Seeking Biomarkers For Mental Health Problems

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Mental illness is a significant opportunity for the biological revolution.  In the same way, experts are taking advantage of this method in investigating biomarkers for mental health problems, both in making a diagnosis and finding treatment.


Laboratory Tests

Dr. Kurt Woeller, DO, handles patients with mental health problems like depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia.  He got to treat a boy who has schizophrenia with paranoia that resulted from a lot of stress and pressure.  According to Dr. Woeller, this boy’s lab results looks remarkably the same to some of those kids with autism.  He had elevated markers for yeast, Clostridia, and dopamine levels.   His hair testing yielded a low level of lithium.  His adrenal testing showed very low cortisol level.  He even has extremely low cholesterol level, which according to Dr. Woeller, means that the boy’s brain is not receiving enough nutrients needed and his brain is affected by what’s going on in his digestive system.  These markers – maybe not all but could be a combination – are also present in other patients with mental health issues.

Looking into the biomarkers, doctors were able to see if patients have a deficiency in nutrients or being exposed to toxins.  From such findings, they will be able to find methods on how to appropriately work on the problem for their mental health to improve. “While biomarkers have long been used in numerous medical fields, they have been difficult to pinpoint in the world of mental health,” Samoon Ahmad M.D. says.


Brain Scanning

Before the development of CT scans and magnetic resonance imaging, observing into the living brain isn’t possible.  The information regarding the brain’s function and structure is mostly acquired from dissecting a dead person’s brain, comparing any abnormalities with the reported symptoms while the person is still living.

A patient suspected for a psychiatric disorder will undergo evaluation by a physician to look for symptoms.  When symptoms are present, he will be referred to a psychiatrist to confirm the diagnosis that is based on DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).  In this process, the biological aspect is not explored.

With the revolutionizing advances in the field of medicine and the development of brain scans devices, experts in the fields were able to acquire live brain imaging and can examine activity in the brain.  They are now able to investigate potential biomarkers that could help them in diagnosing and treating mental illnesses.


Dr. Emily Stern, M.D., of the Department of Radiology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, along with Dr. David Silbersweig, Department of Psychiatry chairman at BWH, are one of the firsts to utilize fMRI (functional MR imaging ) in examining the activity of the brain in patients with mental illness.  They are looking for neurocircuitry that governs symptom formation over various disorders.  Through that method, they want to understand similarities and differences in multiple disorders to get a better knowledge of the biology that causes symptom development.

Dr. Stern and associates use functional MRI as they examine various psychiatric illnesses (such as schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, borderline personality disorder, panic disorder, PTSD and more).  To them, probing multiple disorders is reasonable as it made clear that many of the symptoms displayed lie over something else.   Let us take an example, a patient with schizophrenia can have depression, and those with depression can experience anxiety, and anxious patients can end up depressed.

Aside from using scans in finding biomarkers in providing a diagnosis of mental disorders, guiding treatment is another advantage to using fMR imaging.  It helps researchers observe treatment response.   Over the years, studies show that various brain activity and structure can express in advance if an individual is likely to develop some sort of mental disorder.  Brain scanning is, in fact, said to be most beneficial and significant in diagnosing depression than standard clinical evaluation.


Insufficient nutrients in the brain found through laboratory tests lead doctors to utilize dietary intervention, vitamin supplements (injections), calcium, magnesium, zinc, selenium, etc., as an additional intervention in treating some disorders.   Nutrients support not only the body but the mental wellbeing as well.  Use of antiviral medications could also help in cases such as sleeping disorders and chronic fatigue syndrome.  Biochemical intervention in patients with mental health issues has the higher possibility of recovering from the imbalance the brain experiences.  It could allow them to be more highly functioning or just be generally mentally healthy. “The latest twist on these tests is a biomarker or blood test that will let us know which treatments may work best for depression,” John M. Grohol, Psy.D. wrote.

All these activities (treatment response included) and the structure of the brain can be observed carefully, illness diagnosed efficiently, and treatment is given precisely utilizing biomarkers found through laboratory tests and modern imaging.  According to Allen J Frances M.D., “Early diagnosis does not make sense until we can do it accurately, with a low false positive rate. Early treatment does not make sense until it is a lot more effective than placebo and almost as safe.”

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