People Don’t Kill Themselves; Medications Do!

By Dr Ernst
June 8, 2018

The headlines have been awash with news of celebrity suicides, from today’s death of famed foodie, chef and TV personality, Anthony Bourdain to famous fashion designer Kate Spade. As a foodie myself, and a fan, I was hit by the news of Bourdain’s death–and as a kid growing up in the 90s dreaming of being a guitar hero, last year’s death of singer Chris Cornell got me too. But that is only the tip of the iceberg. This list of celebrity suicides in the 21st Century is shockingly long.

But amidst the sadness for people we adored from afar, we can’t forget the non-celebrities who–for whatever reason–decided to end their own lives. I was shocked to hear that suicide is the 10th most common cause of death in the U.S. Almost 45,000 people die every year from suicide in the U.S. and it has been steadily rising, basically since they started tracking statistics. However, since 1996, they have increased dramatically by 25%.

So this is a growing problem, and one that we as a society are clearly not addressing with any success.

Interestingly, antidepressants use is on the rise as well. In the late 80s/early 90s, about 3 percent of Americans took an antidepressant. Now that’s closer to 15%. Could it be that the pharmaceutical approach isn’t helping? I should say not, considering the side effect of some of these antidepressants is actually suicidal thoughts!

This is a highly complex issue to be sure. It probably involves the heavy pressures modern living puts on people, the influence of social media, economic difficulties (the highest suicide rate is among middle-aged men), lack of support systems, and on and on and on. These are not issues I am prepared to fix as a functional medicine doctor, but I can address at least three important physiological factors. Those are:

  • Diet
  • Microbiome
  • Nervous system

Let’s get into it.


There is a clear link between diet and depression. In fact, it has inspired an entire field of treatment now known as nutritional psychiatry. Several studies have investigated this link. In one meta-analysis published in the journal, Psychiatry Research, in 2017, researchers concluded with:

“A dietary pattern characterized by a high intake of fruit, vegetables, whole grain, fish, olive oil, low-fat dairy and antioxidants and low intakes of animal foods was apparently associated with a decreased risk of depression. A dietary pattern characterized by a high consumption of red and/or processed meat, refined grains, sweets, high-fat dairy products, butter, potatoes and high-fat gravy, and low intakes of fruits and vegetables is associated with an increased risk of depression.”

High fat, moderate proteins, low carbs, low sugar, high antioxidants, high vegetable intake decreases the risk of depression, where the Standard American Diet (unironically acronymed “SAD”) of processed foods, sugar, carbs and processed meats increases the risk of depression.

Clear as a bell.


In the grand scheme of things, our research into the microbiome is quite new, but such strong links between microbiome health and mental health have been found that yet another field of study has emerged: psychobiotics.

We have recently discovered that the microbiome is responsible for the majority of the production of two incredibly important neurotransmitter: dopamine and serotonin. The lack of these neurotransmitters is a clear link to depression as they are both responsible for feelings of well being.

The “gut-brain” axis is so important, in fact, that some researchers are attributing an unhealthy microbiome not only to depression but schizophrenia, autism, anxiety and a range of mood disorders.

Our gut flora can easily become unbalanced. It is important to eat fermented foods, avoid antibiotics when possible and even supplement with a quality probiotic.

Nervous system

Subluxation of the spine has a near infinite potential to disrupt one’s health–and this includes mental health. The key here is understanding the role of the thyroid gland, the adrenal glands and the pituitary. These three glands are particularly affected by stress, and require a constant stream of communication between them to regulate quite a bit that goes on inside of us–including our emotions.

Subluxation in the Atlas (the first connection between the spine and the skull) as well as the vertebrae of the neck disrupt the pituitary’s and thyroid’s ability to communicate, disrupting the timing and placement of signals to release hormones that often help us deal with stress and keep a sense of well being. This also disrupts communication with the adrenals.

Chiropractic care realigns the spine, alleviates subluxation and re-establishes communication between these important glands.

Minding these three components of one’s health may not eradicate depression and suicide in our society, but they would certainly help.

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