When The Drugs Don’t Work – Antidepressants

Nutrition / Psychiatry

When The Drugs Don’t Work – Antidepressants

Antidepressants don’t work for everyone. They certainly didn’t work for my father, who, over a period of 40 years, was given every conceivable antidepressant.

In this podcast with Nicholas Corliss from Energi Impact, I talk about an alternative approach to treating depression. Listen below, or on Apple Podcasts.

Here’s the transcript of our conversation.

Nicholas: Matt, fantastic to have you on the podcast. How are you doing today in Liverpool?

Matt: Yeah, great, still glowing from our victory in the Premier League.

Nicholas: Yeah absolutely we were just chatting about that before, that Liverpool winning the Premier League for the first time in 30 years which is pretty amazing

Matt: Yeah, it’s a big, big deal around here, because football is a bit of a religion. To finally do it, it’s giving everyone a boost, especially during this time, you know, of lockdown.

Nicholas: Yeah totally, that would boost everybody’s morale and mental health, I’m sure.

Matt: Yeah, the beers may have had a negative effect though!

Nicholas: Well, thanks so much for coming on the podcast and we really, really appreciate it. I just wanted to start off by chatting about your story. You’ve got a book called Saving Dad and that’s about your dad having bipolar disorder and how you were on a mission to help cure that. Can you just talk a bit about that?

Matt: Yes, so really, to provide the background, I’m going to take you back to 1975. So, I was born in ’72 and when I was 3, this is my earliest memory, a vivid picture of my dad crying in the arms of my mum as I walked into the kitchen.

It turned out, whilst I didn’t understand at the time, that this was his first depressive episode, as part of a bigger illness, as you said, bipolar and over the last forty, well over forty years, he’s been in the care of the psychiatric profession.

So that’s included pretty much every psychiatric drug you can imagine. Over 40 years, he’s been administered both on the depressive side, so antidepressants and then psychotics, antipsychotics, mood stabilizers, things like lithium, everything.

And he’s also been hospitalized seven times, sectioned some of those times, and he’s also had, it must be over three hundred courses of electroconvulsive therapy, where they administer first a muscle relaxant and a general anaesthetic and then administer an electric current to the brain.

They started back decades ago, but we reached the point where he was dependent upon having ECT every two weeks, we just couldn’t keep him well, we couldn’t keep him out of hospital and in February ’19, so what nearly eighteen months ago, he was hospitalized for the seventh time and that was because he was a danger to himself.

That took its course and he was hospitalized. Now, at the same time they discovered two blood clots on his lungs, so what would normally be a regular treatment of having ECT, the anaesthetist wasn’t prepared to administer anaesthetic, given the fact he had they found blood clots. They cleared the blood clots, but they were still worried about administering it, so this left us in a position where we were not able to, or dad was not able to, have the only treatment that was doing anything for him.

It wasn’t making him well, but it was keeping them out of danger, and we’d see a pattern whereby after the ECT, he would have about ten days of relief. So, he would stabilize to a degree, but then after ten days his mood would diminish and then he’d be kind of plugged back in after two weeks again, to go through the same cycle.

But without having availability of ECT we were left with nothing really. He was still on antipsychotics, antidepressants, mood stabilizers but they didn’t really do anything for him. He’s drug-resistant, which was why ECT was the only available treatment to him.

So, it was kind of a new situation for us where he’d been having ECT for a good decade and now in a position where he was in a psychiatric hospital unable to have the treatment that he needed, and things were dire.

So just give you a little bit of background about myself, after University I studied Business and I went into a business role, and I pretty much a did marketing and advertising for what 15, 20 years, but I’ve had my own mental health struggles.

It’s interrupted my career three times and I went on a really deep dive, a journey into trying to understand my own struggles and that of my dad, which I’d witnessed and been very actively involved in for 40 years. And it came to the point where I had started my own business, I’d been running a business for six years and it was making me ill from stress, the shear workload, so I sold that business and that gave me sufficient funds resources to completely repurpose my life.

So, I got a mentor, I worked out what it was that I really wanted to do what I was here on this planet for.

Nicholas: How long did that take?

Matt: I would say it took probably two years to fully explore and work out how the rubber was going to hit the road. I had a vision earlier than that as to what I wanted to do and it was through the experience of, you know, from very early life of seeing such extreme suffering. I knew that I wanted to make that part of my life, the response to that situation, part of my life, firstly to alleviate the suffering for my father but also for what is, you know, millions and millions of people around the world.

Their needs in mental health are not being met by the traditional paradigm and I know very well because I’ve walked the path with my dad and family for 40 years, so I know what’s out there. I know the availability of services, drugs, inpatient, outpatient, community services very well. I’m very well versed with it and there’s a lot of people working very hard, but we don’t have the solution yet in mainstream medicine to tackle what is an absolute catastrophe in mental health globally.

So, I awoke to this, I guess, new vision, a new purpose in life and what I wanted to do, but then it was, okay, so that’s a great vision but how do you actually do it.

Nicholas:  Mmm, because, what you were studying business and marketing and weren’t in the mental health sector at all?

Matt: Yeah, clearly I had a lot of experience, but I wasn’t a scientist, so I completely repurposed. My life took a huge turn five years ago and, you know, with the proceeds of the sale of the company and the time which it bought me. I firstly studied neuroscience and psychology, functional medicine, even mind training, the science of mindfulness, just to really understand firstly the brain, what’s going on in the brain, but also the body and this connection between the two.

It’s not recognized in Western medicine, but they are very well connected through the nervous system and so it was a very, very deep dive into that understanding which then led me to, coming back to the story with my dad, in this dire situation of how could I try to make him well, given we didn’t have any traditional options available to us.

So, to sort of take the story forward, so dad’s literally in a psychiatric hospital, he’s just awful, awful, given up hope. And as is very traditional when someone is taken into psychiatric care, a review of medicine is the first thing that happens and there were some new suggestions made, but at this point I was three and a half years into all of my studies and I was learning things that traditional psychology and psychiatry do not teach.

So there’s an alternative paradigm of education that started, well in the ‘40s, ‘50s and has been practiced in the alternative world for decades now, but it’s not in the mainstream and I developed a knowledge of this alternative science, that, you know, as I say, isn’t taught but we were in an acute situation where I needed to turn that theory into practice.

So that was when I went on a very deep dive into a few doctors in history, beginning in the ‘50s, where there were a couple of doctors in the States, called Dr. Gellhorn and Dr. Funkenstein, who were doing work both with psychiatric patients in hospitals and with Harvard Medical School students, and working out that mental ill-health lies in an imbalance in something called the autonomic nervous system and they came to learn that they could do something called reflex tuning, which was tuning this nervous system back into balance for people that were unwell.

So, the first thing that happened was that there was a very clear distinction between people that were well, i.e. the Harvard Medical School students, they were in balance, they were in homeostasis in this nervous system, and you test this system through injecting a blood pressure lowering drug and then seeing the response of that, the response of the body to bring the body back into homeostasis, after being knocked out of homeostasis by this drug.

And what they realized was that people that were well, they were at Harvard, were in balance, but the psychiatric patients of these doctors were out of balance, and then they got to know how to reflux tune their nervous systems, and then when they retested them, when they were well, they were back in balance. So that gave the hypotheses then, okay, is mental illness an illness of an imbalanced autonomic nervous system?

So, this is the ‘50s and ‘60s and then I had to, to come back to my dad’s story, to try and get dad well, I had to then find what are the specific things that you can do to do this reflex tuning, and to find that answer, whilst there were a few things in scientific literature which talked about it in the psychiatric in arena, it wasn’t until I looked at physical illness, and specifically cancer, that did I find the answer to Dad’s distress.

So, in the arena of cancer were two doctors, beginning with Dr. William Kelley, who was a dentist actually, but he had pancreatic cancer himself, he had four children, he had months to live. You know, pancreatic cancer kills within three to six months, terrible diagnosis, and he thought, well my kids, I think he adopted them that’s right, and he thought well if I die my kids are going back into care, I cannot die, so he went on a really deep dive and this mother was a nutritionist.

But he also went into the history of alternative medicine for cancer treatment and he discovered the work of Dr. John Beard, he was a Scottish doctor from the 19th century and he discovered the hypothesis around what causes cancer and then how to treat it and that works, it’s been out there for 120 years and has been largely ignored by mainstream.

But it’s an interesting dive for people, so Dr. William Kelley did a lot of work around using nutrition and specific enzymes and detoxification processes to rid his own body of cancer and then he lived for another 35 years, 40 years, which I know is unheard of, and then another doctor, Dr. Nicholas Gonzalez took his work on and practiced for 29 years. He was an immunologist and practiced an alternative cancer protocol with extraordinary outcomes, a 35 year pancreatic cancer survivor, breast cancer and all the different blood borne and tumour cancers.

Unfortunately, he died a few years ago, so I went on a deep dive of his work and William Kelly’s work to find out how to resolve mental illness, because one of the three elements of the cancer protocol were using this reflex tuning.

It was first identifying where someone lie in their balance in this autonomic nervous system and then trying to bring about balance using nutrition. So, I didn’t need to concern myself so much, obviously, with the cancer elements of that protocol, but I needed to understand, with dad in such a dire situation, how can I utilize this knowledge to bring about homeostasis, balance, in Dad’s nervous system to hopefully bring about mental health in someone that was very mentally unwell.

So that’s the background to how I reached that point and then without sort of spoiling the book I first of all did a supplemental, natural supplement protocol, because he was an inpatient so I couldn’t control his diet because, he was using the hospital canteen, but what I could do was use the natural supplements that you can use in as an adjunct to nutrition, to food, to bring about balance.

So, first of all, I had to identify that balance of where he lie, so if there’s people down the middle if you like, that are in balance, that’s one type of metabolism and then, broadly speaking, you have people out of balance upon one side or the other. There are two branches to this autonomic nervous system and people might well be familiar with the fight-or-flight branch, that’s the familiar term for the sympathetic nervous system and then there’s the rest and digest branch, which is the parasympathetic branch, and these two need to be in balance for us to maintain physical and mental health.

So, the first thing to do was to identify where he sat in this spectrum and then using a very, very carefully designed supplemental protocol, I could boost the nerves that were weak, to bring about balance, and not over excite what is an already strong branch, which in him happened to be his parasympathetic branch. So, I was trying to boost his sympathetic nervous system to bring about balance or homeostasis.

Nicholas: So, was he more on the rest and digest, or the fight-or-flight?

Matt: Yeah, he was on the rest and digest side.

Nicholas: Okay, so would you say, if people are on the fight-or-flight ,which is the sympathetic right? They’re more anxious and you need to bring them back into homeostasis by certain different supplements and a diet they’re suitable for, then people that tend to be more on the depression side around the parasympathetic and need and supplements to come back in line?

Matt: Yeah, that’s not a bad way of describing it, it’s a bit simplified because depression or anxiety can often coexist, so you do get with them, a sympathetic dominant as we call it, that tends to be more of an agitated anxiety, a very heightened state that can coexist with a schizophrenic presentation or a psychotic psychosis, where the sympathetic nervous system is very, very active and then like you say, that needs calming through a nutrition and natural supplements, to calm that branch and to boost the parasympathetic branch.

So, we’re always trying to do two things, always trying to look after both branches, to bring them back into homeostasis and they work in reciprocity, so there’s a part of the brain called the hypothalamus and that’s the ECU if you like, the control centre of the autonomic nervous system and there are neurons in the hypothalamus which, when the sympathetic neurons fire, they inhibit the parasympathetic neurons.

So, there’s two different parts, anterior and posterior, a front and back part of this hypothalamus and they kind of communicate with each other to regulate the system. So where I was talking about mind-body connection earlier, this is now becomes very clear through this discussion about the hypothalamus, because it has projections downwards through the body, from the brain down to the backside, but it also has projections upwards to the prefrontal cortex, which is where all the executive function, kind of clever stuff in the brain is done. All the thinking and gives us as humans a kind of an advantage over other animals, so you’ve got projections up and down, so from a very biological, scientific point of view, you can see how mental health is not just mental health.

This system is absolutely holistic. it’s not just in the brain, it’s in the body too, when look at the whole system.

Nicholas: Yeah, absolutely.

Matt: And that gets even more complex when you look at the endocrine system, so people are becoming much more aware now with the microbiome and gut health and that’s another a key part of this picture. And neurotransmitters, as people are fairly familiar with the likes of serotonin because that’s often the target of a lot of antidepressant drugs. Ninety five percent of your serotonin is produced in the gut.

Nicholas: Yeah, when I heard, when I learned that, I was just like, ‘oh my goodness’, why are we just talking about the brain and what about the 95 percent that’s in the gut, it was just mind-blowing, yeah super interesting, so the endocrine system and then the nervous system and the brain, all those are the key ones to balance and look at.

Matt: Yes, and you’re immediately going to involve the adrenals and the thyroid, so, it really is a very holistic picture and therefore requires a holistic response, because every nutrient provides us with nutrition and fuelling, but over and above that, every mineral vitamin trace element has an effect on this nervous system, so it’s so broad reaching, you know.

The autonomic nervous system is involved in all of your digestion, your thoughts, your immune function, your metabolism, your movement, your speech, everything, so it’s not very surprising therefore to learn that, when you think about the impact of this nervous system on everything and given the knowledge that every element of nutrition impacts this system, it just underlines the importance of nutrition because you can very easily knock yourself out of balance by eating the foods that are not appropriate for your individual biochemistry.

This brings us on to a critical element that’s never talked about, so if you think about the way that nutrition is presented through whether it be documentaries, books, scientific literature, cookbooks, it’s always one diet for everyone, it’s always here are the nutritional guidelines, even from a government level. This is the way you should eat as a human, well it just misses a huge point in that everyone has individual biochemistry, and everyone has individual sized and shaped organs even, and an efficiency of those organs.

Some people are pumping out, very efficiently, digestive enzymes, some people aren’t. Some people are pumping cortisol out of their adrenals much more than others, some people’s thyroid function is different to others, some people’s neurotransmission is more efficient on one branch versus the other branch of the autonomic nervous system, so it’s a complex picture and it explains why there’s not one diet for everybody and also explains why people get very excited about their own dietary approach, where something might be working really well for them and they tell other people to try the same.

People are so passionate about their own things that work, that they think, they hope, that they will work for everybody. Well unfortunately, it’s just not as simple as that.

It goes back to what we touched upon this just before we started the podcast, we talked about the anthropology of food and if you look at the work of Dr. Weston Price, he was a dentist actually. He went around the world in the ‘30s for eight years. He lived with his wife and with 14 different tribes in 14 different countries, five different continents, and photographed and documented thousands and thousands and thousands of traditional people.

This was at a time where the Western diet hadn’t infiltrated traditional cultures and it gave him, and now us reading his work, a really good insight into what people were eating in these different tribes around the world, and that was from people that were living in dense vegetation or people who were living in areas where there was no vegetation and everything between.

Nicholas: Interesting.

Matt: And he taught us that people thrived on their local diets that were available to them naturally and locally, but also, they had an absence of disease. So, there was no physical disease, not the chronic diseases that we know of today. No heart disease, no cancers, no hypertension, there was no obesity, no diabetes, and really interesting to me, there was no mental illness.

So, if you look at what he talked about with the Eskimos, they didn’t understand what depression was. They didn’t understand melancholy, and didn’t have a word for depression. And you think about the Arctic and in the winter,  you get, what, three or four hours of daylight and they didn’t know what depression was. Remarkable.

And that’s because they were eating the foods and therefore the nutrition in those foods that were serving them individually very well, as that group of people with that individual biochemical makeup.

Nicholas: And what the Eskimo eats historically, because they would have been there potentially for you know hundreds, thousands of years.

Matt: That’s right yeah.

Nicholas: And adapted to that environment, and their body and organs have adapted as they went along and passed on to children, to the foods that were in that environment. How do we go about do you think, if say my ancestry is Irish, I think some English, Danish and think back to what they might have eaten, or do I more adopt what we have here in New Zealand and what’s local?

Matt: Well it’s interesting question isn’t it and the answer might be a bit of both because you know, you’re going to have to source the foods that are now available to you. Now we are lucky enough to have choice, we can choose pretty much which we want to eat, but from the anthropological point of view, that is the key in terms of dictating what foods you would thrive on.

So, the Eskimos thrived on 80% fat, 20% protein, so extraordinary high amounts of fat that the average nutritionist or doctor in the Western world would tell you that it would probably kill you, because of an absence of things like vitamin C, or perceived absence of vitamin C, yet Eskimos thrived.

Then, there was a doctor called Steffensen, who went to live with the Eskimos, and he came back and this is, you know, decades ago and he came back to report his findings and the mainstream medical, scientific community didn’t believe him. So, he said okay I’ll prove it to you.

Do scientific tests on me, kind of lock me in a vessel, a chamber and I’ll eat only animal products, and they were like, no this is ridiculous, we can’t do this, you’ll get very sick. But he agreed to do it. I think it was 12 weeks if I’m right in thinking and they’re very worried about what might happen, and he thrived.

Nicholas: He was in a chamber by himself?

Matt: I can’t remember exactly what it was now in terms of the specifics, but I guess the key is that he was monitored exactly, what he ate over the 12 weeks, so there was an elimination of all fruits and vegetables, which people at the time thought was very dangerous for a human.

In the literature, you can go and look search on Google now and find that the attitudes, well even now, but especially back then, people worried about needing to gain vitamins and minerals through fruits and vegetables, they thought that humans just couldn’t survive on fats and proteins.

Well now we know that not to be true, but they were really worried, and he was in absolutely perfect health after 12 weeks. But again, the knowledge wasn’t taken forward that story isn’t well understood, it hasn’t been widely told.

But now we have nutritional guidelines, in the Western world certainly, where carbohydrates make up a big proportion of the recommended diet and if you look at the correlation between modern chronic diseases in the Western world, then you don’t need to look a great deal further than that.

Nicholas: So what do you think about, say, you’re talking about carbohydrates and it just makes sense to me that processed foods aren’t going to be as good for us by far compared to the foods that are grown, you know, on the earth and are natural and just have one ingredient like a tomato is a tomato and an apple is an apple, not like a packet of Oreos which has, you know, all different types of ingredients that if you can’t understand it, then your body’s not going to be able to either.

So, what about vegetables such that have higher carbohydrates or more sugary fruits, should people with history that live closer to the equator or closer to where those fruits grow tend to see if they their body suits those foods?

Matt: I think the first thing to say is that some people thrive on plant-based foods, but some people thrive on animal foods, and some people thrive on a mixture and there’s everything in between. So, the first thing to do really is to try and get a good idea. So, the first thing I do when I’m working, because now having gone through my dad’s experience and then with more study and qualifications, I now work with individuals and companies to try to bring about physical and mental health for people through this paradigm of balancing the autonomic nervous system.

So, when I’m working with clients, the first thing that I do is an analysis of their balance in this system, so I always begin there. So, I don’t begin with where they live, I begin with what is the data telling me about their nervous system and then I design a nutritional protocol to balance their nervous system back into homeostasis.

But the key underlying element in all of it is that some foods alkalize the body and some acidify, so meat acidifies and plants alkalize, so if you think about leafy green vegetables, which is on the most extreme end of this biochemical makeup, green vegetables are green because of chlorophyll and the centre molecule of chlorophyll is magnesium and magnesium inhibits, it blocks the sympathetic nerves, so there you can see there’s a relationship between having leafy green vegetables, such as spinach, and balancing the nervous system in one direction.

So, inhibiting the sympathetic nerves which then in this reciprocity through the hypothalamus that I talked about, that would spark the parasympathetic nerves. So that would be part of a nutritional protocol for someone that’s extremely sympathetic dominant as I would say and then on the other branch if I’m trying to bring about homeostasis for someone that’s very parasympathetic dominant, I want to acidify their diet and the quickest way to acidify a diet is to have red meat because of its content. Glutamic acid, aspartic acid, it’s got precursors to neurotransmitters, tyrosine and phenylalanine.

So, it’s got nutritional value which helps to bring about balance. So that’s the autonomic side and then there’s the basic brain fuelling, a nervous system fuelling, so your point about refined carbohydrates in the form of Oreos or whatever it might be, you know there’s very little nutritional value in those foods, so your brain just isn’t getting satiated. It’s not receiving the fuel it needs for you to function. The brain is a very, very fuel hungry organ. It consumes 25% of the body’s energy but it only weighs 2 percent of your body weight, so you can see that as a proportion it’s very hungry for fuel and it’s got to be fuelled with the right things.

Unfortunately, the way that nutritional history and our guidelines, you know, a lot of this falls out of the US. I’m the UK a lot of our guidelines fall out of the US and they’re just rewriting this at the moment, here we are in 2020, they’re done every 5 years, so they’re finalizing them now and once again, they’re heavy on carbohydrate. Well, the trouble with carbohydrate is that well, there are several problems, carbohydrate taken in a refined form, it metabolizes as sugar and we get a big problem with this endocrine issue that we talked about in terms of sugars, and foods that metabolize as sugars, create inflammation in the gut and when the body sees that and detects inflammation, you can imagine it as if you cut your finger, you get a red, throbbing swollen finger.

It’s the same in the gut, so you get microscopic tears in the gut lining and then the body will create an immune response to that situation, which is why autoimmune disease begins there and then it becomes systemic, so you get systemic, cellular inflammation which crosses the blood-brain barrier and then you get an inflamed brain and inflammatory depression.

That’s the pathway to inflammatory depression, so that’s why refined carbohydrates are no good for us and then they’re also not good for us because they don’t contain any fuelling that fuels the brain for sustained periods. So, we’re very well-versed and, you know, in sport for instance, you see elite athletes having pastas and bananas and then they’ll burn that very, very quickly but you’re only fuelling your body for short periods of time and this is where the nutritional guidelines haven’t served people particularly well, because they bastardised fats.

So natural fats have been pretty much eliminated out of people’s diets because everyone’s been told to eat low-fat, lean meat and so we happily eat chicken breast, this is very lean, but in products too, so if you’re going to have an animal-based product, like milk, I don’t know what the situation is like in New Zealand, but here, the fall in (consumption of) whole milk is 79 percent over, I can’t remember the period, but it’s a dramatic drop, so the fats been taken out.

We’ve been told that fats are bad, so we all do what we’re told and have skimmed milk or semi-skimmed milk, but you know your brain needs fats it needs very particular kinds of fats. It needs saturated fat and it needs Omega-3 fats.

So, going even further, the brain has grey matter and white matter so I’m sure you’ve heard of grey matter, well the difference between the two is the insulating layer on neurons and neurons that are insulated by something called myelin, and myelinated neurons they more efficiently fire something called an action potential, which is how nerves, neurons, communicate with each other and this layer of myelin is made of fat, cholesterol, so it’s a good example of why the brain needs to be fuelled with the correct nutrients for mental health. You want your brain to function correctly.

Now if food is nutrient starved, either through having refined carbohydrates or just not sufficient amounts of healthy fats that it needs, that impacts your brain hugely from memory, cognitive function, mood, all your neurotransmission, the effect on your endocrine system, your thyroid, your adrenals, everything so there lies a very direct relationship between nutrition and mental health, and physical health too.

Nicholas: Just touching back on the story with your dad without you know spoiling the book, what was the sort of end result there.

Matt: Well, it was a good news story, so the headline was that in 40 years and seven hospitalizations, he’d never left psychiatric hospital without electric shock therapy and needed to maintain that to stay out of hospital. We’re now eighteen months later, well he was discharged after two weeks, the first time he’d never had to have ECT, and he hasn’t had any for eighteen months. He just has a nutritional protocol that I’ve designed, so I was able to then take control of his diet once he left psychiatric hospital and he’s carried on.

There are his natural supplements so now he has a very strict diet and that keeps him in homeostasis, and it keeps him well and he also has Parkinson’s but with the same approach, with some added things, I’ve also made his mobility a lot, lot better. So, he was he was struggling on mobility too, he was diagnosed about three years ago, so yeah, I’ve managed to do both through nutrition.

Nicholas: How’s he doing now?

Matt: Great, yeah really well. I mean he’s better now than he was, I would say, ten,

fifteen years ago. It’s ridiculous really, so part of the reason I do things like this podcast is to try and spread the message around that there’s another way. There’s an alternative if either you don’t like the idea of traditional or you’ve tried it and it hasn’t worked for, you my first message is don’t lose hope.

I’ve personally experienced depression more than once and I know how hopeless it can feel and then through the experience with dad, which was more serious than mine, through hospitalizations, that even in a very serious case like that, there’s still hope. So, let’s get this message out there and help as many people as possible.

Nicholas: Definitely, well that’s the story with me as well. When I was studying over in the States playing soccer over there and studying, it was in my senior year of college that I just had really bad anxiety and obsessive sort of thinking and got diagnosed with OCD, but more obsessive thoughts and tried the pills but they didn’t really work for me and then tried a bunch of different things and it was getting hooked up to this machine, going to a naturopath lady and sorting out leaky gut and trying my diet, cutting out gluten, alcohol, dairy and detoxing and you know within sort of within a week or two, I just felt way better and it was such an eye-opener for me.

I think that’s such an important point that you’re talking about is don’t lose hope and I know people say you know they’ve tried a lot of different things but just keep going until you find something because it’s amazing to hear stories about yourself, your dad, me and then I’ve talked to other people as well that have found something there that has been able to improve their health.

Matt: Yeah, I’m a firm believer that to begin with diet is really, really important because it’s the foundation of everything that fuels us as humans and all of our organs and sort of a simple analogy would be, you know, you don’t put water in a petrol or diesel engine, but you would in a steam engine and vice versa and our individual makeup or biochemistry and such, that the right fuel needs to go in the right engine, so if people are listening to this that are feeling that they’ve they’re struggling and they think they’ve tried everything, it might be that they’ve tried food but they haven’t tried the foods that are right for them.

There’s usually an answer, so I would urge people not to you know give up hope. The internet is such a great resource, now you can find out an awful lot for free. My website and on there, there’s videos and podcasts.

Nicholas: Absolutely, that’s where I found you, on LinkedIn, and right watched a video keynote talk that you were your doing and I found it fascinating. It resonated, with the individualistic nutritional style of different people and I found it fascinating about the parasympathetic and the autonomic as well. I’ve done quite a bit of breathing and sort of holotropic breathing and deep breathing Wim Hof style and yeah, he talks about tapping and being able to tap into your autonomic nervous system and through the breath.

Matt: So, when you breathe in, you stimulate the sympathetic branch and when you breathe out you stimulate the parasympathetic branch through the vagus nerve and that’s why in meditation and mindfulness, they tell people to extend the out-breath, because he has a calming effect on the autonomic nervous system. So that’s why that works, the out-breath is the parasympathetic, so if you’re looking to calm, then the out-breath is the important one.

You can reverse that and excite your sympathetic nervous system by rapid nasal breathing and even covering one nostril, so if you want a bit more get up and go, that can be the reverse of meditation.

Nicholas: Okay yeah, yeah, that is epic. I need to actually extend my breaths; I’ve been doing the deep breathing quite a bit and probably need to have a bit more calm. So, what do you think are things people sort of need to avoid or what are some of the big things you’ve seen with working with people that they should avoid whether it’s food or other things?

Matt: So, the quick wins regardless really of where you sit on the autonomic nervous system is eliminate sugar and straight away.

Nicholas: How about fruit?

Matt: Well, fruit is a difficult one to advise on, because for some people fruits are great and for others, not so. It’s difficult to say a blanket statement this is where people fall into this trap where, you know, nutritionists are asked the question and they feel they kind of need to give an answer, but I just can’t give it for everyone, because some people will benefit, some people won’t, but the common denominators; sugar absolutely and that’s both in its pure, refined form and for sugars that are hidden in foods.

So, if you’re picking up a box or a jar food from a supermarket, it’s probably got sugar in it, you know, in form or another, whether it’s hidden or not, so it’s really important that people start to, and I think this can be a really great empowering thing for people because when you’re not feeling well in terms of mental health, you feel very disempowered and I think part of the empowerment, the first thing is knowledge, to know that people can get well, so people listening to this can get well and it’s important for people to believe it, because at the top of the pyramid as I like to think of it, of the autonomic nervous system, lies the mind.

So the mind controls the brain and the brain controls the autonomic nervous system, so your thoughts are important and I can tell you with absolute confidence that you have the personal ability to get better and with that knowledge and then belief you begin to send the nervous system a signal of recovery and then with that known, I think it’s easier for people.

I’m not making light of any of this, because I know what it’s like to lie in bed with depression and feel like you can’t get a foot out from under the duvet, but to make some gentle steps towards taking an interest in food, what’s in food is very empowering, because the things you put in your body will be the answer to your wellness.

So, to start checking that bottle, that box of food, or drink, what’s it got in it, it’s very empowering itself and to say no, no, I’m not going to put that in my body it’s a beginning of healing and then we’re coming back to the question of what are the things that people can due to eliminate one of those things to look for in food is Omega-6 oils. They are absolutely neurologically toxic and they’re terrible for your microbiome as well, so they’ve got a double whammy effect.

Anyone listening to this, if they’ve got vegetable oils in their kitchen, throw them in the bin and don’t ever have them again. They’re just dreadful and they’re also hidden in most processed foods, you’ll find some form of vegetable oil unfortunately. If people go to my website look at the article section, there’s the deeper dive on this area.

But sunflower oil sounds nice, and it’s sunflowers, sun, great and what does it look like? It’s golden isn’t it, on the shelf. Well, it doesn’t look like that when it’s come out of sunflower seeds. Firstly, it’s not a vegetable, so that’s a lie, it’s a seed and it’s also a grey thick sludge and then it goes through a chemical process, being heated and pressed and has added chemicals to it refine to make it look nice and pretty on a shelf, all golden.

It is absolutely toxic, so throwing away vegetable oils like sunflower oil, cottonseed oil, rapeseed oil, canola. Type in omega-6 oils into Google and if you’ve got them in your house, throw them away and then you’ve got a choice of what to replace those with. So, you want to be replacing them with saturated fats or Omega-3 fats.

So, you’ve got, on the Omega-3 side, you’ve got your olive oil. Now, it’s best used as a dressing, it’s fine to use in cooking, you just have to be a little bit careful at temperature, because it changes the chemical structure, but broadly speaking if you think about, on the plant side, coconut oil is brilliant, avocado oil, olive oil, but then the fats that get a really bad name, all the animal fats.

These are the saturated fats that the brain is very hungry for. People don’t tend to cook in butter as much as they used to; lard, you’ve probably never cooked in lard if you’re under the age of 50. You’ve probably never had beef dripping, or tallow it’s also called. Then there’s ghee, which is purified butter that you can make. It’s quite expensive to buy but you can make it. I make it out of grass-fed butter. I do all of my cooking in animal fats to satiate and provide my brain and nervous system with the fuelling that it needs.

So, I would say the omega-6s, avoid those, sugars, avoid and then refined carbs. So, you’ve had the experience of gluten, so you know the effect of bread for a lot of people, it’s is a biggie and then there’s foods that people love, like the pastas and pizzas. Grains can be a real problem for some people. Parasympathetic dominants don’t like grains. Don’t get on with grains, they might like them!

So, I would start with those three to keep it simple; sugar, Omega-6s and refined carbohydrates and sometimes the elimination of those can take people a long, long way. And that includes drinks, so drinks that are obviously so popular these days like your sodas, Coke, your Red Bulls, your Gatorade sports drinks that are meant to be good for you, but which are terrible for you.

If you can, in general, stick to filtered water as a baseline, then you’re not going to go wrong with that.

Nicholas: Yeah, the way I’m sort of making sense of what you’re saying about the saturated fats is that I’m eating meat at the moment and I feel like that’s what has been working well for my body and I know some people, some of my friends are vegans and that’s working well for them, and a whole different spectrum, but if we are going to eat meat, then how would a carnivore or someone eat that animal and it wouldn’t just be taking the flesh. Actually, you see humans that are carnivores, they go primarily for the organs.

Matt: Yes, of course, we’ve cut those out of our diets really. They’re the most nutritionally dense, so the liver for instance, a really good one. People don’t really eat it. You can buy it so cheap really, compared to chicken breast, which is the most expensive and has the least amount of nutrition in the breasts, and the organs are the most nutritionally dense. And they’re the ones that are cheaper and it’s ironic isn’t.

If you think about the Native Americans, they would kill a buffalo and rip the heart out and eat it straight there and then, because they knew of its nutritional value, symbolic too, but the nutritional value is very high, so there’s things that people can do. They may not like the taste of liver because it’s a very dense organ, but where there is flavour there are nutrients. I’ve got a recipe for chicken broth that includes liver and really you can’t really taste it, so by adding it to food, maybe chopping it very fine is a really good way of getting those with enzymes and nutrients into your body.

But the organs do perform an important function because they’re very nutrient dense and then comes the other part around the meats themselves, so that the joints that people are used to eating. I mean we probably should make a distinction between white meat and red meat next, so red meat because of its acidifying nature and because of its nutritional value is usually better for carnivores than white meat and then specific things around that.

Red meat, so fattier cuts of red meat are better as well, because of their acidifying effect and their saturated fat content, and then the other thing to mention is where that meat is sourced. So not only due to environmental conditions, but due to your personal nutrition. Grass-fed beef is a lot more nutritious than grain-fed. I mean, they’re fed all sorts of stuff unfortunately, but to make that broad distinction between grass-fed and grain fed.

Grass-fed has more Omega-3 and more saturated fat content, and the pH value of the cow’s stomach is different, therefore you think of their endocrine system and how healthy that cow is and what inflammation that cow has and things like E.coli bacterial infections in those cows. That becomes part of the mix too, so as a general rule if people can stick to, if they can afford to, grass-fed beef that’s the premium.

Now, that doesn’t mean that if they can’t afford it, they shouldn’t eat meat, if that’s right for them, but that’s the gold standard if you like and it’s worth again, through this idea of empowering yourself and to get to know where you meat comes from.

So I get, every month, 15 kilos of meat direct from the farm, so I know the farmer, he even delivers it, but people who don’t have that availability can ask the butcher behind the counter in the supermarket, is it grass-fed, do you have grass-fed, where did it come from, where’s the farm?

But in New Zealand, it’s amazing, you maintain standards for food, so you’re in a really privileged position. I guess people will play and listen to this from all over the world so it’s really important for people to ask the question, where’s my meat coming from? Not just for environmental reasons, the carbon, but for their own health too.

Nicholas: Yep, and on your website is there more information where people can look up and, I guess, if they read your book as well the parasympathetic or sympathetic dominant, they can start to figure out, you know, what they are.

Matt: The way to do it, what they can do is, if they go to my website mattjanes.com, they can watch a couple of videos first of all, which will give them the understanding of how it works and then if they read the ‘articles’ section, they’ll get more information, but to actually diagnose it, to truly find out someone’s balance, I’ve got an 87 question assessment, which is a service that I provide to people.

It’s not just readily available on the site for free, but it’s a part of a bigger service that I offer, so when someone comes to me who isn’t well, the first thing I do is that they get an autonomic assessment and then they get a two hour video consultation, for me to truly understand what’s going on, a very deep dive, and then I combine the two, to fully understand where they are and what medication they’ve tried.

For instance, how it’s affected them, what they’re currently eating, what reaction they had. I can assess whether someone’s sympathetic dominant or parasympathetic dominant, as well, through what other illnesses they’ve had because, this gets pretty deep so I won’t go into detail, but people have different strengths in their cell membranes according to whether they’re on one or the other of the two branches, so the degree to which their cells are very tight or loose affect whether they get subjected to other illnesses or not, so that’s another indicator well.

Then there’s personality traits, sleep, how well they sleep, are they morning people, afternoon, evening people, all kinds of stuff that allows me to come to this diagnosis, so it’s quite a deep dive. There’s not, unfortunately, just a very simple, you know, easy way of doing it. Some people do a hair test, which gives you a mineral analysis, which gives you further insights, but I don’t need that because of my online assessment.

Nicholas: Yeah, I think that it’s such a complex thing and that’s why, you know, with this still so many people struggling with it it’s a bigger pandemic than coronavirus, in my opinion.

Matt: Yes, absolutely, it’s so funny because the science is complex, but the beginning point and the end point are simple. It’s the middle that I think is complicated, but the beginning is simple, someone is feeling rotten and the end, the resolution, you know.

Once I’ve been through my online assessment, my video consultations, I then write up very thorough notes for people to make it very simple, but how it works and what they should eat, what they should avoid, but then once they’ve got that down, it’s simple again, so you go through this kind of bubble in the middle where it becomes complicated, but that’s on my side.

Nicholas: Yeah, that’s the bit for me to understand, for patients it’s simple at the start, they feel terrible and then once they’ve got the advice, it’s actually simple again.

Matt: Yeah, it’s just it’s just navigating that journey and that took me five years to Understand, it but like all things I suppose is that the clever bit is making it simple for people.

Nicholas: Yeah totally, breaking it down. Just one last question, what are some other things people, well actually, what are your thoughts on the different drugs and how that affects people’s mental health and sort of people coming out now with the likes of ketamine or MDMA, and those sorts of different trials, to help people with mental health?

Matt: Yes, it’s interesting. I mean they all have an effect on the autonomic nervous system, so they’ll either excite or inhibit the two branches of the nervous system. So it’s interesting, they tend to be done in sort of trial and error, either it works on someone, or it doesn’t, but I find this time and time again, the pathway through which they may work or may not work doesn’t really get explained, but it all comes back to this system.

So, if someone’s out of balance on the parasympathetic side and you give them an amphetamine, which is obviously only a short-term acting drug, that will boost their sympathetic nerves. I’ve got patients that have taken amphetamine as a means of getting out of a depressive episode short-term.

Nicholas: What’s an example of an amphetamine?

Matt: Adderall.

Nicholas: Okay.

Matt: A lot of people are on it and use it for focus and exam studying, and things like that, to support education. It’s not something I recommend and suggest, however I know people that have used it, but it’s only short acting. So, what happens is people that are out of balance on one side of the nervous system might take that and it boosts their sympathetic nerves, but then there’s a crasher afterwards unfortunately.

In might get you through, lift your mood, then like all things, with homeostasis, being in balance and then out of balance, there’s a kickback period, so it’s only a very short term solution that doesn’t necessarily serve you well. But that’s how they work, so some will inhibit and some will excite. So there’s work done in trauma, so in the States, with Vietnam vets, or Iraq or Afghanistan, where people have got PTSD, they give MDMA to people to calm their sympathetic branch and that affects the amygdala, so the fear radar in the brain, the amygdala is where a lot of the trauma and fear is held in PTSD sufferers. So people get administered a drug to quieten the amygdala and the sympathetic nerves.

The amygdala, has been, it’s like tagging it, it tags it and calms it and that makes therapy work better, because it’s easier to treat therapeutically through psychology, in other ways, a patient that’s calm, isn’t struggling and heightened, so that’s how it works in the opposite direction to an amphetamine, so has a calming effect, which allows other psychiatric and psychotherapy processes to take effect.

So, all those drugs you are talking about, the key is that they impact the autonomic nervous system in one direction or the other, but of course you’ve got to align it with the person, and it’s got to be the right one for the right person and this is the bit that often isn’t done and it’s often the bit that isn’t done with SSRIs.

So, serotonin is a parasympathetic neurotransmitter, so it fires the parasympathetic nerves, which is why people feel calm, a little bit sleepy and it does unfortunately have the side effect of dulling people’s emotions, they become a bit, I don’t know, ‘duller’ in terms of your feelings and that’s how it works, because it engages the parasympathetic system.

What doesn’t happen in people, when they go to their doctor, a GP here in the UK, doctors aren’t given the tools to work out what that patient is, in the terms of their autonomic balance, and give out a drug, if it’s a going to be a drug. For the last 30 years of SSRIs, everyone gets given serotonin, whereas 50 years ago people were given noradrenaline-based drugs.

So the landscape has changed, but unfortunately, it’s uniform still, so SSRIs are the flavour of the decade, but they’re not suitable for everybody because people have different balance in this system, the autonomic nervous system and giving some people who are out of balance on the parasympathetic side, if you give them an SSRI, it makes them worse. Which is why some people feel dreadful on a Citalopram or a Prozac or an SSRI like that, but that work is just not done, unfortunately.

Now I’ve got a little sensor here, for people watching on video, I’m just holding this up but it’s a heart rate variability sensor. You put your finger in that and you pair it with your phone through Bluetooth and that will give you a snapshot of your relative balance in your nervous system. Now it’s not as good as going into a deep dive through your ancestry and the genetic balance in your system, but it gives you a little snapshot of how you are faring. So, who’s to say it wouldn’t be a good idea for GPs to have one of these sitting on their desk, to assess how someone’s doing, because if they do that and they’re very heavy on the parasympathetic side, then a prescription for an SSRI is probably not a great idea.

Nicholas: Yeah, it’s amazing. I think we are hitting, you know, more and more to improve the situation in the mental health landscape and I just want to say thank you so much for the work you’re doing and the commitment that you have to this cause and researching different areas.

Matt: It’s been such a personal mission, having seen so much suffering and having experienced it myself, and how miserable it is, and there’s people that just aren’t being served well by traditional medicine, so there’s a need to help those people too.

Nicholas: Totally, well people can hit mattjanes.com

Matt: Yeah, so my surname is Janes, ‘N’ for November, so it’s Matt with two ‘t’s, and then have a look around, it has plenty of resources on there to get interested in, to take back power, get empowered yourself and that’s the pathway to wellness, it really is.

Nicholas: Absolutely and also finding a book online as well, Saving Dad and I’m excited to read that too and yeah this has been a fascinating conversation I just want to say thanks again. I’m just thinking now what I can do to optimize in my own diet and what my parasympathetic or sympathetic nervous system, what I’m leaning more towards, so I’ve got some homework. Awesome, well thank you so much.

Matt: Oh you’re welcome, great to see you.

Nicholas: Cheers.

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