By Andrea Bartels CNP NNCP RNT
02 Dec 2021
Depression, anxiety, panic disorder, bipolar disorder, psychosis. What imbalances do these mental illnesses have in common? Abnormal pH, low mineral status, and GERD-- all of these have been associated with mental illness. Let’s examine these more closely. Are they interconnected?
The term ‘pH’ refers to a scale of acidity and alkalinity, and is an important one to understanding the biochemistry of the body. While the body’s blood pH is tightly controlled and remains relatively constant, its ability to protect against the acids generated by living is dependent upon mineral availability, largely from the diet (more on this later).
Although the healthy brain occasionally experiences fluctuations in pH without noticeable consequences on cognitive function, mood and behaviour, some individuals seem to be especially sensitive to these periods of increased acidity. Specifically, by way of magnetic resonance spectroscopy, the living brains of those with panic disorder, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder have consistently shown elevated levels of lactate (lactic acid). How does this happen? Could it all begin with digestive pH imbalance?
Digestive pH Imbalance
Each part of the digestive system requires a specific pH range in order to digest food. Without proper digestive pH in the stomach and various parts of the small intestine, the body doesn’t get access to the nutrients in our diet, and the types of the micro-organisms that dwell in the GI tract change. This matters to mental health because the gut microbiome (collective colonies of micro-organisms) has been dubbed “the second brain”, interacting with the brain and manufacturing about 90 percent of our circulating serotonin. While some gut flora species seem to induce calm, others release substances that are excitatory, having a stimulating effect. For example, the Streptococcus, Escherichia and Enterococcus bacteria species produce serotonin—the neurotransmitter we associate with contentedness; meanwhile, Bacillus and Serratia bacteria species make dopamine—the neurotransmitter that gives us motivation and focus. Keep in mind that changes in diet, medication use and even stress can quickly alter the balance of species within the gut microbiome, changing the way we think and feel.
If chronic shifts in digestive pH alter the microbiome by favouring the growth of certain types of flora, this means the waste products of these tiny organisms collectively may have an impact on our mental health. Some doctors-- like Dr. William Crook MD, author of The Yeast Connection--- have speculated that it is these by-products of an unhealthy microbiome that produce the neuro-psychiatric symptoms of brain fog, poor concentration, anxiety, depression and other symptoms in affected individuals. By-products such as carbon monoxide, ethanol, uric acid and acetaldehyde are just a few of more than 80 toxic chemicals excreted by candida albicans yeast alone. Just the fact that they can access the brain by crossing the blood-brain-barrier suggests it isn’t outlandish to suspect they may be altering brain function.
Medical management of GERD: Paving the Way for Mood Disorders?
Interestingly, GERD is especially common in those with psychiatric disorders, independent of psychiatric medication use. Whether you have a mental health challenge or not, if you use prescription PPIs for GERD management it’s important to understand that anything that interferes with our body’s ability to access nutrients is going to have health consequences. PPIs raise the pH of the stomach by supressing your stomach’s acid secretion, and the acid deficit they induce impairs digestion of proteins. Proteins contain amino acids--the building blocks of neurotransmitters—the chemical messengers that are largely responsible for the way we feel. Serotonin, for example, requires the amino acid tryptophan for its synthesis—but the tryptophan in food remains unavailable to the body until digestive acids and acid-dependent enzymes can release it from the larger protein structure.
Inadequate stomach acid also impairs the absorption of minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc, all of which are essential for mental health. Iron is required for serotonin synthesis, while zinc increases brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), all the while keeping the stimulating neurotransmitter glutamate under control. These are all very important functions to preserve in each of us, but especially in those prone to anxiety because serotonin makes us feel calm. Depression and anxiety have both been associated with low magnesium levels.
The fact that mineral absorption relies on proper acidification of the stomach makes it no surprise that deficiencies in magnesium and zinc are high in those patients taking PPI (proton-pump-inhibitors) for GERD management for more than 1 year. Fortunately, in research by the FDA, magnesium supplementation was able to correct deficiency in 75 percent of deficient PPI-taking patients. However, for the other 25 percent, the PPI had to be discontinued to restore magnesium levels. This is highly relevant to individuals with simultaneous diagnoses of anxiety and GERD, since magnesium has been shown to be an effective anxiolytic, possessing anti-anxiety effects.
What influences our pH?
The body is an acid factory. Simply breathing, eating, moving—just being alive—generates metabolic acids that must be buffered (or neutralized) by water and minerals. Too little hydration, and the acids cannot be diluted, allowing them to exert metabolic stress on the cells and impair their function. Inadequate dietary intake and absorption of alkaline minerals will have a similar effect---one that can be prevented---with attention to the quality of foods we eat and, nutritional supplementation of these minerals.
Our diet plays a significant role in the pH of our blood and tissues. A steady intake of processed foods—which tend to be high in fat and sugar but low in vitamins and minerals—has an acidifying effect on our tissues because they don’t contribute any acid-buffers such as the alkaline minerals calcium, magnesium and potassium. Meanwhile, natural, whole foods such as fruits, vegetables and minimally processed grains and legumes contribute back these minerals to the acid-buffering systems.
In summary, improper stomach pH leads to improper systemic pH. If the alkaline minerals cannot be extracted from food because of improper digestive pH, then they are not available to buffer systemic acidity, which may have both physical and mental health consequences.
Support for Proper pH
Pure Lab Vitamins’ AlkaPure pH is a product designed to counteract systemic acidity by supplying the body with alkaline mineral compounds that include the electrolytes magnesium, potassium, sodium. Should extra magnesium be required, Pure Lab Vitamins’ Magnesium Glycinate offers a highly bioavailable form of this alkalizing mineral to support healthy mood and relaxation. While more research is needed to determine the precise interconnections between mood disorders, pH, the microbiome and nutritional status of patients, it makes sense to find ways to maximize the absorption of the minerals required for mental health, support gut flora with a quality diet, and fight systemic over-acidity while doing so.
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