and then your case has to be reviewed. Two opinions of physicians are required to maintain the detention.

Involuntary hospital admission – Canada

Actually I should say I got lucky that when I went to the ER I got seen by several psychiatrists and got to be examined for three days. At the moment there are not enough beds and not enough psychiatrists in Ontario, often people needing help are placed on six to nine months wait lists. Going to ER is therefore a good option because it’s more likely that there will be a psychiatrist available right away (yes, you might sit in the waiting room for five hours, but that’s not six months). Also blood tests would be performed to determine whether any health conditions could be causing your psychiatric symptoms. Tests performed could include the following:

  • TSH level to check for hypo/hyperthyroidism
  • Blood glucose level to check for diabetes
  • Iron/ferritin levels to check for anemia
  • Renal function (for chronic kidney disease)

In my experience doctors did not check for autoimmune diseases as part of the lab work, but if you are experiencing physical symptoms as well, you could ask your doctor to check this. Autoimmune testing:

  • Thyroid antibody levels (Anti-Tg and Anti-TPO antibodies) – high levels can indicate Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, also Hashimoto’s Encephalopathy (but this is quite rare)
  • C-reactive protein – marker of inflammation
  • Antinuclear antibodies (ANA) – checking for lupus
  • Rheumatoid factor – associated with rheumatoid arthritis
  • Anti-NMDAR antibodies – anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis (rare occurrence)
  • Celiac disease testing (it is also an autoimmune disorder)

Gastrointestinal disorders are also associated with depression. Individuals with gastritis are more likely to suffer from anxiety, panic attacks and depression. Depression and anxiety is also more often present in people with irritable bowel syndrome. If you experience any gastrointestinal/abdominal pains and discomfort, it’s important to visit a gastroenterologist. You can be tested for celiac disease. New research also indicates that many people who considered themselves having a gluten sensitivity actually had issues with high FODMAP foods. These are fermentable oligo di mono-saccharides and polyols, short chain carbohydrates and sugar alcohols. Personally I was diagnosed with chronic gastritis a few years ago, even before I got to the psychiatrist. The gastroenterologist who diagnosed me did not have any suggestions for me. A year ago I visited a different gastroenterologist, and she advised me to try a low FODMAP diet. I have been following it for a while, even after I stopped the AIP diet, and it definitely reduced my abdominal pains. Hopefully it is affecting my mood positively as well.

Gastritis linked to mood and anxiety disorders

Is gluten causing your depression

Once you talk to your family doctor or your psychiatrist about depression, if you do get diagnosed with depression, usually anti-depressants are prescribed. If you experience psychosis, anti-psychotics can be prescribed (on their own or along with anti-depressants). I am not a doctor, so it’s not for me to tell you which medication to take, but I just want to bring to your attention recent research on the link between depression and inflammation. I think no matter whether you do or don’t take psychiatric medication, it might be worthwhile to analyze your lifestyle and to think whether there are unhealthy aspects of it that you could change.

New research shows depression linked with inflammation

I know this may sound pointless – it may seem that no medication or lifestyle changes can help because it is life itself that is so meaningless, so emotionally painful, and how is that going to get changed? I used to get angry at suggestions by psychiatrists to attend therapy or my mom telling me to take fish oil. What does fish oil have to do with my life? How will it make me less lonely, how would it make life less dull and meaningless? The thought that helps me to try a suggestion is “what do I have to lose?” If I am already at the point where I no longer want to live, what will I lose by trying fish oil? Yes, it means I will agree to still be alive and try taking these stupid capsules, but I don’t have to be alive forever, it’s not possible anyways. I am not agreeing to suffer forever, I am just agreeing to stay alive for now, and to try.

Back to inflammation discussion – so for example you say “ok, fine, maybe I will try to stay alive, but so what? What is the suggestion?” Well my suggestion is in addition to discussing with your psychiatrist medication/therapy options, look into your daily diet and activities. From the article above, it is stated that the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry published a study with results indicating that increased inflammation in the body may be linked with depression. Inflammation is when there is a response from the immune system. Many different immune cells can be activated during inflammation and they produce different substances, such as antibodies (there are different types).

We need the immune system to be active to fight viruses and bacteria, but what the authors of the paper are saying, is that chronic inflammation does not help us and is damaging instead, reducing chronic inflammation may reduce depressive symptoms. PsychologyToday author in the article recommends avoiding fried foods, soda, white bread and pastries, margarine, lard, and red meat. In general highly processed foods and refined carbohydrates are considered to be linked with inflammation. White bread, white rice, pizza pops, hot dogs, salami, cookies, etc. In general a lot of doctors advise to follow a Mediterranean diet, which means reducing red meat, processed foods, refined carbohydrates and sweets. It includes eating the following:

  • whole grains/pseudograins (quinoa, brown rice, millet, oats, buckwheat, etc.); it is suggested to eat them whole and not in form of grain flour
  • poultry – turkey and chicken
  • fish, especially fatty fish like salmon
  • eggs (I suggest trying quail eggs!)
  • vegetables
  • berries
  • olive oil instead of vegetable and seed oils
  • legumes (checked whether you have issues with high FODMAP foods)
  • nuts and seeds (try finding those that weren’t roasted in vegetable/seed oils, you can eat raw nuts)
  • dairy – if you have issues with cow milk, there is goat milk; there is also goat yougurt and you can make goat kefir
  • some fruits

Mediterannean diet plan

I think no matter what you were diagnosed – depression, schizophrenia, bi-polar, etc., a healthy diet is very important. It’s very important for anyone. Our brain is just an organ like all other organs and it needs proper nutrients and can also get damaged, like other organs, by chronic inflammation. At first I was very skeptical about the correlation between diet and my thoughts, but then as I started experimenting with changes in what I eat, I noticed that it does affect what I think. Sometimes I am really tempted to buy ice-cream or something like that, but I just remind myself that for me it’s not worth it, it can take me to a very dark place. I just have to accept that as someone with diabetes has to watch their carb intake, I also have to watch what I eat because of my chronic autoimmune condition. This is just how it is, I have to accept that it’s chronic, and that I can’t just go to the food court and buy whatever I want. I mostly bring food from home or I buy from places that list all of their ingredients, so that I can make sure it doesn’t have gluten, cow’s dairy, a lot of sugar, high FODMAP items, etc.

Yes, it’s not pleasant having to worry about the ingredients each time you eat, but the benefit for me was a change in my thought process, and I find that the most valuable. Our thoughts and emotions are what matters because that is our experience of life, so that is the number one thing that I want to change myself, I want to have a positive life experience.

 

Auditory Hallucinations Simulation

I hope technology will help us to simulate others’ experiences. This is especially needed in psychiatry. I often found myself lacking appropriate words to describe what I felt. My previous psychiatrist misdiagnosed me with schizophrenia. There is currently no lab test to verify whether someone does have schizophrenia, my diagnosis was based on a verbal consultation. I don’t know what people with schizophrenia experience so I can’t know whether my experiences were actually similar or not. Did we all feel this extreme fear in the same way or was ‘fear’ just a common word that we used but our experiences were actually different? I’m sure many people out there, like me, dream of a machine that would allow us to project our feelings onto someone else. We don’t have such an invention at the moment, but the first step is through the use of audio and video. I discovered an interesting representation of auditory hallucinations on YouTube, link below. I know that it doesn’t convey the emotions that a person could be experiencing along with the hallucinations, but it is a start in explaining how schizophrenia/psychosis can affect a person.

Auditory hallucinations – representation

It’s better to listen to this audio in headphones in order to get a better simulation of the surrounding sound. Put on your headphones and try to go through the whole length of the audio. It’s quite unpleasant. It’s nice to know that any second you can pause the video. With real psychosis unfortunately you don’t know when it’s going to end. Psychosis also is usually not just hearing voices that aren’t there, it’s thoughts and emotions – panic, fear, distrust. How can someone know that they are having a psychotic episode versus rational thoughts that are unpleasant? The line is not clear. Recently I had an episode at work during which I kind of heard my boyfriend’s voice inside my head saying that what I did was a ‘low level job’, ‘it was pointless’, that he wouldn’t do such a job, that I was wasting my life. Was that a psychotic episode caused by my immune system acting up or does everyone experience such moments? I would say it was closer to psychosis as it was similar to the audio representation – the voice was not part of my thoughts, it was inside my head, but I could not control it. This seems similar to what people with schizophrenia describe about auditory hallucinations, but then many people without schizophrenia also complain about inside negative ‘voices’. Perhaps by ‘inside voice’ in general people really mean thoughts, and these are more under their control, unlike the hallucinations.

Below is another video of schizophrenia simulation. As one comment states, “This is KINDA accurate but you can’t really recreate the feeling of panic and doubt and paranoia. During an episode you’re possessed by so many emotions that a video just can’t convey.”

Schizophrenia Simulation

What I experienced in the most acute stages of encephalitis also could not be portrayed well with just audio or video. What I experienced was primal fear. Imagine maybe being in an airplane, a long trans-Atlantic flight. You are going 900 kilometers per hour, ten thousand meters above the ocean. Suddenly there is severe turbulence. You’ve experienced turbulence before, but not of this magnitude. You hope it will cease soon, because the pilots know what they are doing, right? But it doesn’t, there is another fall through the air, you can feel it. Perhaps before the turbulence started you were reading a book, do you think you will be able to continue? Or you were talking to the person you are flying with about housing prices, will you be able to hold the conversation, or will you be overwhelmed with the primal fear? The fear that we experience when we are suddenly reminded of our mortality with an added rush of adrenaline. And not just our mortality, but also the mortality of people who for us make our world. That’s what acute encephalitis episodes were like for me. It was like constantly being in that passenger plane above the ocean in severe turbulence. And if that goes on for long enough, when the fear is constantly present, you may then actually start to wish for the situation to resolve in any way, as long as it resolves quickly. I mean that you may wish for the plane to just fall quickly, you no longer believe in safe arrival, but you just want to already escape the fear and the anticipation of pain.

Autoimmune Encephalitis vs. Schizophrenia

I don’t have schizophrenia so I can’t say that I experienced it, but I was misdiagnosed with it, therefore it’s possible that some of my experiences are similar to those of people with schizophrenia. Unfortunately autoimmune encephalitis is often  misdiagnosed as a psychiatric disorder. I spent a lot of time in the Understanding Hashimoto’s Encephalopathy Facebook group and after talking to the women there, the commont story that emerged was that most of them were initially referred to a psychiatrist and treated with antipsychotics/antidepressants/benzodiazepines. I say women because the group members are mostly female, probably over 90%. Autoimmune diseases affect women more often than men and this seems to hold true for autoimmune encephalitis. Schizophrenia on the other hand is more common among males.

I am not a schizophrenia expert, but since my psychiatrist assumed that I had it and I was treated for it, from experience I can say that schizophrenia is usually treated with antipsychotics such as risperidone and olanzapine. Psychotherapy can also be recommended but in addition to the antipsychotics, it would not be enough on its own usually. Autoimmune encephalitis does not improve with antipsychotics. AE is inflammation of the brain that is caused by the immune system and it required immune suppression such as IV steroids, IVIG or plasmapheresis. Many patients have to stay on oral immune suppressants such as prednisone or Cellcept. Some get regular Rituxan infusions. Some patients do take antidepressants or antipsychotics in addition to the immunosuppressant treatment, but the first step should really be suppressing the immune system.

Autoimmune encephalitis often does cause psychiatric symptoms such as intense fear, panic, paranoia, delusional thoughts and depression. All these symptoms could be present in patients with schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is also much more common than autoimmune encephalitis, it affects about 1% of population. Since psychosis due to autoimmune reaction is quite rare, it’s reasonable for a psychiatrist to assume schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, or psychotic depression. I do think though that if the psychosis is present along with physical symptoms, a blood test for autoimmune conditions should be performed as well. I don’t think schizophrenia is associated with facial swelling, lightheadedness, brain fog, extreme fatigue, etc. Autoimmune encephalitis on the other hand does cause all these physical symptoms and more severe ones as well such as seizures and going into a coma. Also I think that if a patient has tried different antipsychotics for several months and has not responded to them, it’s probably time to consider that there might be a different cause and perform further testing. My psychiatrist for some reason did not consider this. I was not aware of existence of autoimmune diseases, it was my mom who suggested specific blood tests.

BBC – Some psychosis cases an immune disorder

Further on, once I started reading more about causes of panic, anxiety, and mood swings, I bought a glucometer and decided to check my blood glucose. My fasting blood sugar was checked previously at the hospital and it was fine, but after performing my own measures, I noticed a problem. After specific meals that contained high glycemic index foods, my blood sugar could stay at higher than 11 mmol/L two hours after eating. Diabetes UK states that blood glucose over 8 mmol / L two hours after a meal is of concern. Later on I spoke about these results to a doctor and she said I may have hyperglycemia. I also noticed feeling psychologically worse when my blood sugar was high. My point here is that if you are not responding to antipsychotics, there are further things to investigate. There is autoimmune testing – high levels of thyroid antibodies could indicate Hashimoto’s encephalitis, there are also other types of autoimmune encephalitis with different antibodies (NMDA receptor encephalitis, for example). TSH, free T3, and free T4 is a standard test to check the thyroid function, hypo/hyper thyroidism can also cause psychosis. Diabetes/hyperglycemia can affect your mood. Usually fating blood sugar is checked, but I would also verify blood glucose levels two hours after a meal with high glycemic carboydrates.

Diabetes UK – Diabetes and Hyperglycemia