Are You Running On Empty?

What if I said to you that anxiety and depression are metabolic issues, that one way or another they relate to fuel, and that even though fueling metabolism isn’t the only thing, it’s an important thing, and it cannot be any other way.

What Am I saying here? Am I saying you can simply consume more sugar (fuel) and all your problems will miraculously go away? No I’m not, even though it is the truth to a certain degree. We need sugar for fuel, we need fuel for energy, and we need energy for protection against stress.

How stress is able to be met determines whether the stress will be damaging or beneficial. Stress can be increased by many things, and whether metabolic function can meet stress, varies significantly from person to person, as well as from one day to the next, depending on many factors, fuel being a very important one.

So, Am I saying lack of fuel is the cause of anxiety and depression, and that improving thyroid metabolism is the solution? No, not exactly. But it’s a big factor that is often overlooked, and is also often easy to adjust.

Mental dysregulation is directly related to stress. When stress exceeds or interferes with energy supply, a whole lot of metabolically problematic things can start to happen. Whether this leads to anxiety or depression issues, depends on a variety of factors, including brain and nervous system condition.

Fuel issues commonly arise due to insufficient intake or availability of fuel. They can also be the result of interference with the ability to properly use fuel, or because of the consumption of inappropriate or sub-optimal foods for fuel. This is tied in with the multitude of things which can either assist or inhibit fuel usage, including vitamin and mineral deficiencies, as well as how the brain functions. It isn’t black and white, but it can help to break it down, in order to understand it better.

In reality – no matter which angle you choose to look at it from – the degree and kind of stress a person is (and has been) exposed to is always important, but the way in which that stress is able to be met, metabolically speaking, can change things dramatically, even when circumstances haven’t improved.

To put it another way, many things are stressful, and how overall biological systems (including nervous system and brain function) use or handle stress, is closely related to metabolism and thyroid energy production. In some cases, a small stress can have a harmful impact, in other cases a big stress can be easily dealt with, or can even be beneficial.

I’m not at all saying the type of experiences a person has aren’t relevant. That’s not the purpose of this article. Life experiences are most relevant. But there is a difference between the impact of emotionally stressful or traumatic situations on the nervous system and brain, when metabolism is fueled and working well, compared to when it isn’t.

How stressful something is for you, has a powerful effect. You can often immediately notice what it does to digestion, sleep, anxiety, mood, skin, and other things. You can observe how the way you are affected by a particular situation, changes the way your body responds. Biology influences psychology and vice versa. But the impact of a specific kind of situation can vary greatly.

The way life experiences interact with the brain and nervous system, influences metabolic function, but the same is true in reverse. Talking about how supporting metabolism, can assist with how the whole system deals with difficult situations, does not take anything away from the importance of other parts of the system, like brain function, for instance.

All systems relate to thyroid energy production one way or another. When you interfere with thyroid metabolism, it has an overall effect. How it changes the way you interpret and feel about the outside world, is influenced by many physiological circumstances. When metabolic function is suppressed, this can more easily lead to a downward spiraling vicious circle, that can prevent the whole from functioning well.

So can it be fixed, and how to fix it? If you’re after a simple, ‘it’s your genes’ kind of solution, I’m afraid I don’t have that for you. And I don’t believe that ever turns out to be a solution anyway. More likely just a diversion.

It’s true that hereditary factors can make a person more or less sensitive to the impact of stress, but the common argument that things like depression come down to genetics, seems to me to be misleading and unhelpful. Unless when you say ‘genetics’, what you mean is biology. In which case yes, many biological factors have a role to play

Mostly however, when people hear ‘it’s genetic’, what they think this means, is that their coding system has determined that they will suffer from a particular condition, and there is little to be done about it.

Luckily I’m pretty sure that isn’t how things like this work. Everything can change as a result of changing circumstances, including your genes. And the way you feel is constantly fluctuating.

Some are anxious in the middle of the night. Others are depressed first thing in the morning. Depression and anxiety can go from not existing, to being there, to becoming chronically bad, and then to completely disappearing again. Was it written in the code for it to happen that way? Of course not.

If you are physiologically sensitive to stress – if you were born with a particular biological weakness – it’s one thing to say this increases your susceptibility to so called mental disorders, and an altogether different thing to bring out the ‘it’s genetic’ mantra.

If genes determine your future, then you can’t be helped. But if brain and nervous system function gets influenced by the state of your metabolism (and vice versa), what you can do is work with the things that improve metabolic function (as well as brain function), and there are many. This changes the way prevention and treatment are able to be viewed.

There are different ways to work with weakness, and if you are given a reasonably accurate picture of biology, and you are willing to experiment, you can change your physiology or neurology over time, and significantly reduce your sensitivity to stress.

This doesn’t mean that you will be forever free from the harm of emotional or other kinds of stress and trauma. But it does mean that you can learn to improve how you manage stress, and avoid many exaggerated physiological responses which promote chronic illness.

Stress increases the demand for sugar, and when blood sugar runs low as a result of stressful events or under fueling, there are a whole lot of things that happen throughout the body in response to this, in an attempt to maintain reasonable function.

Stress and low blood sugar impact upon thyroid function and oxidative metabolism, and interference with these things, has a direct effect upon how fuel is used to provide energy for the brain and other systems.

When mitochondrial energy metabolism is suppressed, this can promote depression and anxiety, but how bad it is, and whether or not it becomes a chronic issue, depends on a lot of different things.

There is a powerful relationship between blood sugar dysregulation, and exposure to systemically rising levels of the stress substances, including cortisol, adrenaline, bacterial endotoxin, serotonin, estrogen, lactate, and nitric oxide.

It’s not by coincidence that these materials have been shown to play an important part in the suppression of oxidative energy metabolism, and in the promotion of mental dysregulation. They are some of the fundamental links between fuel issues and metabolic illness.

The polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) are a big factor promoting ongoing biological issues. Stress and low fuel, promote the release of free fatty acids into the blood, in an attempt to provide an alternative fuel supply.

When fat circulating through the system is increasingly composed of PUFAs, this directly damages mitochondrial energy production, causes a further rise in stress hormone release, and increases the metabolically suppressive impact from exposure to the stress substances.

Interactions between the breakdown products of the PUFAs, the substances of stress, and excess iron, have also been shown to play a big part in causing the chronic inflammatory issues related to depression and anxiety, as well as to blood sugar, energy system, brain, and nervous system dysregulation.

Until it becomes commonplace to view the progression of disease states like diabetes, cancer, heart disease and dementia, as being linked with the development of chronic mood and other brain related issues – in large part because of the things that interfere with energy metabolism – it’s less likely that the significance of proper fueling, will be appreciated.

Even so, most people are aware of the connection between emotional distress and stomach issues. But how often do you hear people talking about the many ways this ties in with thyroid dysfunction, energy metabolism, and nervous system and brain dysfunction? Not very often.

When sugar is restricted, or when excess PUFAs, and other factors (such as protein or nutritional deficiencies), inhibit fuel usability, thyroid is interfered with, stress goes up, and digestive function is often impeded.

This can promote bacterial issues, as well as an increase in circulation into the main system, of many of the substances – like endotoxin, serotonin, estrogen, cortisol, and nitric oxide – which are able to encourage a chronic inflammatory state, potentially changing the way the body (and the brain and nervous system) responds to stress.

No organ in the body requires sugar for fuel more than the brain, and interference with the supply of fuel to the brain (and with the ability of the brain to properly use such fuel), can lead to serious consequences, including impairment of the perception of reality.

Again, I’m not saying that the trauma a person experiences is just a case of inappropriate perception requiring extra fuel. There is however, a big difference between feeling fearful or sad for a period of time (grieving a loss or facing a challenge), and suffering from the kind of chronic anxiety and depression, which can literally be there every day, without any understandable cause.

Evidence suggests that a hypometabolic state, resulting from exposure to ongoing stress, can be a driver of mental instability. It makes sense from a biological perspective. But when PUFAs and other stressful, inflammatory, energy metabolism interfering things, come into play, regulation of mood and other mind states, can go from fluctuating due to circumstances, to dysfunctional.

If you are exposed to chronically high levels of stress, this can create an energy system suppressed, inflamed, nervous system excited state, that becomes self feeding. And some are born with this state already in play.

But it isn’t written in stone. Many things either make the situation better or worse. If you can change something and get an improvement (and there is plenty of scientific evidence showing that you can), then you can get more improvement over time, and in a number of different ways. You just have to know some of the ways.

If you provide enough fuel (in the context of an appropriate diet), and if you remove as many of the things as possible, that prevent the proper use of fuel (and nutrition in general), the potential is there for greater healing, and improved biological function.

It doesn’t just come down to talk therapy and other stress reducing techniques, although they can certainly help to reduce nervous system excitation, improve energy systems, and protect against inefficient brain function, which can use up a great deal of energy unnecessarily.

But talk (and other) therapy isn’t enough in many cases, and popular ‘anti-depressants’ (and many related medications), often cause a worsening of metabolic and brain related issues.

It isn’t easy to reverse a lifetime of damage to metabolism, even when you have the right information, or the willingness to experiment. And lots of people give up if results take too long to come.

When someone recovers from depression, it’s often said that it mustn’t have been that serious, or it wasn’t a genetically driven case. When they don’t recover, it’s treatment-resistant, and it’s written in your genes. You’ll likely never hear, ‘oh, sorry, we just realized we’ve been doing the wrong things to help.’

I’m not a doctor or a scientist, and this isn’t intended as medical or psychiatric advice, but I’ve witnessed how the system explains and treats mental dysregulation issues, and it consistently fails to take advantage of large amounts of the best information available.

No scientific study is right about everything, providing all of the answers, but if you look at enough studies, you can extrapolate lots of good information, experiment, and join up many of the dots.

Sugar restriction is a dangerous tactic, because of the way that it simultaneously increases stress substance release, and suppresses thyroid and nervous system function, and oxidative energy metabolism.

Stressful experiences are real. Even so, the effects that they have on your brain, and emotions, and on health in general, don’t occur in isolation from metabolic function and energy production. In a sense, stress is a form of consumption.

Depression and anxiety are biological, metabolic, nervous system issues, and they are psychological, social and spiritual issues. Sometimes however, the more chronic and systemic the interference with metabolism and brain function is, the more of a difference improving fuel issues can make.

You can’t just slam on the fuel and always get immediate recovery. Inflammation, liver and digestive system damage, excess PUFAs and iron issues, nervous system sensitivity and other problems, all took time to develop, and can take time to improve.

Plenty of good quality sleep and daylight exposure, rest, and play, with a diet avoiding PUFAs, and limiting digestion interfering grains, nuts, beans, and under cooked vegetable matter, with enough protein and nutrients from milk, cheese, and gelatinous meats, and plenty of sugar from sweet fruits, fruit juice, white sugar, and honey, is one possible way to improve fueling, in order to help deal with stress related issues.

Some things which have been shown to help improve glucose utilization and energy production, include biotin, B6, thiamine, niacinamide and riboflavin, taurine, famotidine, cyproheptadine, aspirin, thyroid hormone, pregnenolone, progesterone, vitamin K, coconut oil, inosine, activated charcoal, red light, raw carrot, certain antibiotics, methylene blue, and numerous other pro-metabolism things.

Some people have metabolic energy system related issues, and don’t suffer from mental dysregulation. Hereditary, psychosocial, and environmental factors, play their part here, but this is not to say that their health and happiness can’t be improved at all.

For those who are unable to figure out a way around depression or anxiety, my experience (including that of many I have listened to and learned from), has shown me that much can be gained from a look at fuel issues, in the context of a pro-metabolic, stress reducing diet and lifestyle.

It’s very common now, for sugar to be viewed as an ‘addictive’ substance, masking pain (in the way that some substances do), rather than what it is: optimal fuel for metabolic function, required in varying quantities, depending on stress levels and strength of metabolism, but always required. Either you provide it, or the body will find another more costly way.

There are lots of studies below. Read some of them if you want further information. I don’t necessarily agree with every word in every study included, and nor should anyone probably, but they are related either directly or indirectly.

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2 Responses

  1. Are you tired of running on empty? Are you sick and tired or being sick and tired? It’s time to fuel up. It’s time to get some R.E.S.T.

  2. Avatar Jay says:

    This article is my experience for the last 20 years. Chronic anxiety that will last as long as the the job stress remains so it was a consistent 1 year once at an unusually high level most of the time. Generalized Anxiety Disorder is not normal stress I keep telling family. This is what eventually led to Dr. Ray Peat’s ideas and cowseatgrass. The diet change is opposite of what med est. recommends in many ways but I have a marked improvement. SSRI’s just worsened the condition making the experience even more maddening. A valium plus diet has made all the different for what’s worth. Valium drug Diazapem is out of patent so no wonder my doctors never recommended it. Thanks Dan for passing on valuable info!

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