Forty years ago when my dad & grandfather ended their lives, the word suicide was never used. It was simply said my grandfather ended his life because he had suffered from severe headaches and could not stand the pain any longer. As time progressed, anxiety, depression, alcoholism, and nervous breakdown were the words used to explain why my dad had ended his life. Twenty years later and a whole new vocabulary was associated with why my sister had taken her life. Initially it was anxiety then depression followed by being bipolar, unipolar, major depression, manic depressive, and finally schizophrenia. What do all these conditions have in common and why does it lead to suicide?
John Mann, MD from Columbia University and Kees van Heeringen, PhD from Ghent University both stated that suicide runs in families and half the risk is heritable. The other half is found to be attributed by various life stress factors as well as a number of environmental factors. But again what is the common contributing factor as to why some people take their own lives when confronted with difficult life situations or having been exposed to certain elements, while others who experience the same stress problems and exposures do not even think about suicide?
Herein lays the answer. Like firewall software that protects a computer, we are each designed with a unique system that protects our body and most especially our brain. It is called our “antioxidant system” and although it never gets much attention, it is always there silently and diligently working to protect us so we can age gracefully. The major protector within this specialized system is an antioxidant called “glutathione” which is found most abundantly in the brain, liver, and kidneys. It plays a critical role in protecting our genes, processing medications and cancer-causing compounds (carcinogens), building DNA, proteins, and other important cellular components but its main job is to prevent damage to our cells. Glutathione also serves as fuel for our immune system which keeps us healthy and helps us to recover quickly from illness. It literally acts like sticky flypaper continuously swirling around in our bloodstream attracting and removing poisons from our body every second of our life. When these poisons are not removed, they accumulate within our tissues and instead of aging gracefully; they cause a rapid decline in our life expectancy.
There are many genetic variations that make up each individual’s unique glutathione system. The particular system that we are born with was decided long ago when God formed us in our mother’s womb. We are each created with a varying degree of this protection – some of us with more, some with less and a few individuals with an extremely rare disorder that even prevents glutathione’s production. As a consequence of having this rare disorder, a person will not live very long.
A few generations ago, it would not have really mattered which group you fell in. However, today it unquestionably makes a significant difference as our body and brain are exposed to more poison than ever before in history. Just spend time with your grandparents asking about their lifestyle while growing up as compared to yours. You will then easily see the difference. There was no processed food, fast food restaurants, genetically modified foods, synthetic additives, preservatives you can’t pronounce, or food colorings you don’t need. Before the 1950’s, we did not add monosodium glutamate or extra isolated gluten to our food which since that time has been doubled in quantity each decade. We also did not have an endless use of chemicals, herbicides, pesticides nor did we take so many prescription or over-the-counter drugs. Most importantly, we were never as “STRESSED” as we are today.
Stress alone can significantly deplete our glutathione levels and depending on the type of stress we are exposed to (i.e. violence, abandonment, and physical or sexual abuse), our depletion can begin taking place at a very young age even while in our mother’s womb. Add in the mid-life stressors – going through a bad divorce, being a caregiver, a parent of a disabled child, having an over controlling spouse, losing your job or grieving long term over a loved one’s death – and you have a sure way of setting someone up for major health problems. As an example, a study in 2003 found that there is a 21-fold increase in risk for depression if a divorce was initiated by your spouse instead of you and a 10-fold if self-initiated. (Kendler et al., 2003)
Substantial evidence shows that stressful life events can trigger significant increases in inflammation. (Slavich et al., 2014) Inflammation increases a person’s glutamate levels. Excessive glutamate, also known as excitotoxicity, damages and kills our brain cells which increases our risk for neuropsychiatric disorders especially depression which is the greatest risk factor for suicide. Finally, it is glutathione which we must have to keep protecting our brain from future damage or death as a result of this glutamate storm.
This is a vicious cycle that is becoming more prevalent in today’s society and affecting our generations at a much younger age. This is exactly why our glutathione levels must be treated like precious gold if we are to avert the onset and/or progression of neuropsychiatric conditions like anxiety, depression, major depression, bipolar, mania, OCD, schizophrenia, autism, ADHD, dementia, Alzheimer’s, etc. and ultimately prevent “suicide.”
“You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb. I praise you, so wonderfully you made me; wonderful are your works!” (Psalm 139:13-14)
Kendler KS, Hettema JM, Butera F, Gardner CO, Prescott CA. Life event dimensions of loss, humiliation, entrapment, and danger in the prediction of onsets of major depression and generalized anxiety. Archives of General Psychiatry. 2003; 60:789–796.10.1001/archpsyc.60.8.789 [PubMed: 12912762]
Slavich, GM, Irwin, MR, From Stress to Inflammation and Major Depressive Disorder: A Social Signal Transduction Theory of Depression. Psychol Bull. 2014 May; 140(3): 774-815.doi:10.1037/a0035302 [PubMed: 24417575]