As wildfires ravage the West Coast, smoke from those fires is crossing the U.S., Canada, and beyond causing air quality to reach “very unhealthy” levels. The skies, thick with smoke, are pushing people indoors again where isolation, uncertainty, and fears are ramping up. Combine that with the ongoing stress from the pandemic lockdown, and it’s driving anxiety, depression, brain fog, and more. But these aren’t the only reasons why air pollution is triggering psychiatric symptoms and cognitive issues. There’s another reason that most people don’t realize.
Smoke and other types of air pollution contain dangerous toxins that can harm the human brain and raise the risk of mental health disorders. According to 2019 research in Environmental Health Perspectives and Plos Biology, areas that have higher levels of environmental pollution are associated with more cases of anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, psychosis, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Despite the emerging evidence, the effects of environmental toxins on mental health remain virtually ignored in traditional psychiatry.
Amen Clinics, however, which has the world’s largest database of functional brain scans related to behavior, has been aware of the association between environmental toxins, brain health, and psychiatric and cognitive problems for decades.
The team of neuropsychiatrists at Amen Clinics call this phenomenon Toxic Brain.
WHAT IS TOXIC BRAIN?
Toxic Brain occurs when environmental toxins harm the brain and contribute to psychiatric or cognitive issues. Environmental toxins impact nearly every aspect of your body and can damage the brain.
On brain SPECT scans, a “scalloped” appearance and overall decreased cerebral blood flow is a sign of possible toxicity. At Amen Clinics, when this pattern is seen, it prompts our team of neuropsychiatrists and integrative medicine (also called functional medicine) physicians to investigate why. Additional testing and a detailed clinical history help determine the root cause of Toxic Brain.
Caption: SPECT (single-photon emission computed tomography) is a nuclear medicine study that evaluates blood flow and activity in the brain. Basically, it shows 3 things: healthy activity, too little activity, or too much activity. The healthy surface brain SPECT scan on the left shows full, even symmetrical activity. The Toxic Brain scan on the right shows scalloping and decreased overall activity and blood flow.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF TOXIC BRAIN?
Exposure to toxins is associated with a variety of physical and psychiatric symptoms. On the physical side, issues can include autoimmune diseases, diabetes, cancer, fatigue, numbness, tingling, tremors, allergies, abdominal pain, diarrhea, smelly stools, bad breath, weight issues, skin rashes, sweats, and more.
Research shows that from a psychiatric standpoint, exposure to toxins can increase the risk of:
- Learning problems
- Memory problems and dementia
- Brain fog
- Temper outbursts
- Psychotic behavior
If you’re already struggling with mental health disorders, brain fog, or other cognitive issues, exposure to toxins may worsen symptoms.
HOW TOXIC IS YOUR BRAIN?
Wildfire smoke is only one of many environmental toxins that damage the brain and contribute to mental health problems and cognitive issues. Every single day, we are exposed to a host of chemicals, pesticides, fumes, and products that poison the human brain. Common toxins in the air we breathe, the foods we eat, and the products we rub on our skin are absorbed into our bodies via our lungs, digestive system, and pores and can eventually impact the brain. The more exposure you have to these everyday toxins, the more you’re putting your brain at risk and increasing your chances of mental health issues.
Take the following quiz to get a better idea of your brain’s toxic load. The more questions you answer “yes” to, the more toxic your brain is likely to be.
- Do you smoke, or are you around secondhand smoke?
- Do you smoke marijuana?
- Do you use conventional cleaning products and inadvertently breathe the fumes?
- Have you been exposed to carbon monoxide?
- Do you travel on planes more than six times a year?
- Do you pump your own gas or breathe automobile exhaust?
- Do you live in an area with moderate to high air pollution or are you being exposed to smoke from wildfires?
- Have you lived or worked in a building that had water damage and mold in it?
- Do you come in contact with flame-resistant clothing or carpet, or with furnishings sprayed with chemicals to prevent stains?
- Do you spray your garden, farm or orchard with pesticides or live near an area with pesticides?
- Do you paint indoors without ventilation?
- Do you have more than four glasses of alcohol a week?
- Do you regularly eat processed or fast foods?
- Do you regularly eat conventionally raised produce, meat, dairy, or farm-raised fish?
- Do you eat large (i.e., mercury-contaminated) fish, such as swordfish?
- Do you eat non-organic fruits and vegetables on a regular basis?
- Do you consume foods with artificial colors or sweeteners, such as diet sodas, or use artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame (NutraSweet), sucralose (Splenda), or saccharin (Sweet’N Low)?
- Do you use more than 2 health and/or beauty products per day? (Most people never read the labels and don’t realize how many chemicals are included)
- Do you live in a house that contains lead pipes or copper plumbing soldered with lead (built prior to 1978)?
- Do you wear lipstick or kiss someone with lipstick made with lead (60% of the lipstick sold in the U.S. contains lead)?
- Do you have mercury amalgam fillings? How many?
- Do you work in a job where you are exposed to environmental toxins, such as firefighting, painting, welding, longshoreman?
- Have you had general anesthesia? How many times?
HOW TO HEAL FROM TOXIC BRAIN
If your brain has been chronically exposed to environmental toxins and you’re experiencing psychiatric or cognitive symptoms, it’s important to investigate further. SPECT imaging can help determine if there is the telltale scalloping pattern and reduced overall activity typically seen in Toxic Brain and can provide valuable insights into other conditions. Even if your brain does look toxic, don’t despair. There is hope.
You can heal your brain. Here are some of the recommended interventions:
1. Limit or eliminate your exposure to toxins.
You can’t completely avoid toxins—especially during times when massive wildfires are spewing unhealthy toxins into the air you breathe—but you can limit your exposure. Here are some of the best ways to detox your brain, your body, and your life.
- Quit smoking, stop using marijuana and limit alcohol to 2-4 glasses a week.
- Remove “silver” dental fillings.
- Reduce your consumption of toxin-contaminated foods.
- Choose organic foods when possible.
- Always wash your fruits and vegetables.
- Avoid processed foods and those with chemical ingredients.
- Choose meat and dairy that is antibiotic and hormone-free.
- Drink 3-4 quarts of clean water a day.
- Check your home for mold and eliminate it.
- Use an air purifier.
- Do a bathroom cleanse to eliminate unsafe cleaning and personal care products (use the Think Dirty app).
2. Start a brain rehab program.
- Fall in love with your brain.
- Avoid things that hurt your brain.
- Adopt habits that help the brain.
- Consider neurofeedback.
- Try hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT), which can speed the healing of the brain.
- Take brain-enhancing supplements, such as omega-3 fatty acids.
Toxic Brain and the psychiatric and cognitive health issues associated with it can’t wait. During these uncertain times, your mental well-being is more important than ever, and waiting until life gets back to “normal” is likely to make your symptoms worsen over time.
At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, remote clinical evaluations, and video therapy for adults, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834. If all our specialists are busy helping others, you can also schedule a time to talk.
The post Can’t Breathe? Can’t Think? Can’t Cope? Is It Toxic Brain? first appeared on Amen Clinics.