I was headed towards depression and I did not see it coming
One thing I’ve learned from my experience in the brain health program is that it’s too easy to live day by day with symptoms and have no idea. We are so used to our busy schedules and living life at such a fast pace that it’s easy to ignore what symptoms have simply become our norm.
Optimal brain function is essential to the health of the entire body. There has been a numerous amount of research in the past few years on Neuroplasticity of the brain and how the brain has the ability to change structure and function as we age. I always knew the brain had so much to do with overall health and wellness but underestimated the effect that lifestyle and daily activity could have on the health of the brain.
When we become symptomatic whether it be chronic fatigue, endocrine, or gastrointestinal symptoms we often play the blame game and its easy to overlook the brain. However, the brain is literally the boss of your body. The brain is broken down into 4 major areas; the cerebrum, the cerebellum, the brain stem, and thalamus. The cerebrum is responsible for reading, thinking, speech, muscle movements, and emotions. The cerebellum is responsible for balance, coordination, walking, and equilibrium. The brain stem controls breathing, eye movements, heart rate, and blood pressure. The thalamus is where the hypothalamus is located which is responsible for our body temperature, blood sugar, hunger, and hormones. Likewise, the gut-brain axis is the biochemical signaling that takes place between the gastrointestinal tract and the central nervous system. So as you can see there are many connections between the brain and the rest of the body.
As a nutritionist at Integrative Wellness Group, I wanted to participate in our Brain Health Program to understand the process our patients went through.
During my first session, my brain was analyzed by a qEEG, a quantitative electroencephalography. This technology creates a brain map through precise measurement and quantitative comparison. The quantitive comparison looks at brain waves and overall activity of the brain. The qEEG presents areas of the brain where there is too much or too little activity which may become problematic in our everyday life.
After the map is completed and the brain is able to be analyzed and a protocol is set up to begin training the brain; this is called Neurofeedback. Neurofeedback is pretty much a workout for the brain and pushes the brain in order to recreate pathways where there is dysfunction that may have become compromised over time. In other words, support Neuroplasticity.
The cerebrum is divided into two cerebral halves, the left, and right hemisphere. Thereafter each hemisphere has four sections: frontal, parietal, temporal, an occipital. The qEEG protocol will determine which section of the brain will be worked on throughout a course of 20 sessions. The first 10 sessions will work on one part of the brain while the second 10 sessions will work on the second part of the brain. Once the 20 sessions are complete the brain is remapped to see progress. Sessions are done over a course of 5-10 weeks. The brain must be trained at least once a week but optimal training is done 2-4 times per week.
So how does it all work?
You sit down in a small room with a laptop, big screen TV, pair of headphones, and glasses. Though the process seems pretty complex it is non-invasive. Each protocol for each individual is different but for the most part, you watch TV for 30 minutes wearing the headphones and glasses. The volume fluctuates, the lights on the glasses flash, and TV goes bright and dark.
Brain Health Assistant Jess Hickman explained, “Photic lights and photic stimulation are the primary responsibility of the glasses. They flash light at spectral brainwave frequencies in the brain. The optic nerve responds to the flashing light and sends impulses to the thalamus which conveys the information to the visual cortex. Neurons are then stimulated and rejuvenate at the induced frequency. This excitement trains neurons throughout the cortex to begin producing the same frequency of assisting the training”. The same thing is essentially happening with the headphones but with sound. When the screen darkens and lightens in color this is during periods where the brain is not working optimally.
The initial map:
Here is an example of what my protocol looked like below.
Protocol 19 was specifically to target anxiety and depression mix.
Protocol 10 was a hybrid treatment to help with memory, focus, and anxiety.
Brain fog… whats that?
I started my qEEG and neurofeedback training out of curiosity, I was not experiencing any notable symptoms. In fact, I was pretty confident my brain was working just fine. My initial brain mapping did not show any areas of overactivity in the brain, only under activity. My protocol was to wear blue glasses and train my occipital region first, followed by my temporal region next. After my initial map, I was so excited to start the neurofeedback treatments that I failed to ask Dr. Nick Carruthers (brain health specialist) & Jess Hickman (practitioners assistant) what was imbalanced. I started my treatments right away participating in three a week. The neurofeedback is pretty much a workout for your brain and my first treatment was really interesting. After my 6 o’clock treatment I went home and went to bed around 8 pm. I woke up at nearly 7 am and felt like I had only slept for ten minutes. I got myself up and went to work to find myself extremely tired like I hadn’t slept in days. After a long 5 hours of work, I went home and slept pretty much until the next morning. When I woke up the next day I felt amazing and felt amazing from then on. It was so interesting to me that I felt that way after the first treatment because I realized how much my brain really did need support. The occipital lobe has a lot to do with visual processing, procedural memory, sleep, and dreaming.
As my treatments went on I started to feel more mentally clear, have more energy, and feel just generally happier. It’s not like I felt sad on a day to day basis or felt like I had brain fog, I just felt generally better.
Had brain fog become my norm?
I remember about five treatments in, Dr. Nick came up to me and asked me why I was smiling a lot and why I looked so happy. I couldn’t help but laugh and respond, “What do you mean I always smile?”, and he said your smiling more. Come to think of it, I was smiling more & I did feel happier. After my treatments, I would have so much energy. I remember going home one night doing all the laundry, all the dishes, cleaning the floors, and realizing it was almost midnight! When we moved into the second ten sessions of my neurofeedback and focused more on language comprehension, verbal understanding, event sequencing, and long-term memory in my temporal lobe the experience just got better. I was concentrating on my school work, I was remembering what I studied, and just generally kept feeling happy. When the process was done, all twenty sessions, it was time to remap the brain and see what progress I made. It was then I realized Dr. Nick and Jess never went over my first brain map with me in the first place.
So why did Dr. Nick tell me I was smiling more? Well because he knew one thing my initial map showed was depression. The brain mapping showed that my brain had created pathways over time similar to a brain of a depressed person. I was not depressed nor did I ever feel depressed and I was confused. Jess explained to me that depression is not always what we make it out to be and could easily be me doing something for a period of time that I didn’t love. This made sense. I had worked in the conventional medicine field for many years and was unhappy and therefore over time these depressed pathways were created. I think it’s important to realize how life experiences can have such an impact on our brains. I was a believer in alternative holistic medicine yet there I was working in pediatrics, oncology, and with children with special needs in top-notch hospitals watching medications be handed out like they were candy. I did not love what I did and my brain was being affected.
Before I began my brain health program I also had unresolved thyroid issues which I had been treating for years with herbs and supplements. It also was not until I saw my initial brain map that I was able to see the disconnection between my neurological system and my endocrine system. Neurofeedback helped me heal my thyroid and reverse the pathways which were created in my brain leading to depression. Take a look at this…
My Initial MAP: It was Eye Opening
Above: Delta Red was an indicator of white matter damage, and LoBeta red was an indicator of anxiety and depression.
Below are actual photos of my initial brain map along with explanations of how to read the results. The subcomponent analysis provides a bird’s eye view of any deviant activity.
After about 8 weeks of treatment, it was time to remap my brain to see progress. I had a 50 percent improvement in overall brain function, and when working with the brain 50% is pretty significant.
In summary, Where to go from here?
After completing my first twenty sessions I took a couple months off to allow my brain to strengthen on its own. The brain will show improvements with neurofeedback immediately after the map but even more improvements up to a year afterward. It was a long journey and a dedication but completely worth it. They say neurofeedback is like training a dog. If you train the dog once a week for twenty sessions you will see improvements but if you train the dog twice or three times a week for twenty sessions you will see better improvements. The more treatments you can do in a week the better. As you can see I had significant improvements in the overall functioning of my brain just after twenty sessions but I wanted to do more. A couple months later I started neurofeedback again and will be completing another twenty sessions this weekend.
Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to form and reorganize synaptic connections, especially in response to learning or experience.
Neurofeedback is encouraging neuroplasticity and that’s exactly what I have done for me. The experience I had working in the conventional medical field for so long created pathways over time which was leading me to depression. As I mentioned above, I was not depressed but I did not love what I did. I didn’t love watching kids in the hospital be given medication after medication or undergo surgeries that were not always necessary. I remember one time a child came out of an endoscopy/ colonoscopy to find out they had Crohn’s Disease and the GI physician told the parents she’d be on medication for the rest of her life and that was all she could do. The doctor did not give one dietary recommendation. As a believer in food as medicine and holistic health, I managed to find my true passion as an integrative nutritionist. But the damage was done. I worked in a field I did not love and my initial brain map highlighted the fact.
After years of working on my thyroid with supplementation and alternative therapies, I would have a lot of trouble getting my labs in a healthy range. I tried acupuncture, iodine, adaptogenic herbs but nothing was working, and when I started to make progress I would find myself falling backward again. It wasn’t until I did neurofeedback that I saw the disconnection between my brain and my endocrine system and the inflammation the disconnection was causing in my thyroid. After completing my first 20 treatments I’ve seen an improvement in my symptoms and my serum thyroid panel. The thyroid issue was not a root cause but a bi-product of what was happening in my brain. This is why supplements and acupuncture helped for a little while but the treatments did not hold. Its so important in medicine to realize that there is no one size fits all.
It’s crazy looking back because as a full-time student I never felt I had an issue with brain fog or concentration. Or so did I think. Neurofeedback for me was a wake-up call because looking back on the experience I honestly don’t know how I got by on a daily basis. I did have brain fog, did have trouble with reading comprehension, and did have fatigue but it became my norm. After the treatments, I also found that I was sleeping a lot better which is shocking because I never thought I had issues with sleep in the first place.
Where do I go from here? After completing a total of 40 sessions I’ll be reviewing my third brain map and from there I’ll be taking another couple months off to allow my brain to respond to the treatments even more. Another 20 sessions perhaps?
This is a highly likely possibility.