Dr. JoAnn Yanez, Executive Director of the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges (right), joins KCAAs “On the Brink” hosts, Erin Brinker (left) and Tobin Brinker (middle) to discuss suicide and the interplay between the microbiome – the bacteria colonization in our gut – and the synthesis of hormones and how that all plays together to impact our mood, behavior, thoughts and activity.
Full Transcript of Interview Below.
- Social media’s role in suicide
- The current stigma surrounding mental health and how we can change it
- Root causes of mental illness
- The gut microbiome and its relationship with mental health
- Gut-brain axis
- Genetic predispositions for disease
- And More…
Erin Brinker: Welcome back. I’m Erin Brinker.
Tobin Brinker: And I’m Tobin Brinker.
Erin Brinker: We’re On the Brink, the morning show on KCAA AM 1050, FM 106.5, and FM 102.3. So excited to welcome back to the show Dr. JoAnn Yanez. She is the executive director for the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges. She joins us once a month to talk about health and wellness related issues, and today we’re talking about suicide.
Erin Brinker: Dr. Yanez, welcome to the show.
Dr. JoAnn Yanez: Good morning Erin and Tobin, this is a topic very close to me personally, and one that’s impacting kids and grownups, all across the country. It’s a topic people aren’t always comfortable speaking about, but depression and anxiety can ultimately lead folks to a very dark place where they don’t feel like there’s any hope. And so, I would love to talk to you today. If this talk could prevent one unintended death, I would love for that to be the outcome.
Erin Brinker: I think that the first thing is that we still stigmatize mental illness. I mean, you don’t stigmatize heart disease but you do stigmatize … not you, but we, as culture stigmatize depression, or anxiety, as if there’s something really wrong with the person.
Dr. JoAnn Yanez: Yes. I know we’ve spoken about this before. If somebody is having a flare up with their blood sugar, it’s due to the diabetes, and they call into work and say, “I’m really not feeling great today. My blood sugar’s all over the place, boss. I’m not going to be able to come in today.”
Dr. JoAnn Yanez: “Okay, sure. Feel better. Get your blood sugars in line.”
Dr. JoAnn Yanez: But if somebody says, “I’m having a really bad mental health day today. I need to take the day off.” What is the perception that people have on that? Or, “I was up all night with anxiety and I couldn’t sleep at all. I need to have the day off.” You know? People’s perception on that and the stigma, like you said, around depression, anxiety, mental illness, mental health, is still prevalent in our system. Just if you look at the reimbursement model. We will reimburse for your diabetes, your heart disease … not yours, but … You know? We will reimburse for those types of illnesses.
Dr. JoAnn Yanez: I remember patients having a very hard time getting reimbursement for counseling; sometimes it’s covered, and sometimes it wasn’t, and sometimes there were just very strict limitations on the amount of counseling that they could access. And so why is that seen, as an insurance component, as any different than any other component of us? So the naturopathic physician, we look at the mind, we look at the body, we look at the interconnectedness of how everything relates together. And it’s funny, in naturopathic medicine we always joke. There’s a lot of talk about nutrition, and gut, and poop, and everything else, and folks are like, “Why are you going into this much detail?” And there’s a lot of new data now coming out about the interplay between … They’re actually calling it the gut-brain axis and the interplay between microbiome – the bacteria, the colonization in our gut – and the synthesis of hormones and how that all plays together to impact our mood, our behavior, our thoughts, our activity.
Dr. JoAnn Yanez: As an ND when we’re looking at mental health issues, we’re not just addressing, “Oh, you’re feeling sad,” or, “Oh, you’re not sleeping well. You’re anxious. You’re depressed, “but we’re looking at the whole person and, “What’s the root of this? Are there nutrient deficiencies? Is there a gut imbalance that is predisposing you to a shift in your neurotransmitter production? Is there a past trauma that’s unresolved, and that’s the real root of your issue. Do we need to help you with that? Are there unhealthy coping mechanisms that you’ve just never been taught how to cope with your day-to-day stressors that come up?”
Dr. JoAnn Yanez: So we work with patients one on one to make sure that they understand and can identify that root, and we start to work with them there. Does that make sense?
Erin Brinker: It makes total sense. People take medications for depression. And I’m not poo pooing those medications but they, to me, are masking the problem: that there’s an underlying issue that’s causing it, and I’ve never thought the gut biome as affecting mental health the way it does.
Dr. JoAnn Yanez: There is a very strong connection with how the gut interplays in the synthesis of precursors to neurotransmitters, and all of the chemical pathway that is. The gut has so much connectivity in there as far as immune regulation, stress regulation, and it’s really amazing. I bet that in the next 10, 15 years we’re going to see even more developments in the science behind it. It’s funny, in naturopathic school we sometimes joke, “We’ve been talking about this for 20, 30, 40 years and now the science is just catching up,” but that was, like I started out saying, we always joke that … You know? Go in to see an ND and you might come in for a headache, and they’re like, “Why is the doctor asking me about my poop? I came in for a headache! Why are you talking to me about … this doesn’t make sense!” But for us it actually does because the gut regulates so much.
Dr. JoAnn Yanez: Our genetic expression, for example. We’re all made up with our own very unique genetic recipes. Those recipes, those genes, can be either up regulated or down regulated – so turned on or turned off – depending on what we expose them to. Some people – even though they have a genetic predisposition to something – can turn off or lower the expression of that genetic predisposition based on the environmental things that they expose themselves to, based on the types of foods, the chemicals, the pesticides that are the total load on their body and so it all is very important. I think that we’re just getting into the genetic science and understanding that more, the genome and how foods, how environment, can up or down regulate that. It’s fascinating, and it’s so exciting, and I’m just excited every time I see the science developing further. It really is a wonderful way.
Dr. JoAnn Yanez: But getting back to that component of severe depression which suicide is often the manifestation of. I think the more we can do in our culture to de-stigmatize suicide, to de-stigmatize mental health, to get people the resources they need before things hit crisis point … So many times in our medical system, folks don’t get the care they need until things hit a steeper pitch. I do want to just emphasize, if you’re seeing somebody in your family or a loved one who is going through a hard time, just reach out with some kindness. I was listening to your last segment and the judgmentalism of that mom, of the $1,200 formula for an instant that she’s just trying to keep alive, and then having to go to the supermarket and see these peering eyes at her. What does that do to a person? So that judgmental nature that folks can have … What’s that saying, “Don’t judge somebody until you’ve walked in their shoes?”
Erin Brinker: Indeed.
Dr. JoAnn Yanez: I think that we really need to get back to a spirit of kindness and empathy in this country. I was at a meeting just the other day with a bunch of executive directors in Southern California, and a gentleman summed it up so well. He said, “We’ve gone from almost working in a peacetime environment to feeling like we’re at war.” You know? Folks are in a war of ideals. If you have an idea that’s different from someone else’s, they’re against you. Everything is this judgment, and pre-decision on someone before you’ve even really met them, or gotten into them, based on a quick assessment. “Oh, she’s buying food stamps and she has a brand-new cellphone,” or, “Look at the car she’s driving,” or whatever it is that we’re making those snap judgments on folks unfairly. I think if we can just go back to a spirit of kindness to each other and empathy, that a lot of our problems will maybe not melt away, but get a little bit better.
Erin Brinker: Indeed. You know what? This is very interesting. I’m going through this in my mind. Sorry, I’m still processing. There needs to be a study. Because mental illness has really gone up, and suicides have gone up dramatically, I wonder if there is a link between all of the suicides and mental health issues and the overuse of antibiotics when people are children. Over the last 20, 30 years, and it’s starting to taper off now, but antibiotics were used every time you got a cold. Right? Are we seeing that maybe gut health is so poor … Maybe that’s why we’ve seen this spike in mental illness and suicides. You know? I mean mental illness. I mean, I’m really talking about depression and bipolar disorder. Maybe there’s a link there.
Dr. JoAnn Yanez: Well there are links between the onset of more severe psychiatric disorders like personality disorders, and schizophrenia, and so on, that start to happen in the late teens to early 20s. And that also is when we start to see a spike in suicide, a spike in gun violence, especially with young males. The literature actually supports that. But another component, Erin, that I don’t know if we’ll really know the answer – or at least if there is literature out there right now I’m not aware of it – is social media and the glorification that folks can go out in a blaze of glory. They can get their last little bit of fame by bringing attention to their death or kind of going out in that blaze of glory, so to speak. There was a study years ago that I read that I’m a little fuzzy on the details on right now. But it talked about when there was one suicide in a community, there tended to be more suicides in that community because it brought awareness to suicide as an option. And I’m thinking of a colleague of mine right now whose teenage daughter just lost two friends in the last week to suicide-
Erin Brinker: Oh, my goodness.
Dr. JoAnn Yanez: And drug overdose. So I think that when we think of … You know? Mental health, it’s a very complex issue and I don’t know if we can point to one thing like, “Oh, there were more antibiotics used,” or, “Oh, there are more environment chemicals now,” or any one of the things that we might want to point a finger to because there are so many factors that go into play. Just as naturopathic physician I’m not going to say, “Oh, there’s one cause for your illness.”
Erin Brinker: Sure. I just was-
Dr. JoAnn Yanez: You know, there … Go ahead.
Erin Brinker: I just was wanting to see if maybe a study might be worthwhile.
Dr. JoAnn Yanez: I’d have to look and see if any were done already, but I’m not up on if that is the case right now. But it would be fascinating to understand the interplay between all the different various factors, and gut health and the microbiome and what impacts that. Antibiotic use, and then you also have antibiotic use in animals. Is that impacting you when you drink your milk and that has the remnants of some antibiotics it? Is that impacting your gut flora as well, in addition to just the antibiotics somebody is taking themselves?
Dr. JoAnn Yanez: I think there are so many different downstream impacts on the gut bacteria, that finding that one thing … You know? We don’t live in a bubble where the antibiotic is the only thing that person has been exposed to. You know? Now they’re finding drug residues in our water supply so who knows?
Erin Brinker: Who knows? Well how do people get more information about this? I think you have a seminar coming up on this topic. Am I correct?
Dr. JoAnn Yanez: We do. We have seminar next month in October on suicide, anxiety, depression and naturopathic approaches to that. We also have a webinar next week on the top herbs that everybody needs to know about. We host a monthly webinar series and I just hope that folks can tune in and learn a little bit more about how to stay healthy naturally.
Erin Brinker: So, it’s always a treat to have you on, Dr. Yanez. Let people know where they can go specifically to get this information.
Dr. JoAnn Yanez: Sure. Our website is AANMC.org. We’re also all over social media – Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, et cetera. So check us out, and I hope that we can connect you to somebody to help you be the healthiest you.
Erin Brinker: Wonderful. Well Dr. JoAnn Yanez, the executive director for the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges, thank you so much joining us today.
Dr. JoAnn Yanez: Thank you, Erin and Tobin. Have a great morning.
Erin Brinker: You too.
Erin Brinker: All right. So with that, it is time for a break. I’m Erin Brinker.
Tobin Brinker: And I’m Tobin Brinker.
Erin Brinker: And we are On the Brink, the morning show on KCAA. We’ll be right back.