How did the brain become linked to mental illness?
With depression in mind, Wiebke Scholz, Robert Noyce and Christian Georges came up with a radical idea. They wondered if it wasn’t possible to prevent and treat depression by targeting the very malfunctioning brain. They also wondered whether depression may have a specific cure, which could come as a surprise to many.
The German scientists began with the observation that the human brain runs on glucose. Glucose is a simple substance produced in the liver by the enzyme glucose oxidase. As you begin to eat, this enzyme changes the glucose into a more stable substance called gluconic acid. But sometimes there is a problem. In particular, there is a problem if the brain is damaged, whether in an accident or in a coma.
In the case of depression, the liver cannot correctly reduce the blood glucose to the gluconic acid, and thus this process goes wrong. A slow buildup of chemicals then starts in the brain. This can lead to inflammation and mental depression.
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Neuroscientists try to cure depression with various therapies, including deep brain stimulation (DBS), a procedure used to stimulate the brain. Usually, this is done to treat Parkinson’s disease or some severe depression. The results, however, are still vague.
In an article titled ‘Can Depression Have A Cure’, published in a medical journal, these scientists said it is not a disease in its own right, but a condition. They are sure the heart of the condition is in the brain, and therefore they believe mental depression could be cured by correcting a malfunctioning part of the brain.
“If we give new therapies a chance, we could eventually cure depression. We can remove the depression.”
“We’ve learned a lot about depression in recent years, but so far we still have no cure or a cure-worthy therapy,” Wiebke Scholz said.
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It would be crucial to address this malfunctioning part of the brain, they say, and for a proper cure, scientists must be able to explain the mechanism. This means that brain surgery might not be necessary. As the research progresses, they think they could be able to identify the cause of depression and find a cure.
More than 200 million people around the world are suffering from depression today, and more than 21 million are diagnosed with it. The three scientists believe that a cure could come as early as in three to five years.
“It would be a breakthrough in psychiatry. If we give new therapies a chance, we could eventually cure depression. We can remove the depression,” said Scholz.
However, the chances that these new drugs would work for everyone are very small, according to the scientific experts. Even if the brains were repaired, depression would not have disappeared for a lot of people. The damaged part of the brain may be very unstable and the brain would not be able to repair it if the balance of blood sugar would be disrupted.
Journalists interviewed Christian Georges about his vision of mental health in the future.
“In the end, we are going to give our brains the correct balance of nutrients.”
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Jean-Paul Petit, journalist
Christian Georges hopes that drugs could be developed that would help people overcome mental illness.
Question: Are you feeling okay?
Answer: I don’t know. I can’t see a future yet.
Question: The closest therapy to your vision is deep brain stimulation (DBS) – is it a treatment for depression?
Answer: We are thinking about a lot of new treatments. This type of therapy is promising. If we could remove this depression without surgery and without going to the brain, that would be a cure.
Question: If it were a cure, would you take a risk and look for one?
Answer: If you need it, of course.
Question: What would you do if you wanted to cure depression?
Answer: In the end, we are going to give our brains the correct balance of nutrients. Then the brain is going to be like it’s supposed to be.
Question: What if it doesn’t work?
Answer: You will not have any mental depression.
Question: How does the brain achieve this balance of nutrients?
Answer: You can feed your brain with the same things you feed your body. You can eat fruits and vegetables, certain vegetables especially – tomatoes are good. Then, also you can drink alcohol – the alcohol doesn’t matter, if it doesn’t make you sleepy.
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Question: When you lose sleep, how is that not enough?
Answer: If you are depressed, the serotonin levels are too low. You are too stressed, too depressed. So it’s exactly the same if you drink alcohol. If you drink alcohol, it’s the same. But the alcohol doesn’t help you with depression.
Anne Hess-Kristensen, journalist
Christian Georges hopes that there will soon be a cure for depression, but thinks that brain surgery is an ideal solution.
Question: How are you feeling now?
Answer: I am calm.
Question: The patients can be put on a special diet?
Answer: That is what we are thinking about. The diet would be for a month or maybe two months. You have to change the diet. It’s very important.