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A Twenty-first Century Epidemic
Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought.
-- ALBERT VON SZENT-GYÖRGYI NAGYRAPOLT, 1937 Nobel Laureate in Physiology and Medicine, the scientist who isolated vitamin C
Your brain is broken. You know it. You feel it. You hide it. You fear it. You have been touched by an epidemic. It deprives children of their future, the elderly of their past, and adults of their present.
No one is talking about this invisible epidemic. Yet it's the leading cause of disability, affects 1.1 billion people worldwide -- one in six children, one in two elderly -- and will cripple one in four people during their lifetime.
I am talking about the epidemic of broken brains.
We refer to our "broken brains" by many names -- depression, anxiety, memory loss, brain fog, attention deficit disorder or ADD, autism, and dementia to name a few.
This epidemic of brain breakdown shows up in radically different ways from person to person so that they all seem like separate problems. But the truth is that they are all manifestations of a few common underlying root causes.
These seemingly different disorders are all really the same problem -- imbalances in the seven keys to UltraWellness.
Conventional treatments don't help, make things worse, or provide only slight benefit.
That's because conventional treatments use the wrong model to heal these disorders.
There is another way to fix your broken brain, and it is not what you have heard or might think.
Just as brain problems all stem from the same root causes, they all have the same solution -- The UltraMind Solution.
I know this as both doctor and patient. My own brain broke one beautiful late August day in 1996. I became disoriented and terrified and descended into a spiral of helplessness and hopelessness.
Let me tell you my story.
My Broken Brain
Learning, thinking, and speaking were always easy for me. My brain never failed me. In college, I learned thousands of Chinese characters. In medical school, the intricate patterns and names of our anatomy -- the bones, muscles, organs, vessels, and nerves -- mapped effortlessly into my mind, and the complex pathways of physiology and biochemistry were clear after one lecture and reading my notes.
I ran four miles every day to medical school. I took detailed notes in my classes, able to simultaneously listen to, remember, and write down nearly every word my professors spoke.
At the end of the day I ran back again to my apartment, did yoga for an hour, ate a freshly prepared whole-foods meal, and studied without distraction or loss of focus for three hours every night. Then I crawled into bed, fell peacefully asleep within five minutes, and slept deeply for seven hours.
The next day I got up and did it all over again.
That rhythmic life broke down, as it does for all physicians in training, when I entered the hospital and started pushing my body and mind beyond their limits with regular thirty-six-hour shifts on top of an occasional sixty-hour shift (Friday morning to Monday evening!).
When I went to practice as a small-town family doctor in Idaho, I worked a shortened schedule of only eighty hours a week, seeing thirty patients a day, delivering babies, and working in the emergency room.
From Idaho, I went to work in China for a year, breathing in the coal-soaked, mercury-laden air, before I landed back in Massachusetts, working a crazy schedule of shifts in an inner-city emergency room.
Then suddenly (or so it appeared at the time), my brain broke -- along the with rest of my body.
Sitting with patients, I often couldn't remember what they had just said, or where I was in eliciting their story. I tried to take careful notes and keep track, but I couldn't focus on conversations, couldn't remember anyone's name. I started taking pictures and writing down personal details about my patients to serve as my peripheral memory so I wouldn't embarrass myself the next time I spoke to them.
During lectures I had to give as part of my job, I would get lost in the middle of a sentence and had to ask the audience what I had just said. When I read a book, I had to go over passages again and again just to glean any meaning. At night, I read my children bedtime stories but had to robotically mouth the words, because I couldn't simultaneously read aloud and understand what I read.
Sleep eluded me. Exhausted and bone weary, I would lie down in bed at night and remain sleepless for hours. After finally drifting off, I would wake the next morning feeling as if I had never slept.
Depression and anxiety, which I had never known before, became constant companions.
At times I felt I couldn't go on any longer. My capacity for pleasure and laughter faded into a distant memory.
The worse my body felt, the worse my brain functioned. If my stomach was bloated and swollen and I had diarrhea, I couldn't think or sleep. If my tongue was inflamed or my eyes swollen and red, I became depressed. If my muscles ached and twitched, I couldn't focus. If I felt bone-weary fatigue, I would forget what I was saying or why I had just walked into a room.
Some doctors said I was depressed and recommended antidepressants. Psychiatrists suggested antianxiety drugs. My family doctor prescribed sleeping medication. A neurologist told me I had ADD and I needed stimulants. Others said I had chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia. All I knew was that my brain was broken, my focus gone, my mood depressed, my memory fleeting, and my body wasn't working.
All at once, I couldn't pay attention, remember, or experience joy and happiness. It was as if I had suddenly "contracted" three terrible diseases -- attention deficit disorder, depression, and dementia. How could my brain have failed me? The part of me that was strongest suddenly became my weakest link. What had happened?
What I experienced was extreme and I hid it from the rest of the world, except for a very few close friends. I faked it and pulled myself through each day.
But after that summer day in August when my brain broke, weary and fighting brain fog, I began searching for answers.
Piece by piece, cell by cell, body system by body system, I discovered the source of my broken brain. By combing through the literature, consulting with dozens of scientists and doctors, and experimenting with my body and mind, I slowly put myself back together.
It wasn't one thing that broke my brain. It was everything piled higher and higher until my brain and body couldn't take anymore. It seemed sudden but was the end of a long series of exposures to toxins, stress, and a strange infection.
The trail led back to mercury poisoning from living in Beijing, China, breathing in raw coal used to heat homes for 10 million people, eating endless childhood tuna-fish sandwiches, and having a mouthful of "silver" or mercury fillings. I was also missing a key gene needed to detoxify all this mercury, which compounded the problem. I found out about this later through careful testing.
Years of sleepless nights delivering babies and working in the emergency room
destroyed my body's rhythms, which I tried to bolster with quadruple espressos, giant-size chocolate chip cookies, and mountains of Chunky Monkey ice cream (I reasoned that was healthy because of the bananas and walnuts!).
Then one late summer day in 1996 I ate or drank something up in a wilderness camp in Maine that infected my gut. That was the straw that broke the camel's back.
This book is the story of my healing. It is also the story of the discoveries I made that hold the answer to our current epidemic of broken brains. It offers a solution to your suffering just as it did to mine.
How many of you feel what I felt, at least to some degree?
Maybe you fear losing your job because you're tired, unfocused, inattentive, and your memory is failing so you can't properly perform your tasks at work.
Do you feel depressed, hopeless, disconnected, and disengaged from your life?
Do you see your relationships breaking down because you are mentally and emotionally absent or numb?
Perhaps you struggle to focus so you can help your children with their homework and guide them through life, but feel sure you aren't living up to your duties as a parent.
Do you lie awake at night, tormented by the grief and pain of living half a life, and then worry about how you will find a way to wake up early in the morning just so you can get your kids to school?
Do you forget to meet friends or go to appointments, and then can't figure out how in the world you forgot?
If so, you aren't alone. You have been affected by the broken brain epidemic, a terrifying and life-threatening chronic illness that has been largely unaddressed by the medical community, leaving millions of people to suffer alone, trapped in their deteriorating minds.
Our Looming Silent Epidemic of Broken Brains
Obesity is obvious. You can't hide it. But mental illness and memory loss are suffered silently, hidden from view. Yet they touch nearly everyone either directly or indirectly; personally or through family members and friends.
Our broken brains cause many problems -- anxiety, depression, bipolar disease, personality disorders, eating disorders, addictions, obsessive-compulsive disorder, attention deficit disorder, autism, Asperger's, learning difficulties, and dyslexia.
Broken brains take many shapes, including psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia and mania, as well as all the neurodegenerative diseases of aging, especially Alzheimer's, dementia, and Parkinson's disease.
In addition, there are brain dysfunctions that fall on the lighter side of
the broken brain continuum. While many psychiatrists and neurologists wouldn't qualify these problems as treatable diseases, they still cause unnecessary suffering for many. These include chronic stress, lack of focus, poor concentration, brain fog, anger, mood swings, sleep problems, or just feeling a bit anxious or depressed most of the time.
Broken brains show up in two major ways: psychiatric disorders -- problems that most blame on emotional trauma -- and neurological disorders -- problems most consider to be caused by neurological impairment, not emotional malfunctioning.
Whether you suffer from a psychiatric disorder like depression or a neurological disorder like Alzheimer's, the simple fact is this...
Our brains don't work well.
We suffer from bouts of depression that darken our days and make our lives feel empty and meaningless. We have irrational fears that torment us day in and day out. We live under the constant pressure of stress that never seems to cease. We lose our grip on reality. We can't focus at work. We can't remember what we are taught in school. And our memories just get worse and worse every day.
Because they are so pervasive, broken brains are one of the primary issues keeping many in today's society from being optimally healthy and feeling vitally alive -- an experience I call UltraWellness, which is something you are going to learn how to achieve in this book.
If you think this isn't a serious problem or it only affects a few people, think again.
Psychiatric disorders affect 26 percent of our adult population or more than 60 million Americans.
More than 20 percent of children have some type of psychiatric disorder.
More than 40 million people have anxiety.
More than 20 million people have depression.
One in ten Americans takes an antidepressant.
The use of antidepressants has tripled in the last decade.
In 2006, expenditures on antidepressants soared to over $1.9 billion.
Psychiatric disorders like depression and anxiety are expensive. They are among the top five most costly medical conditions, including heart disease, cancer, trauma, and lung disorders. The cost to our health-care system exceeds $200 billion a year, which is over 12 percent of total health-care spending.
Alzheimer's disease will affect 30 percent (and some experts say 50 percent) of people over eighty-five years old, which is the fastest-growing segment of the population. It will affect 16 million people by 2050.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is a label we now give 8.7 percent of children between the ages of eight and fifteen.
More than 8 million, or one in ten, children now take stimulant medications like methylphenidate (Ritalin).
Autism rates have increased from 3 in 10,000 children to 1 in 166 children -- an elevenfold increase -- over the last decade.
Learning disabilities affect between 5 and 10 percent of school-age children.
The indirect costs of all these broken brains to society are mammoth. They include loss of productivity at school, home, or in the workplace, accounting for a loss of over $80 billion a year.
There is something wrong with this picture. Nearly one in three of us suffers from a broken brain. Is this a normal part of the human condition?
No. It isn't.
The problem is that we've been looking for answers to these problems in the wrong places -- in the corners of our past, in the chemical "imbalances" in our brains, in the latest drug or therapeutic approach.
This is especially true of psychiatry and neurology, the two specialties that typically treat "brain disorders."
Neurologists and psychiatrists focus on treating your brain using medications or psychotherapy. In fact, most psychiatrists and neurologists focus solely on their favorite organ, the brain, and ignore the rest of the body.
But what if the cure for brain disorders is outside the brain? What if mood, memory, attention and behavior problems, and most other "brain diseases" have their root cause in the rest of the body -- in treatable imbalances in the body's key systems? What if they are not localized in the brain? If this is true, it would mean our whole approach to dealing with brain disorders is completely backward.
Indeed, it is.
Why Traditional Neurology and Psychiatry Typically Don't Work
Psychiatry has its roots in the notion that previous life experiences or traumas control mood and behavior. This is the legacy of Sigmund Freud -- that all mental illness is the result of childhood experiences.
Yet only about 10 percent of us are nutritionally, metabolically, and biochemically balanced enough to fully benefit from psychotherapy.
What's more, years of psychoanalysis or therapy will not reverse the depression that comes from profound omega-3 fatty acid deficiencies, a lack of vitamin B12, a low-functioning thyroid, or chronic mercury toxicity.
Certainly, if the body is back in balance, working with the emotional and spiritual dimensions of our suffering is critical and necessary. But it is a very hard road to follow without addressing how our genes, diet, and environment interact to change our brain chemistry and detract from the optimal function and balance of our body and mind.
If you have a significant biological imbalance, psychotherapy is a distraction and a waste of time.
And many of us suffer from biological imbalances...
Sensing this, modern psychiatry has moved into an elaborate attempt to control brain chemistry with drugs, as if all mental illness were a brain chemistry imbalance and all we have to do is match the right drug (or drugs) to the mental illness.
Is Depression a Prozac Deficiency?
Is this the answer to our epidemic of broken brains -- more and better medication? Do we really need more antidepressants, stimulants, antipsychotics, and memory medications?
Are we defectively designed so that we cannot be happy, or concentrate or remember things, without pills? Is depression a Prozac deficiency? Is ADHD a Ritalin deficiency? Is Alzheimer's an Aricept deficiency?
I think not.
Yet the use of these drugs is skyrocketing. Psychiatric or psychotropic medications are the number-two selling class of prescription drugs, after cholesterol medication. And the rate of increase in the use of psychiatric medications in the last decade is meteoric (such as a 1,000 percent increase in the use of stimulant medication in children).
If treatments like these were completely effective and free of side effects, I would welcome them to provide relief from suffering for millions. But they do not work well (or at all) for many.
Let's take the example of antidepressants.
Most patients who take antidepressants either don't respond or have only a partial response. In fact, success is considered a 50 percent improvement in half the symptoms. And this minimal result is achieved in less than half the patients taking these medications.
That's a pretty dismal record. It's made worse by the fact that 86 percent of those who do find some relief from their symptoms have one or more side effects, including sexual dysfunction, fatigue, insomnia, loss of mental abilities, nausea, and weight gain!
No wonder half of the people who try antidepressants quit after four months.
A recent study in The New England Journal of Medicine discovered that drug companies selectively published studies on antidepressants. They published nearly all the studies that showed benefit and almost none of the studies that showed they don't work.
This kind of underreporting warps our view, leading us to think that antidepressants (and other psychiatric medications) do work when they don't. This hiding of the real and complete data on antidepressants has fueled the tremendous growth we have seen in psychiatric medications.
The problem is actually worse than it sounds because the positive studies hardly show benefit in the first place. In double-blind studies of antidepressants (where people are given either the medication or a sugar pill) 40 percent of people taking a sugar pill got better, while only 60 percent taking the actual drug had improvement in their symptoms. Looking at it another way -- 80 percent of people get better with just a sugar pill.
I'll admit, the approach is half right. Chemical imbalances lead to problems. But the real question that manipulating brain chemicals with drugs begs is never asked...
Why are those chemicals out of balance in the first place and how do we get them back to their natural state of balance?
These drugs don't cure the problem. They cover over the symptoms.
To cure the epidemic of broken brains we have to ask a new set of questions:
How do we find the cause of this epidemic?
Are we defectively designed, or is it our toxic environment, our nutrient-depleted diet, and our unremitting stress affecting our sensitive brains? Is it the result of imbalances in our body?
Are more drugs really the answer, or is there a way to address the underlying causes of this epidemic so that we can regain our mental (and physical) health and live whole, functional, fulfilling lives?
There is an answer to brain problems, but it's not more drugs or psychotherapy. Although these tools can be a helpful bridge during your recovery from a broken brain, they won't provide long-term solutions.
The secret that promises to help us fix our broken brains lies in an unlikely place, a place modern medicine has mostly ignored.
The answer lies in our body.
Copyright © 2009 by Hyman Enterprises, LLC