Toxins and Infections
There are many different toxins in our environment including some we expose ourselves to (drugs, alcohol, tobacco) and others which are present, often without our knowledge (environmental toxins).
Heavy metals, petroleum products, radioactive substances, asbestos, and lead-related products are some common environmental toxins. Other toxins include mold and other infectious lifeforms, such as tick-borne and mosquito-borne illnesses.
What do these toxins all have in common?
All of these toxins directly or indirectly impact the brain and have been overlooked all too often. Just as the long-term impact of Traumatic Brain Injury was downplayed for many many years, the impact of toxins and infections upon brain function have been downplayed and ridiculed as hysteria.
The following findings are among many surfacing that underscore the impact toxins and infections have on the health of our brains:
- Asbestos in baby powder
- Cancer-causing toxins in drinking water
- City water tainted with lead
- Mounting evidence of the role of herpes in Alzheimer’s disease
- The causal link between Epstein-Barr Virus and chronic fatigue syndrome
Medical studies have shown that while some toxins cause temporary, reversible changes in brain function, other toxins can cause permanent damage. Marijuana, cocaine, alcohol, pharmaceuticals (such as Xanax and Ativan), and other mind-altering substances impact brain function in ways that we don’t yet fully understand.
SPECT scan evidence suggests that a large portion of toxic substance damage can be reversed with abstinence; however, the brain does not fully recover. In contrast, lead, carbon monoxide, pesticides, and solvents can cause permanent, irreversible damage to the brain.
The good news? SPECT imaging is bringing to light the impact of toxic substances and medications, just as it has with mild TBI. This information is helping us gather a more complete patient story and deliver more effective treatment.
For example, the SPECT scans of adults labeled as personality disordered often show temporal lobe dysfunction, frontal lobe trauma, or brain toxicity. Moreover, children who present with rage outbursts commonly show temporal lobe abnormalities, OCD, bipolar disorder, ADHD, brain trauma, or toxicity. Toxins act on the very nature of our personality – turning off motivation, dimming our cognition, and setting off inappropriate impulsivity.
This SPECT scan of a patient who regularly uses marijuana reveals patchy cortical hypoperfusion throughout the frontal, parietal, and temporal lobes. Various views of the brain are illustrated using a color scale wherein normal perfusion falls in the yellow range, a decrease in perfusion of two standard deviations below the mean is shown in green, and three below standard deviation is shown in blue.
With SPECT scans, we can better identify when toxins, such as molds, fumes, recreational drugs, among others, are impacting the brain and help patients identify what they need to remove from their environment.
By considering toxins as a valid root cause of some psychiatric difficulties, we are able to open up an entirely new pathway for brain health.