Catching happiness

Evidence has been mounting that chronic low-grade inflammation in the body plays a role in causing every modern malady: from cancer and heart disease, to brain disorders including Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, autism, and now it seems depression and anxiety too.

However, where this inflammation comes from is not always clear. A study now reveals that airborne pollutants lead to widespread inflammation in the body by activating a certain pro-inflammatory component of the immune system (read about this study here:

How we go from the immune system to the brain is a different story. In fact, modern medicine has long held that what happens in the immune system has no bearing on the nervous system or the brain. The reason is that the nervous system is protected by a so-called Blood Brain Barrier (BBB) that keeps the immune system and all of its components from making contact with the delicate structures of the brain.

This seems pretty clear-cut but things are often not as they seem. A fascinating new article in the journal New Scientist entitled “Happiness is catching” reveals that inflammation causes the BBB to break down

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, making it leaky and enabling components of the immune system to reach the brain with sometimes dramatic consequences.

So, for example, when certain types of antibodies produced in people with autoimmune diseases like lupus penetrate the brain, they damage the cerebellum and trigger memory loss, a common finding among these patients. Other antibodies were shown to target an area of the brain known as the amygdala causing people to become overly fearful.

A few years ago, a study was performed in which terminally ill cancer patients were injected with a certain type of bacteria hoping it would trigger their immune system to fight off the cancer. The study was a total failure except for one detail. Every single one of the terminal patients injected with bacteria became happy. Literally, they caught happiness. What a gift!

Unfortunately most of the effects of the immune system on the brain are negative and, rather than bringing happiness, they cause autism, ADHD, depression, and more. In some cases discussed in the article, children with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Tourette’s (a severe tic disorder) were found to be infected with Strep bacteria and their symptoms resolved when they were treated with antibiotics.

The reason is now clear: their immune systems were producing antibodies to Strep that were getting into their brains and altering behavior. Something very similar can happen with antibodies to gluten (a protein in wheat and other grains), and many cases of recovery from ADHD, depression and even schizophrenia have been reported with avoidance of foods that contain gluten. Other cases unfortunately are not so simple.

The article then goes on to state that there is no evidence implicating vaccines as a cause of adverse effects on the brain, a position that seems hard to defend in light of these very findings. Vaccines do something never seen before in human history: they cause massive immune reactions to multiple infectious agents at the same time, and they do this in infants who are known to have immature immune systems and leaky blood brain barriers. You be the judge.

Meanwhile the U.S. Surgeon General estimates that nearly 20% of American children and adolescents suffer from a mental disorder so significant that it interferes with their day-to-day life (see

Research like this clearly vouches against the use of psychiatric medications that provide nothing more than a band-aid. The case for medications is that there is a chemical imbalance in the brain and the drugs correct it. However, no such imbalance has ever been proven and the only evidence that the drugs might correct it is that they temporarily manage symptoms, often with many side effects.

At the same time the natural approach seems to be right on. It is aimed at healing the immune system, at detoxifying, and at nourishing the body and brain so they can heal. I would add that the type of neurofeedback that I am now offering in my office also has its place as part of a holistic approach by helping retrain the brain to overcome destructive patterns. For more information please see EEG Neurofeedback on my website or call my office.

2 Responses to “Catching happiness”

  1. Is it not true, as I learned from you, that additionally the brain is affected by nutritional compromises resulting from infectious organisms and intolerances in the g.i. tract and resultant hormonal reactions – which may also lead to “chemical imbalances”

  2. I think that the list of things that can affect the brain is long and growing as wel learn more all the time. So much for the idea that the brain is isolated from the rest of the body and sheltered by the blood brain barrier! Of course there are many other factors, as you point out correctly, that affect brain activity. One of these is hormone balance and especially stress hormones. Another major influence on the brain comes from chemicals incuding food additives and that is why we see children who miraculously recover from ADHD when they stop eating food that contain yellow dye for example!