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How Depression Affects Brain Structure & What You Can Do To Change It Back

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According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 400 million people, of all ages, suffer from depression, making it the leading cause of disability worldwide.

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This is a massive target market for pharmaceutical companies, and that’s no secret. There are huge profits to be made, and drug companies are taking every opportunity to make the most of this seemingly limitless source of income — at the expense of the consumer. It is not difficult to find evidence to support this notion, and a recent study published in the British Medical Journal is just one of many compelling examples. The study showed that pharmaceutical companies were not disclosing all information regarding the results of their drug trials. Researchers looked at documents from 70 different double-blind, placebo-controlled trials of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRI) and found that the full extent of serious harm in clinical study reports went unreported.

And it’s not the first time this has happened. To read more about that and to find the study, click here.

Not feeling well can take a toll on your physical health in a number of ways; when it comes to the brain, episodes of constant depression can actually can actually reduce the size of your hippocampus — an area of the brain involved in forming and regulating emotions and memory. This is especially concerning for teenagers, given their brains are still developing in significant ways.

There is good news, however: the damage can be reversed, and you can change your brain in a number of different ways, but to do so requires you to make the decision to help yourself and then act on it.

Depression & Your Brain

Several studies have stated that depressed people tend to have a smaller hippocampus. According to Professor Ian Hickie of The University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Research Institute:

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[The] more episodes of depression a person had, the greater the reduction in hippocampus size. So recurrent or persistent depression does more harm to the hippocampus the more you leave it untreated.

This largely settles the question of what comes first: the smaller hippocampus or the depression? The damage to the brain comes from recurrent illness…

Other studies have demonstrated reversibility, and the hippocampus is one of the unique areas of the brain that rapidly generates new connections between cells, and what are lost here are connections between cells rather than the cells themselves.

Treating depression effectively does not just mean medicines. If you are unemployed, for example, and then sit in a room doing nothing as a result, this can shrink the hippocampus. So social interventions are just as important, and treatments such as fish oils are also thought to be neuro-protective.  (source)(source)

It’s also noteworthy to mention here that feelings of sadness and negativity can code different information into the heart’s electromagnetic field, and that the heart will actually send signals to the brain which can create chaos in the nervous system. These findings come from the scientists at the Institute of HeartMath, who investigate heart and brain interaction. You can read more about that here.

Scientists have also used brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data to examine the hypothesis that depression changes the brain. For example, an international team of researchers found that those who suffered from recurring depression do indeed have a smaller hippocampus. (source)(source)

Chemical Imbalance Or Not? 

Joseph Coyle, a neuroscientist from Harvard Medical School, perhaps sums it up best when he explained that this idea of a “chemical imbalance is sort of last-century thinking. It’s much more complicated than that.” And it’s true; depression cannot truly be reduced to the commonly accepted notion of  a chemical imbalance in the brain. Posed in the late 1950s, this theory essentially posits that depression is a deficiency of select neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) at critical points, like synapses. One of these neurotransmitters, for example, is serotonin; others include norepinephrine and dopamine.

As Scientific American reports, “much of the general public seems to have accepted the chemical imbalance hypothesis uncritically,” but “it is very likely that depression stems from influences other than neurotransmitter abnormalities.” (source)

Harvard Medical School also put out a press release a few years ago stating that it’s “often said that depression results from a chemical imbalance, but that figure of speech doesn’t capture how complex the disease is.” Dr. Joanna Moncrieff, a prominent author and British psychiatrist, explains further:

Of course, there are brain events and biochemical reactions occurring when someone feels depressed, as there are all the time, but no research has ever established that a particular brain state causes, or even correlates with, depression. . . . In all cases studies yield inconsistent results, and none have been shown to be specific to depression, let alone causal. . . . The fact that more than 50 years of intense research efforts have failed to identify depression in the brain may indicate that we simply lack the right technology, or it may suggest we have been barking up the wrong tree! (source)

The most commonly cited evidence to support the chemical imbalance theory is the ability of some drugs to increase and decrease mood in human and animal models. While many antidepressants increase the amounts of serotonin and other neurotransmitters at synapses, they do not address the underlying issues or help the brain heal itself. And what we fail to realize today is that just because mood can be artificially manipulated with drugs does not mean that depression cannot be treated in other ways, or that the chemical imbalance theory is true.

We are simply incapable of saying with certainty that a human being has a chemical imbalance (to whatever extent) or identifying what neurotransmitters are involved. This is why the chemical imbalance theory of depression remains a theory. Chemical levels in the brain cannot accurately be measured or ‘looked at,’ either.

Yet much of the general public still accepts the chemical imbalance theory. A survey conducted in 2007 of 262 undergraduates at Cleveland State University found that more than 80 percent of the participants found it “likely” that chemical imbalances cause depression. According to Jonathan Leo, an Associate Professor of Neuroanatomy at Lincoln Memorial University, this really has yet to be proven:

At best, drug-induced affective disturbances can only be considered models for natural disorders, while it remains to be demonstrated that the behavioral changes produced by these drugs have any relation to naturally occurring biochemical abnormalities which might be associated with the illness. (source)

It’s important to keep in mind that there are probably many chemicals involved, working both inside and outside of our nerve cells. As Harvard Medical School points out, there are millions, even billions, of chemical reactions that make up the dynamic system that is responsible for your mood, perceptions, and how you experience life.

Jonathan Leo further points out that “the cause of mental disorders such as depression remains unknown. However, the idea that neurotransmitter imbalances cause depression is vigorously promoted by pharmaceutical companies and the psychiatric profession at large.” (source)

As I hope I have made clear, the theory that depression is caused by low levels of serotonin, along with similar such theories, came into existence because scientists were able to observe what drugs do to the brain. It is a hypothesis that attempted to explain how drugs were able to fix the problem, but whether or not depressed people actually have lower serotonin levels remains to be proven. You can read more about the science here.

“The serotonin theory is simply not a scientific statement. It’s a botched theory – a hypothesis that was proven incorrect.” – Dr. Joseph Mercola (source)

Not only is there no solid scientific proof to back up the chemical imbalance theory, many depressed people are not even helped by taking antidepressants like SSRIs. For example, a review done by the University of California in 2009 found that one third of people treated with antidepressants do not improve, and a significant portion of these people remain depressed. Scientific American too points out that “if antidepressants correct a chemical imbalance that underlies depression, all or most depressed people should get better after taking them.” (source)

That being said, there are many who do report positive benefits, but there is no way to tell if the drugs are working or if they are just working like a placebo.

Think about this for a moment: so many of us are made to believe that depression is the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain, when there is actually little scientific evidence to support that statement. Association between various brain changes and depression is large, and no studies have established a solid, cause-and-effect correlation between the brain and the disorder.

Depression has one focus — brain chemistry — despite it being a multi-faceted problem. Focusing on this one theory and then dishing out drugs that actually alter brain chemistry is, as Scientific American puts it, simply “shortsighted.”

“In spite of the enormous amounts of money and time that has been spent on the quest to confirm the chemical imbalance theory, direct proof has never materialized.” (source)

I am astounded that people fail to see the irony in the situation. The only chemical imbalances we can prove exist in people’s brains are the ones being inflicted upon them by psychiatric drugs.

There Are Other Biological Factors Implicated In Depression

As Dr. Mercola points out:

Contrary to popular belief, depression is not likely caused by unbalanced brain chemicals; however there are a number of other biological factors that appear to be highly significant. Chronic inflammation is one such factor.5

Scientists have also found that your mental health can be adversely impacted by factors such as vitamin D deficiency and/or unbalanced gut flora — both of which, incidentally, play a role in keeping inflammation in check, which is really what the remedy to depression is all about.

He also talks about sugar, which is extremely toxic to the body and a catalyst for multiple diseases. You can read his article on depression and these other biological factors here.

Some Great Ways To Combat Depression

1. Neuroplasticity

Neuroplasticity is the idea that the brain is adaptable and changeable. It’s now being used to treat learning disabilities, brain damage, chronic pain, and more. A great person to learn more about this from is Dr. Norman Doidge, among others. He is the author of The Brain That Changes Itself. He writes:

The idea that the brain is plastic in the sense of changeable, adaptable and malleable is the single most important change in our understanding of the human brain in four hundred years. Neuroplasticity is that property of the brain that allows it to change its structure and its function, it’s a response to sensing and perceiving the world, even to thinking and imagining. Human thoughts and learning actually turn on certain genes in our nerve cells which allow those cells to make new connections between them.

It’s the idea that the way you think can actually change your brain. This is not a new idea, and it has been demonstrated by a number of experiments ranging from quantum physics, where factors associated with conscious can change the behaviour of an atom, to placebo studies, which demonstrate the power of the mind.

For example, a Baylor School of Medicine study, published in 2002 in the New England Journal of Medicine, looked at surgery for patients with severe and debilitating knee pain. Many surgeons know there is no placebo effect in surgery, or so most of them believe. The patients were divided into three groups. The surgeons shaved the damaged cartilage in the knee of one group. For the second group they flushed out the knee joint, removing all of the material believed to be causing inflammation. Both of these processes are the standard surgeries people go through who have severe arthritic knees. The third group received a “fake” surgery; the patients were only sedated and tricked into thinking they actually had the knee surgery. Doctors made the incisions and splashed salt water on the knee as they would in normal surgery, then sewed up the incisions like the real thing and the process was complete. All three groups went through the same rehab process, and the results were astonishing. The placebo group improved just as much as the other two groups who had surgery.

“My skill as a surgeon had no benefit on these patients. The entire benefit of surgery for osteoarthritis of the knee was the placebo effect.” – Dr. Moseley (surgeon involved in the study) (Lipton, Bruce. The Biology of Belief. Hay House, Inc, 2005)

The power of the placebo effect was also clearly demonstrated in a report published by the United States Department of Health and Human Services in 1999. It discovered that half of severely depressed patients taking drugs improve compared to the thirty-two percent taking a placebo. Considering all of the side effects and dangers associated with anti-depressant use, this marginal difference hardly seems worthwhile. And let’s not forget that the anti-depressant industry is a multi billion dollar one.

A 2002 article published in the American Psychological Association’s Prevention & Treatment by University of Connecticut Psychology Professor Irving Kirsch titled, “The Emperor’s New Drugs,” made some more shocking discoveries. He found that 80 perecent of the effect of antidepressants, as measured in clinical trials, could be attributed to the placebo effect. This professor even had to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to get information on the clinical trials of the top antidepressants. (source)(source) Kirsch found that the difference between the response of the drugs and the response of the placebo was less than two points on average on this clinical scale that goes from fifty to sixty points. That difference, as Kirsch points out, is clinically meaningless.

Researchers all over the world have found that placebo treatments can stimulate real biological and physiological responses — everything from changes in heart rate to blood pressure and even chemical activity in the brain. It’s been effective with a number of different ailments, from arthritis, to depression, fatigue, anxiety, Parkinson’s, and more.  (source) Why are we not utilizing our brain’s own remarkable ability to heal itself more often?

2. Food

Take a look at these factors.

  • Added sugar and high fructose corn syrup
  • Genetically engineered (GE) ingredients (primarily corn, soy, and sugar beets) which, besides their own unknown health risks, also tend to be heavily contaminated with glyphosate—a Class 2A carcinogen that can also damage your gut microbiome and has been linked to antibiotic-resistance. Most conventional (non-GE) wheat is also treated with toxic glyphosate prior to harvesting.
  • By altering the balance of your gut flora, pesticides and herbicides also disrupt the production of essential amino acids like tryptophan, a serotonin precursor, and promote production of p-cresol, a compound that interferes with metabolism of other environmental chemicals, thereby increasing your vulnerability to their toxic effects.
  • Artificial sweeteners, along with thousands of food additives, most of which have never been tested for safety
    Chemicals in the food packaging, such as bisphenol-A (BPA), bisphenol-S (BPS), and phthalates, which can migrate into the food
  • Trans fats

3. Exercise 

Exercise has been shown to  effectively combat depression and help rebuild the hippocampus. Studies have shown very clear links between inactivity and depression. As Dr. Mercola tells us, women who sat for more than seven hours a day were found to have a 47 percent higher risk of depression than women who sat for four hours or less per day. Furthermore, those who participated in zero physical activity actually had a 99 percent higher risk of developing depression than women who exercised.  Studies have shown its efficiency typically surpasses that of antidepressant drugs, and it also helps rid your body of stress chemicals that can lead to depression.

4. Meditation

As Forbes points out,

The practice appears to have an amazing variety of neurological benefits – from changes in grey matter volume to reduced activity in the ‘me’ centers of the brain to enhanced connectivity between brain regions. . . .

Skeptics, of course, may ask what good are a few brain changes if the psychological effects aren’t simultaneously being illustrated? Luckily, there’s good evidence for those as well, with studies reporting that meditation helps relieve our subjective levels of anxiety and depression, and improve attention, concentration, and overall psychological well-being.

Related CE article: Harvard Study Unveils What Meditation Literally Does To The Brain

For more helpful ways to overcome depression, you can check out THIS article.

Thanks for reading.

 

 

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Awareness

How To Clear Seriously Blocked Sinuses Naturally In 1 Minute

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    Three simple steps you can take to clear blocked sinuses that seem to work for many people.

  • Reflect On:

    Are you healthy? What natural things do you do when "flu season" comes around to give your immune system a boost?

Having clogged sinuses isn’t fun. You can’t breath, you can’t smell, your head hurts, and your voice sounds funny. Finding relief when you have clogged sinuses is usually like finding a million dollars on the ground — it’s amazing!

The causes for nasal congestion can range greatly, and you don’t have to be sick to be congested. Many people will experience congestion from allergies, temperatures, dust, smoking, spicy food, and air particles.

Recently I was at Contact in the Desert in California and I found myself having clogged sinuses from the blowing sand and dry air. Within two days, I couldn’t breathe at all out of one side of my nose and my sinuses got blocked up, causing my face and head to hurt. I needed a solution.

After trying to blow my nose over and over again, I turned to the internet for relief. Sure enough, Google came through.

I found a video by Dr. Adam that quickly and easily explained how to clear sinuses in about one minute using just your fingers — and no, they don’t have to go in your nose. Sure enough, I had relief from the pain the blockage was causing, and I could breathe!

Some might be wondering why I didn’t take sinus or cold medication to get relief. The answer is simple: I don’t like taking medication for anything unless I absolutely have to. I know many of you are on the same page and like to do things naturally. Many cold medications just mask symptoms and come with negative side effects that are worth avoiding if possible.

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How to Clear Your Sinuses Fast!

You simply need to sit down and get your hands ready for the following steps. The video below offers a visual demonstration, so I recommend checking that out too.

1. While sitting with your head and body on about a 45 degree angle, turn your head sideways and rub your sternocleidomastoid muscle downward four or five times. You can find the muscle right beneath your ear running down your neck to your collarbone. See image. Do this on both sides of your neck to help relax your neck.

2. Take your index fingers, locate the hard, bony part of the upper sides of your nose, and move downward toward the soft part on the side of your nose where the bone ends. Begin massaging this area in a circular motion with as much pressure as you can for about 20 seconds. Once completed, rub the muscles from the side of your nose down and toward your cheekbones to relax them.

3. Take your index fingers and run them under the inside orbit bone above your eyes until you find a notch in the bone called the super orbital notch. It is usually just above the centre of the eye. Massage that notch in a circular motion with as much pressure as you can handle for about 20 seconds. Once done, massage your forward with both hands starting in the centre of your forehead and pulling outwards towards your temples.

That’s it! Once you have gone through this process you should notice a lot of relief in your sinuses and should be able to blow your nose quite easily. You may have to repeat this process again, but play with it and see what works for you.

Below is a video from Dr. Adam explaining the entire process. I have also included another helpful method that worked well for me as well.

Alternative Method

This method is simpler but may not be as effective for everyone. As always, do what works best for you.

1. Push your tongue flat into the roof of your mouth, with decent pressure, for one second.

2. Then, take your thumb and press the area right between your eyebrows above your nose for one second.

3. Alternate between steps one and two over and over again for about 20-30 seconds. Note: You are not pressing the points at the same time, simply alternating between them.

Repeat this process as necessary to help clear your sinuses.

Prevention

If you’ve had blocked sinuses, you probably don’t want it to happen often, so prevention is the key! Here are a few ways you can avoid blocked sinuses.

Eat a well-balanced diet – Eating healthy foods promotes good health. What you put into your body to digest is what determines your health. If you want your immune system working well, take care with quality food and keep your gut performing well.

Get regular exercise – Regular exercise also helps improve overall health and the immune system.

Quit smoking – It goes without saying, but cigarettes are not good for us and the smoke can irritate sinuses.

Use a humidifier – If you find your house dry, use a humidifier to help dampen the air. You can also hop in a warm shower and breathe in the steam. It’s best to use a chlorine filter on your shower head so you aren’t breathing in toxic chemicals from chlorine.

Cut out antibiotics – Antibiotics don’t do anything for viral infections, which is usually why people get clogged sinuses when they are sick. Antibiotics wreak havoc on your health. Only take them when they are absolutely necessary!

Keep a clean home – Dust and poor air quality can also cause blocked sinuses. Vacuum and wipe down surfaces of your home regularly. Decrease clutter and areas where dust can collect and stay.

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Alternative News

Cannabis Might Reverse Heart Failure, University of Hawaii Study Finds

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    New research is showing that TRPV1, a cannabinoid receptor found abundantly in the heart may be key in slowing down and potentially even reversing heart failure.

  • Reflect On:

    With so many medical applications and the potential to treat and even cure a wide variety of diseases, why has there been such a lack of research, funding and clinical trials when it comes to medical marijuana?

Cannabis could potentially slow and even reverse heart failure via TRPV1, a cannabinoid receptor. This is according to research led by a team at the University of Hawaiʻi John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM).  Alexander Stokes, a JABSOM assistant professor in cell and molecular biology, said “the potential medical benefits of using cannabis-based therapies for the treatment of heart disease are promising.”

TRPV1 is showing long-term effective reversal of heart failure when the substance is administered orally. The key here is orally, this doesn’t mean that you can smoke cannabis and it will be good for your heart, in fact, it may very well have a negative effect if you do that. “TRPV1 has primarily been studied as a pain receptor,” said Stokes. “The receptors are abundant in the heart, and we are excited to show that if we inhibit its function with oral doses of drugs, we can reverse some effects of heart failure.”

The findings were published in the journal Channels.

A Big Topic Right Now

The topic of medical marijuana is a big one right now, especially in Canada where it was recently legalized. For years, there’s been a negative stigma attached to the substance, and when one dives deep into the subject it’s quite easy to see why. Cannabis, often called marijuana, has potential to treat and possibly even cure a wide range of diseases, but because of prohibition, the studies examining the medicinal aspects of the herb have been very limited. This is very unfortunate, for a number of reasons, and also very suspicious.

If we look at cancer, for example, multiple studies have clearly shown its potential to completely destroy cancer cells, many in vitro studies have clearly demonstrated this potential, without question. They’re not hard to find and have been published in abundance. Here is a video of Dr. Christina Sanchez, a molecular biologist at Compultense University in Madrid, Spain, explaining how THC (the main psychoactive constituent of the cannabis plant) can completely kill cancer cells. THC is simply one constituent of cannabis. It has been shown to be effective for multiple diseases as well, while other diseases are better treated with CBD, another constituent within cannabis. This begs the question, why have there been no, or at least so few, clinical trials set up as a result?

This hasn’t stopped people taking matters into their own hands though. There are numerous examples all over the internet of people claiming that cannabis oil, for example, cured their cancer. But from a scientific perspective this isn’t evidence, it’s simply anecdotal and as a result of a lack of research we cannot officially say cannabis kills cancer. We can only say that it has tremendous potential and that a lot more research is needed.

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Pharma vs Cannabis

When a pharmaceutical drug shows even less than half of the potential that marijuana has shown, clinical trials are set up right away. Just imagine if the same resources that are poured into conventional cancer treatments were given to medical marijuana’s potential to treat cancer, among a wide range of other diseases. If that were to happen, we would know much more. But the lack of research continues. Is it because if scientists were to discover what strain, method of delivery and all of the other factors that require more research that are needed to treat disease, cannabis could become an effective treatment for cancer? What would happen to conventional treatments? Would people have to pay for their treatment if it was disclosed how to, for example, make cannabis oil in the right way for a specific cancer? Maybe this has something to do with it?

Big pharma would lose billions. It’s definitely something to think about.

What’s happening right now with the legalization of marijuana is that components of it are allowed to be studied. It seems that drugs will be developed to synthesize certain components of the plant, and the drugs themselves can then be patented. This is how big pharma will ultimately make money off of medical marijuana.

The Challenge With Government Control Of Cannabis

It’s great to see people with Parkinson’s, Dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, Epilepsy, cancer and more have tremendous success with medical marijuana. What’s unfortunate is that mainstream medical marijuana will be in the hands of big pharma, it already is. We will not know how it’s grown, how it’s been manipulated, and what’s been changed. It’s simply being used for profit, because at the end of the day that’s what it’s all about in our current infrastructure. We have a sick care industry, not a health care industry.

A free, open and caring society, a health care industry that truly cares about health could use multiple natural substances to completely wipe out the need for any pharmaceutical drug. There are massive amounts of foods, herbs and plants that, if studied in full, could completely eliminate our dependence on the corporation.

“The medical profession is being bought by the pharmaceutical industry, not only in terms of the practice of medicine, but also in terms of teaching and research. The academic institutions of this country are allowing themselves to be the paid agents of the pharmaceutical industry. I think it’s disgraceful.”

– Arnold Seymour Relman (1923-2014), Harvard professor of medicine and former Editor-in-Chief of The New England Medical Journal  (source)

Important Thoughts To Consider About Cannabis

The other side of the coin is that heavy cannabis use, although not lethal, can be dangerous and potentially damaging to young brains that are not fully developed, and perhaps to those who use it on a regular basis in ways we do not yet understand.

It’s not as harmful as alcohol abuse or smoking cigarettes, but there is still a lot that we don’t know. Legalization in Canada at least have led to the idea that it’s completely safe and beneficial for everybody. This is also, most likely, not true.  We need to get past the idea that it’s something healthy for everybody, and even healthy to smoke cannabis on a regular basis. But when it comes to the medicinal aspects of cannabis, for several diseases, there is a very serious discussion to be had here as it’s again, already helping many people around the world with their cancer, with their epilepsy, etc.

With many people losing trust in the medical industry, it’s easy to see why they are turning to growing their own cannabis, testing doses, and methods of delivery, etc. For some, it’s a shot in the dark but worth a try.

We are not advocating that it’s healthy to use cannabis recreationally and that it will not have any negative effects, we are simply stating that it’s a head scratcher how such a potent medical plant that clearly has multiple medical applications has been ignored and prohibited from research and professionally treating many diseases with it.

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Awareness

America’s Fifty-Fold Increase in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder – What’s Going On?

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Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), considered a neurobiological condition, is an often “long-lasting disorder in which a person has uncontrollable, reoccurring thoughts (obsessions), and behaviors (compulsions) that he or she feels the urge to repeat over and over.” Although the specific obsessions and compulsions vary widely from person to person, the common denominator is that they “create stress and interfere with daily life.”

U.S. researchers estimate that OCD affects 1%-2% of children and up to 3% of adolescents and adults. The current lifetime prevalence estimate of around 2.7% is 54 times higher than the estimated pre-1980s prevalence (for the U.S. population as a whole) of around 0.05% (1 in 2000). In a retrospective hospital-based study that looked at OCD prevalence over time, researchers who examined psychiatric discharge diagnoses from 1969 to 1990 reported that something changed in the 1980s, with a marked increase in the frequency of OCD diagnoses over the decade.

Reflecting the disorder’s growing prominence, the American Psychiatric Association’s 2013 diagnostic manual revisions eliminated OCD as a subcategory of “anxiety disorders” and gave the diagnosis its own category of “obsessive-compulsive and related disorders.” OCD experts now urge busy neurologists “to be aware of OCD…and to have a high index of suspicion for this disorder.”

OCD is just one of numerous neurodevelopmental disorders that have gone from relatively rare to common since the late 1980s—over the same time frame in which the childhood vaccine schedule exploded. There are at least three reasons to suspect a potential vaccine-OCD link:

  1. Proper brain function depends on a well-regulated immune system.
  2. Vaccination’s acknowledged aim is to “perturb the immune system.”
  3. Immune dysregulation is a documented contributor to OCD and other neurodevelopmental disorders.

As Duke University researchers have stated, “the immune system, both in the central nervous system (CNS) and in the periphery, is crucial in shaping and influencing normal brain functions, and any disruption of immune function could adversely impact the brain too.”

Not only OCD

Studies show that OCD is more severe when it is early-onset; when diagnosed before puberty, children have “a longer duration of illness [and] higher rates of comorbid tics” as well as more frequent compulsions and greater psychosocial difficulties. In addition to comorbid tics, OCD often presents alongside autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other diagnoses that are not only increasingly common in American children but often persist into adulthood. In a study of adults with OCD, three out of four (75%) had one or more other neuropsychiatric diagnoses. Researchers also believe that some types of OCD may be closely related to PANDAS (Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections).

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Compared to girls, boys tend toward a greater neuroinflammatory response, reflecting sex differences in how the brain’s principal immune cells (the microglia) function. This may be one of the reasons why early-onset OCD is two to three times more common in boys. (In early adulthood, however, OCD symptoms appear more frequently in women.) In this respect, OCD is no different from a number of other neurodevelopmental and health conditions, including ASD, that also disproportionately affect boys.

The Yale study

In 2017, researchers from the Yale Child Study Center published a retrospective case-control study in Frontiers in Psychiatry that considered a possible association between prior vaccination and increased incidence of seven neuropsychiatric disorders, including OCD. Recall that at the start of the 1980s, children received three vaccines for seven illnesses (totaling two dozen doses by age 18), whereas fully vaccinated children now get almost six dozen doses for sixteen conditions.

The Yale researchers looked at a national sample of privately insured children and adolescents (ages 6-15) for the six-year period from January 2002 through December 2007. They found that for four diagnoses—OCD, anorexia nervosa, anxiety disorder and tic disorder—the affected children were more likely than matched controls to have received a flu shot in the preceding 12 months. In addition:

  • For OCD, flu shots just three or six months prior also increased the risk.
  • There was an association between OCD and hepatitis A vaccination.
  • Children with OCD, anorexia or a tic disorder were more heavily vaccinated overall compared to children without these disorders.

All three vaccines marketed in the U.S. for hepatitis A—GlaxoSmithKline’s Havrix and Twinrix and Merck’s Vaqta—list anorexia as adverse reactions reported during clinical trials. The Yale authors considered the “high comorbidity rates” between OCD and anorexia significant and also highlighted that OCD and anorexia have a number of “immune-mediated mechanisms” in common.

OCD is also frequently comorbid with a variety of autoimmune diseases. A recent Swedish study reported that individuals with OCD had a 43% increased risk of any autoimmune disease (compared to those without OCD), and “significantly elevated” risks for autoimmune conditions “across all organ systems”:

  • Moisture-producing glands: Sjögren’s syndrome (94% increased risk)
  • Small intestine: Celiac disease (76%)
  • Peripheral nervous system: Guillain-Barré syndrome (71%)
  • Gastrointestinal tract: Crohn’s disease (66%)
  • Thyroid: Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (59%)
  • Pancreas: Type 1 diabetes mellitus (56%)
  • Platelets: Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (51%)
  • Large intestine: Ulcerative colitis (41%)
  • Central nervous system: Multiple sclerosis (41%)
  • Skin: Psoriasis vulgaris (32%)

Beware the adjuvants

Given the extensive overlap between OCD and autoimmunity, the growing body of research that links vaccine adjuvants to autoimmunity is relevant for OCD. In fact, adjuvants—intended to intensify the immune response to a vaccine (immunogenicity)—present vaccine makers with a dilemma: “[I]ncreased vaccine reactogenicity [adverse reactions to vaccination] is the inevitable price for improved immunogenicity.”

Pointing to their influenza vaccination findings, the authors of the Yale study note that six European countries and China linked H1N1 influenza vaccination in 2009 to autoimmune narcolepsy, and some speculated that the H1N1 vaccine’s adjuvant—a squalene-based oil emulsion called AS03—was the culprit. Researchers caution:

A major recurring concern is the potential association between oil emulsion adjuvants and autoimmune disease induction as seen in animal and fish models. A single intradermal injection of a range of oil emulsions, including squalene emulsions, induces adjuvant arthritis in susceptible murine and rat models. […] There is a theoretical risk that any humans who share similar genetic susceptibility features to these models could similarly be prone to develop adjuvant arthritis, lupus, autoimmune hepatitis, uveitis or some other form of autoimmune disease after exposure to oil emulsion adjuvants alone or when combined with other potent innate immune activators [emphasis added].

Aluminum-based vaccine adjuvants—and especially the proprietary AAHS [amorphous aluminum hydroxyphosphate sulfate] adjuvant that Merck includes in its Gardasil 9, hepatitis A, hepatitis B and Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) vaccines—are also a prominent suspect in the autoimmunity epidemic. Researchers who compared AAHS to two other types of aluminum adjuvants found that AAHS was “substantially” different from the other two in revving up the immune system. As Italian researchers have stated, “the specific mechanism of action of each single adjuvant may have different effects on the course of different diseases.”

Hear no evil, see no evil

Pharmacotherapy with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) is a “first-line” treatment for OCD; because remission is uncommon, “long-term management is often necessary.” Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline—two of the four companies that lead the U.S. vaccine market—make some of the top-selling SSRIs prescribed for individuals with OCD; the two pharma behemoths completed a joint venture in 2019 to integrate their consumer health care businesses. From their point of view, OCD represents an attractive market.

Meanwhile, earlier this year, the federal government and the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program turned down citizen requests to add asthma, autism, tics and several neuropsychiatric disorders—including PANDAS—to the Program’s Vaccine Injury Table. The feds’ refusal was not terribly surprising: very few new injuries have made it onto the Table since the Program came into being in 1986, despite the large number of vaccines piled onto the childhood schedule after that year. The government’s resolute refusal to conduct needed studies and its denial of even the possibility of vaccine culpability for conditions such as OCD leaves individuals no choice but to ferret out answers on their own.

Sign up for free news and updates from Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and the Children’s Health Defense. CHD is planning many strategies, including legal, in an effort to defend the health of our children and obtain justice for those already injured. Your support is essential to CHD’s successful mission.

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