The Natural Evolution Podcast

Season 1

Episode 21

S1E21 – Supporting Your Macro Systems with Dr. Christina Bjorndal

Dr. Christina Bjorndal, ND is considered an authority in the treatment of mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorders and eating disorders using a physical, mental, emotional and spiritual approach. Having overcome many mental health challenges, Dr. Chris is a gifted speaker and best selling author who has shared her wellness philosophy with platforms such as the Jenny McCarthy show, the International Bipolar Foundation, and many health summits and docuseries. She is recognized as a top ND to follow by two independent organizations. Her book “Beyond the Label” is a comprehensive guide to naturopathic mental health. 

Books by Dr. Chris Bjorndal on Amazon

Connect with Dr. Chris and learn more about her work:

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Dr. Christina Bjorndal

Dr. Christina Bjorndal

About our Guest

Carrie Eckert is a mind-body health coach and “mystery illness” mentor at Avocado to Zen. Since overcoming almost a decade of debilitating illness symptoms herself, she now supports others faced with similar health challenges.

Having overcome many mental health challenges, Dr. Chris is a gifted speaker and best selling author who has shared her wellness philosophy with platforms such as the Jenny McCarthy show, the International Bipolar Foundation, and many health summits and docuseries. She is recognized as a top ND to follow by two independent organizations. Her book “Beyond the Label” is a comprehensive guide to naturopathic mental health.

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S01E021: Supporting Your Macro Systems with Dr. Christina Bjorndal

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Podcast Transcript

Michael: Hello and welcome to the Natural Evolution produced by Rebel Health Tribe, a radio show focused on providing you with inspiration, education and tools for true healing and transformation. I’m Micheal, and I’ll be your guide on this adventure as together we explore the very nature of the healing journey. And we’re live. And this is a part two episode so before we get going, Dr. Chris, thank you for coming back. Had a great chat last time and to me it was one of the more personal and impactful episodes that we recorded in the first season. So thank you so much.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Yeah, it was great. Thank you.

Michael:

Yeah. And for those who didn’t catch it yet, go back to episode eight in season one. It’s episode eight. The podcast is with Dr. Christina Bjorndal who is an authority in the treatment of mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorders and eating disorders using a physical, mental, emotional and spiritual approach. She’s overcome many mental health challenges herself which we talk about quite a bit in the previous episode and we’ll get a little bit into that today.  Dr. Chris is a gifted speaker and best selling author who’s shared her wellness philosophy with platforms such as the Jenny McCarthy Show, the International Bipolar Foundation and many health summits and docuseries. She’s recognized as a top ND to follow by two independent organizations and her book Beyond the Label is a comprehensive guide to naturopathic mental health.  And the reason you’re back is because we didn’t really even get into that.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Yeah.

Michael:

We spent the whole first episode really just sharing our mutual experiences with lifelong depression and suicide and it’s quite a heavy episode. I’ll throw that out there, but I think for anybody who has struggled with those things in their life, it would be a good listen. Or for those who have people in their lives who have struggled. Which that would probably qualify just about everyone. It’s a really candid discussion that I think you’d be best served going back to check out. Again, that’s episode eight and then today we didn’t get into the healing arc of the story. It was mostly just the depression and suicide attempts and really the struggle.

And today we’re gonna talk more about how you found your way through and found naturopathic medicine and how naturopathic medicine ties into mental health and mental health challenges and where its role is in the greater approach of treatment to mental health. Today’s going to be a bit more positive and uplifting and educational. And I’m excited to have that discussion. I guess let’s just jump right in.

Now, you had a different career before which was in something finance, right? Or marketing-

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Yep.

Michael:

… or sales-

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Yeah, yeah.

Michael:

… or something like that.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Well, marketing and finance, yeah.

Michael:

Okay. Perfect. Wow. That’s a double whammy of things that are stressful. And we can you do a quick recap of what we did in the previous episode because people are listening right now, they’re probably not going to jump back, start that one, come back. If you want to just really briefly bring us to your tipping point or your switch point from when this isn’t going to work anymore. Whatever was your light bulb switch aha.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Okay, yeah. Yes.

Michael:

The abbreviated version to get us there.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Yeah.  I was working in the investment management world, but I was wearing that mask most days that “Okay, I’m okay on the outside,” but I wasn’t doing very well on the inside. And I was taking five psychotropic medications to manage my mental health. And the diagnoses that I had were bipolar disorder type 1, depression, anxiety, and then I also had this eating disorder which was kind of on the side burner.

The tipping point for me, not to start off on a down note, but really was this suicide attempt that I’d had. And when I opened my eyes and I came out of the coma, I was pretty choked that I was still here. And I realized that “Okay, I need to figure out another way to navigate this journey of life.” And taking all these medications that I was taking wasn’t really getting me to this place of joy.

That’s when a friend suggested that I see a naturopathic doctor and there was this Canadian health food trade show that I went to. And I saw a flier about a public forum for mental health. Regain your mental health I think it was. I went to this and I learned about nutrition and this term called orthomolecular medicine and then I went to see this psychiatrist who prescribed primarily supplements to help people. I started his protocol and I carried that along with all the medication that I was taking. And then I had my first year where I felt like depression was lifted. I felt free from that for the first time in at least 15 years. So I knew that there was something to it and I know that there was lots of people struggling and that’s when I started thinking about “Well, what else could I be doing,” and looked into how could I help people in the same way that I had been helped.

Michael:

Once somebody’s been in depression long enough or with some sort of, I don’t want to call it a mental illness or condition, but you’ve been in one way of experiencing life for a really long time. And then all of a sudden it’s a little bit different. It’s really bizarre. It’s-

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Yeah.

Michael:

… disorienting, it’s ungrounding, it’s “What is this?” I describe it as my life went from black and white to color a little bit. And it was that big of an adjustment of like, “Oh wow. I don’t feel like doom.” I can imagine that was quite an eye opening experience.

Orthomolecular medicine, I’m familiar with the term. I believe there’s a Dr. Anderson, Paul Anderson.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Paul, yes.

Michael:

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I associate orthomolecular medicine with that guy and I know very little else. Functional Medicine is an umbrella term that would describe pretty much any integrative approach I would think at this point. Can you give a brief of what is orthomolecular medicine?

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Yeah. It was coined by Linus Pauling in the 1960’s and he won two Nobel Peach Prizes. He did a lot of work on vitamin C. But orthomolecular just means the right molecule for your individual needs. And so it’s basically supporting the nutritional environment of the body for whatever that condition you may be adjusting. With Paul Anderson, he I think is more a cancer person, so he’d be looking more at the vitamin C piece. And for the mental health, it’s more looking at the higher doses of the B vitamins and often higher doses are prescribed, but that doesn’t always have to be a case. Some people have the misunderstanding or misperception that it’s mega dosing. It’s not necessarily. It’s just basically making sure that you’re supporting the individual environment from a nutritional perspective with the right molecules or supplements that they need.

Michael:

Okay. The high vitamin C that I’ve read about for certain types of cancers or that came out with the recent pandemic, people are using high dose vitamin C, that stemmed from orthomolecular medicine?

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Yeah.

Michael:

Okay. You, I think that’s where I got on the little bit of the bandwagon that I’m on. I think that’s how I found it. Okay.

So you had this experience. You started taking these supplements mixed with, you didn’t stop the medications. You were doing the supplements and the medications and then you thought light bulb “Maybe there’s a thing I can do professionally because you knew that that wasn’t your jam what you were doing, right? That was not-

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

That’s right.

Michael:

… didn’t want to do that.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Yeah, no, I didn’t want to do that. I really found that environment quite soul sucking and I remember asking myself this question. If money didn’t matter, what would I be doing with my life? And the answer that kept, and it wasn’t like I just asked this question once and then had acted on the one answer on a whim. I asked this question repeatedly over the course of a year. And the same answer kept coming up. Go back to school and study orthomolecular medicine and learn how to help people in the way that you’ve been helped. That voice, which I think was coming from my intuition or my soul or my spirit if you will was quickly squashed by the voice of fear saying, “What? You can’t do that. You can’t quit your job. You’ve got this really highly coveted job.”

Michael:

How old were you at that time approximately?

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Thirty-two.

Michael:

Okay. Yeah.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Yeah. Yeah. But I did. And I had to go back to high school because I didn’t do the science prerequisite the first time. I did more of an arts degree. So back to high school, back to university and then-

Michael:

That’s a daunting road to look at. I had to do some similar because my bachelor’s was in history and education and my master’s was in exercise physiology. And I didn’t have a handful of the prerequisites and it was “Oh man.” So I got to go to school just to be able to go to school. Cheers for you. Cheers to you for going through with it. If there’s anybody out there listening that’s been resisting doing something they feel drawn to doing because they see that, here’s two people who have done it.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Yeah.

Michael:

And the time goes by faster than you think it will.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

It does. And I think when you’re doing something that’s in concert with your soul’s intention, then the universe opens the doors and there’s not a lot of struggles on the path, right?

Michael:

Yeah.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

But I’m not going to sit here and say it was super easy. It was not [crosstalk 00:10:43].

Michael:

You did the pre-reqs. You went back to school then the naturopathic doctorate program.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Yeah.

Michael:

And you finished that sometime around, what, the 37, 38?

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

I was, no, 39.

Michael:

39? Yeah. I don’t know how long your medicine program was, but you’re about 40 and you’re in a new career, new profession. Now during the time of in school and going to naturopathic school, I’m guessing more things happened than just going to school regarding your depression and your mental health. Did you make some more changes? You had done the supplements. You were still on four or five meds you said.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michael:

What happened with all of that while you were going through it?

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Yeah. At some point I then tapered off the antidepressants and the anti-anxiolytics that I was taking and I maintained taking a mood stabilizer, but a much lower dose. And that’s an important piece that I want people to understand is that it’s not always the goal that there’s no medication. It’s not necessarily this or that form of medicine, but it’s this and that. And you can have less medication which makes your life a lot more manageable often from a side effect perspective.

I tapered off quite a few and was just left with the one mood stabilizer which I have to say I wasn’t, well, maybe this isn’t the best thing to say on air, but I wasn’t super compliant with it. For many months and periods at a time, I would just be taking the nutraceutical support. But the interesting thing that came out of my studies was we had to analyze our diets in second year nutrition and one of the things that I was deficient in from a nutrient perspective was tryptophan [crosstalk 00:12:43].

Michael:

All I know is that it’s in turkey because people say that’s why you get sleepy after Thanksgiving dinner.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Right.

Michael:

I know what tryptophan is and I know what it does, but I don’t know a lot of food sources. It’s mostly animal foods, right?

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Yeah. And I had been a vegetarian and I was low sufficient in this one. It’s an essential amino acid. What that means is you can’t make it. None of us, nobody can make it. We all have to get that from our diet. And the key thing about it is it goes on in the body to get converted to serotonin. And serotonin is the main neurotransmitter that’s often implicated in depression. That’s the whole reason the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor or SSRI medications were created was to increase serotonin. It was really eye opening to me that I’d experienced all this depression and I had some holes and big cracks in my nutritional foundation which the supplements helped to fill the crack, but I think if we want to talk about root cause, we really have to make sure that we are asking people what are you eating or getting an understanding of what they’re eating. Because if you’re deficient in tryptophan then really me taking those supplements, if I went off of those supplements, then I probably would’ve ended up back in the pit of depression again. It’s not different, right? It’s no different than taking an SSRI.

Michael:

They call them supplements, not replacements. I’ve run into that a lot with clients myself in the past that wanted everything that they needed to come from supplements and didn’t want to change the food or eat differently or whatever. And it’s like, “Well, I’m getting it in this.” And I’m like, “Yeah, but do you want to keep taking $500 a month of supplements and get all your nutrition?” And even if you do that, you’re missing co-factors and you’re miss… So you had to make some pretty big dietary changes and you’d been a vegetarian for a long time?

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Well, that’s when I did start to switch back and have a little bit of protein again.

Michael:

Okay.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

I’m not a vegetarian now.

Michael:

Yeah. Did you notice a shift right away or?

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Gosh, I can’t remember.

Michael:

Okay.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

I can’t remember now because this is a while ago now.

Michael:

We won’t date ourselves.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Yeah. [crosstalk 00:15:04]

Michael:

Yeah. You made some dietary changes.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michael:

Added to the supplements, started tapering down or off a lot of the medications. That probably just reconfirmed or reaffirmed that you were on the right path both professionally going to do what you were doing, but also taking care of yourself.

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Also, if you’re on Facebook, we’ve got a fun, engaging, and supportive group over there as well with thousands of health seekers just like yourself. Just search for Rebel Health Tribe and you’ll find us. Thanks for listening and now back to the show.

Now how was your mental health during that many years of school while you were making that transition? Was it-

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Yeah, it was good. There were some moments of definitely the stress piece played a role and impacted me not actually from the depression perspective, but actually from the other perspective. I ended up actually having a manic episode which was, we don’t need to really get into it. That was more the concern was ramping up versus ramping down.

Michael:

Okay. And diet supplements, were there any lifestyle types of things that you learned about in school or that you started to shift at that point-

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michael:

… as well?

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Yeah. The other big piece was learning basically mindfulness. And learning how to pay attention to your thoughts. You can learn to manage your mind so you’re not at the mercy of it. That was something for me that was really important because I’ve been quite immersed and absorbed with my thoughts versus being able to have this more bird’s eye view if you will and separate myself from my thoughts. That was a big piece as well.

Michael:

Where did you learn the mindfulness practices? Did you have somebody teach you or books or?

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

There was a counseling portion of our curriculum and then I worked with a naturopathic doctor who, this was his-

Michael:

Trained in mindfulness.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Yeah.

Michael:

That’s brilliant. And doctors should have counseling training. I think most naturopathic programs in the states have some of it. I don’t believe any MD programs do. Not that they’d have time to actually utilize it as they see patients for about six minutes at a time usually in a normal appointment. But I think that that’s an essential part. And we mentioned this in the first episode. Both of us have gone through Gabor Mate’s Compassionate Inquiry training. And he was a physician who transitioned to doing more therapy kind of work. And he had to self teach himself because he didn’t have people to refer to or anything and he said that it’s astonishing to him that doctors are not trained in this because people come in and you need to be able to relate to them. You need to be able to understand them and then you need to be able to instruct or suggest or recommend to each person in a way that that person will receive. Lots of skills there that I think a lot of medical professionals miss out on.

But the mindfulness piece is huge. That’s been really impactful for me too. And I can tell that when I don’t feel good, I’m caught in those loops.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michael:

We think we are our thoughts. We don’t realize that we’re outside of those and those patterns. And the way I’ve been taught, it’s observing the thoughts is not different than observing a smell or something you’re looking at or a taste or something on your skin. It’s just like another sense. There are some Buddhist traditions that actually call that our sixth sense is thought. And that really helped me realize like, “Oh, I can step back from this.” And like, “Oh, I’m having these really anxious thoughts right now.” [crosstalk 00:19:43]

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Yeah. Yeah, and what’s important too is connecting that to this other piece with just that psychoneuroimmunology piece that basically is a big fancy word to say that your thoughts affect your physiology or the hormones that get produced. It’s a little bit of a chicken and an egg problem for some people. You might have a negative thought and then that creates a neuropeptide and then that neuropeptide affects the hormone that gets produced which then affects how you feel.

Michael:

Yeah. And the stress.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Yeah.

Michael:

It produces or it can suppress immune system or it can blunt neurotransmitters. But then the other way if those things happen, then it can lead to more challenging thoughts. It’s like a feedback loop-

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Yeah, yeah.

Michael:

… that needs to be disrupted.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Yeah. And I know for me, I think I was really resistant to this because I felt like if you had said to me “Oh hey, Chris. Change your thoughts, change your life,” I would probably have rolled my eyes at you and walked out of the room. Right?

Michael:

Yeah.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Because I felt like people we’re implying that I was intentionally causing myself to suffer on purpose. And I really felt like I was, like I said, I felt like I was one with the thoughts and I couldn’t differentiate myself from them.

I want people to really understand that you don’t have to believe every thought that you have. But understand that the thoughts that you do have affect the physiology which affects how you feel so if you can shift to a thought, you don’t have to believe it. But shift to a thought that’s more supportive of you and recognize that, I often say this about suicidal thoughts. Okay, if a suicidal thought comes your way, that’s a red flag that just in that instant in that moment you’re not being very kind to yourself. Because that is the ultimate worst crappy thing to think.

And you can follow that thought if you want all the way down the garden path. Or you can just stop and recognize “Okay, that’s not a great thought. So what’s something else in this moment?” You don’t have to believe it, but at least think it because if you think it, that physiological cascade will be different within you which will ultimately over time shift how you feel. [crosstalk 00:22:14]

Michael:

Yeah, I was also an eye roller at those statements because the people, the books, they meant well. And it’s true to an extent. I think it’s more nuanced than like, “Oh, think happy thoughts.” Because then yes and because the thing that you’re turning away from is there for a reason and it needs to be addressed at the different level of like, “Why do I keep having this thought?”

So it’s not think a happier thought and pretend like that doesn’t exist and it goes away forever. Which I think I see quite a bit of actually in the spiritual communities and things of that nature where they’re just like, “Oh, no, that’s not a thing. I’m going to go over here and be happy.” That’s not going to work. You still need to go over there and figure that out, but in the moment you’re saying switch the thought switches the physiological cascade.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Yeah. Yeah. And you’re right. Because a lot of us have trauma, right?

Michael:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

A lot of us have these really deep seated and sometimes not really understood on the level of the conscious mind. Some of these things, especially if they’ve happened when you were before the age of one-

Michael:

You’re also adopted, right?

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

That’s right.

Michael:

Yeah, me too. And we talked about that in the first episode. And that would be something that’s pre conscious memory.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Conscious memory for sure. Right?

Michael:

Yeah.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

And you can’t solve problems on the level of the conscious mind always. So that’s where being able to move into the subconscious mind is really helpful and that’s where I think therapeutic approaches like compassionate inquiry can get into that to some extent.

Michael:

Okay. There’s mindfulness, there are supplements, there’s weaning off some of the meds. You’re feeling good. You get through school. Did you have the intention of finishing school and then primarily focusing on mental health?

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Yeah.

Michael:

That was the goal? So you knew from day one this is what I want to do.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Yeah. Yeah. Which made school a bit challenging because you had to study everything, right?

Michael:

Yeah.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

I was like, “I don’t really want to learn about eczema. I don’t really want to learn about asthma.” I had that one intention only. Yeah.

Michael:

Interesting. Okay. And when was your book published?

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

2017 now.

Michael:

Okay, so about four years ago. Sometime between when you started practicing in the book. When you first finished school you were not a well known resource on mental health and naturopathic medicine. You built your practice up and that was what your primary focus was and I guess I’m curious. Over the years you’ve worked, and we talked before we went on air about how busy your practice is so I can do some math and probably project out that you’ve worked with quite a few people-

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michael:

… in the last 15, 20 years, however long that’s been. Mostly mental health I would guess is the reason people come to you. I had a few questions. What are the biggest needle movers? I know everybody is unique and so the one recommendation isn’t going to be the cookie cutter for everybody. But a few big things that really you’ve seen really move the needle for a lot of people that they come to you and they’re not doing this or they are doing something that you asked to have them stop or you shift diet. What are a few of the big heavy hitter needle movers that you’ve seen in your practice?

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Well, one of the big ones is the nutrition piece. I know this is going to sound super simple, but a lot of people are drinking way to much pop and way too much coffee and not enough water. And as simple as that sounds, it really is, I see it in every single patient. Just shifting that alone is [crosstalk 00:26:16]-

Michael:

Especially for those with anxiety.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Yeah. Yeah, if you have anxiety, really coffee’s not [crosstalk 00:26:23].

Michael:

I’ve shifted over the years. I lean more towards anxious instead of depressed the last several years and I’ve noticed I can tell immediately if I overdo it with caffeine. I’m just like, “Oh, I don’t feel good. Now I’m anxious.” And I run for the theanine supplement. Pro tip: Over caffeinated? Take some theanine. It can help blunt that. But okay. Something simple as far as-

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

[crosstalk 00:26:53]

Michael:

… sodas and coffee and things like that versus water.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Yeah.

Michael:

It warms my heart to hear you say pop. I get made fun of here in California for that. I’m from Chicago and we say pop. But I’ve forced it out of me to where soda comes out naturally now so I just smile every time I hear somebody say pop. Because if you say pop around here, everyone looks at you like they don’t know what you’re talking about.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

They think you’re talking about your dad.

Michael:

Yeah. Okay, switching beverage to water which seems overly simple, but is something people could do. What else do you got that you see?

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

The other piece is making one meal a day plates.  If you divide your plate in half, making 50% of your plate vegetables and then a 25% complex carb and 25% protein. Again, I’m not talking about if people are going to be specific around oh, I’m doing paleo or I’m doing keto or I’m doing [crosstalk 00:27:44].

Michael:

As a general rule you can-

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

This is a general rule.

Michael:

… eating vegetables, drinking water.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Yeah. People are-

Michael:

It does. This sounds super, super basic, but I would have clients come to me who wanted to run all these labs and do all these complex protocols and take all these supplements. And when I looked at those kind of fundamental things, they were all out of whack.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Right. Yeah. Yeah. Some of the basic, those foundational pieces, right? And then of course encouraging those tryptophan forming foods and wanting to make sure everybody’s eating them. And again, that’s protein and if you’re a vegetarian then it’s going to be avocado, cashews, quinoa, peanuts, oatmeal. Those are the main [crosstalk 00:28:20].

Michael:

Avocados have tryptophan?

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah.

Michael:

Oh. Interesting.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Yeah. And then dairy because again dairy can be controversial for people. But dairy has tryptophan. So cottage cheese, yogurt. Those would be the three main things. Fifty percent of your plate vegetables, shifting to water. Water minimum, half your body weight in ounces. That’s your minimum amount. Minimum amount. Most people aren’t at the minimum. And if you’re having coffee you got to increase that by two cups for every eight ounces of caffeine.

Michael:

Because of the diuretic.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Effect. Yeah. Okay.

Michael:

Okay. Hydration and nutrient dense foods and foods-

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Yeah.

Michael:

… that are specific to tryptophan.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Yeah. Those will be the three main. And if people are looking for a roadmap, I have this other little book called The Essential Diet: Eating for Mental Health. So, two-week eating plan.

Michael:

Oh, cool.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Gives you the [crosstalk 00:29:17].

Michael:

Is that a physical book or is it something-

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Yes.

Michael:

… you have to unload or, yeah, okay.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

It’s a physical book. Yeah. Physical book. I think it’s on Amazon. Yeah.

Michael:

Yeah, if you search her on Amazon, you’ll probably find both of the books. The book itself, was that your idea or did enough people nudge you to write that you finally decided to do it?

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

No, I’d say it came more from me I think. Because especially with bipolar disorder, you get the message, including myself, that the only option for you is medication for the rest of your life, because usually you get diagnosed in your early 20’s. And by the way, by time you’re 60, your kidneys are going to fail-

Michael:

From the meds.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Yeah.

Michael:

Right?

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

[crosstalk 00:30:00]

Michael:

Let’s talk about that a little. We’ve only talked about depression and anxiety really. How does bipolar diff- is there different? If somebody comes to you and they suffer from depression mostly versus bipolar, are there any tips or lifestyle or dietary or things that relate mostly more so to bipolar? Is it a similar approach generally benefits mental health as a whole?

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Yeah. I would say similar approach because, hmm, it depends really on the individual. If that individual spends most of their time in depression and anxiety versus how many manic episodes they’ve had. The biggest difference between the two is managing the stress and the sleep piece of the puzzle.

With a depressive disorder, when you’re depressed, it can be either end of the spectrum. You can be sleeping too much and having a really hard time motivating yourself to get out of bed and getting started with the day. Or you can just not sleep. You can suffer from insomnia. But the difference between somebody who has just a depression picture and bipolar disorder is if you don’t sleep with bipolar disorder, the chances of you flipping into a psychotic or manic episode, that will happen. And it won’t happen to the person who has depression. They will not experience psychosis.

Michael:

Just saying. The sleep and circadian piece becomes even larger than for people with bipolar who are looking to manage the manic episodes.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Yeah. And then the stress management. The stress piece. Because a lot of times the allure of mania is very enticing. And you feel euphoric and you have lots of ideas and you feel-

Michael:

Do all kinds of stuff.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Yeah. Do all kinds of stuff.

Michael:

Yeah.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

But yeah. And then some people get into difficulty financially because they don’t make best decisions financially. Right? Buy cars or-

Michael:

Yeah, yeah.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Yeah.

Michael:

Impulse control.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Yeah.

Michael:

Yeah, out the window.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Yeah.

Michael:

Okay.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

It can be devastating to people. The biggest differences for me is managing that sleep piece and the stress. This theory has never been proven. This was by my original psychiatrist, Dr. Abram Hoffer. He put forward this theory in the 1950’s. It was called the adrenochrome hypothesis. But basically the idea was that with psychosis or mania it’s like the body just overproducing adrenaline or cortisol. And they can’t break it down fast enough. So it’s almost like if you were to put too much gas in the engine of a vehicle, it’s going to flood the car and it’s just going to stall out. Similar idea with too much adrenochrome coursing through somebody’s veins, it just builds up. The body can’t clear it and it pushes you into psychosis. But the key is to not overproduce it in the first place which is then managing the sleep and the stress.

Michael:

I see. And your book implies from what I’ve read and from our conversations that we’re using labels here. We’re saying depression and we’re saying anxiety. We’re saying OCD. People can identify with that because they’ve been probably given a diagnosis. They’re told they have this or that thing. But you’re not a big fan of labels.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michael:

And maybe you could share just a little bit about why that is or what you see, why you see labels to be potentially counterproductive or harmful in some way.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Yeah. I feel like the label, it does serve a purpose initially to help explain what might be going on with somebody. And it helps to them match perhaps the medication that could be useful. But it doesn’t really explain what’s going on with somebody. And also I think a lot of people get stuck in the belief that they are that. And that they’re not going to move from that to this place of wellness.

It’s my view that depression and anxiety and psychosis and obsessive thoughts, they’re all happening for a particular reason to guide you on a soul level back to you. And when we medicate that away, it’s like we’re interrupting the process and disconnecting the person from themselves. Now I’m not saying, I know it’s very difficult to be in a depression. I get that. But I think that we want to shift the line of questioning and you I think alluded to this or may have said this earlier in the conversation. Shifting it from “What’s this here to teach me,” and away from “Okay, this is something I have to disown or get rid of.” And I just really want to encourage people to continue to look within and to understand that again, those labels are there initially to help you and to perhaps guide a particular treatment plan. But that’s not all of you and you can move beyond that to this place of wellness.

Michael:

Beautiful. And the labels, the diagnoses, these are blanket terms. Depression, you could have 30 people in front of you that are diagnosed with depression and their symptoms and the way that they experience it could be pretty wide ranging, right? It’s like autism and then you can have 50 kids in front of you and each one of them is going to have different strengths, different weaknesses, different presentations, different challenges, different everything. And we use these blanket terms to describe it and then provide blanket treatments and then it’s part of who you are then. “I’m Michael, I’m OCD.” Or I have this or I have this or this. And we start to identify it with ourselves.

I was going to ask sometimes the labels can be helpful. And for me the one that has, and it was through studying with Gabor because of his work in this field, was realizing that I have rather severe ADD. And having a label put on that, it was like a light bulb. I listened to his book. I think it’s called Scattered Minds. And at the beginning or near the beginning there’s a “Here are some really common symptoms of ADD that adults don’t even realize are this.” And it was like 30 things they labeled off. And I actually stopped it, put it back, went slow through them and I could honestly say that I have all but two of whatever the list was. And I was like, “Wow.” And it made me see myself so much differently and previous me as a kid and growing up and in school. The challenges, it shifted everything to where I understood. Experience after going through the book and learning how that happens and how it forms and how the brain is developed differently in kids in certain situations. It really allowed me to have so much more compassion for myself.

And now I get the ADD and ADHD, it’s the same thing. That’s not who I am. And I can present a whole bunch of different ways. But just having that realization that that’s what’s going on and that’s what’s been going on the whole time and that everything I’ve done has been with that going on. And I’m like, “Wow. It’s pretty amazing I was able to get through some of those situations.” I have it really, really severely and so now I’ve been able to start learning ways to work with it instead of against it because ADD and ADHD have some super powers too.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Totally, yeah.

Michael:

And so that was impactful for me. I try not to identify with the label, but the label itself was like, “Oh wow. This is a condition. I fit all the boxes. Those make sense. This is why I couldn’t sit still. This is why I didn’t pay attention to this. This is why if I have to do something and I’m anxious about it, if it’s something I don’t feel really confident doing, I get really anxious and scattered and all over the…” And then I just check, check, check, check, check, check and I felt seen.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michael:

We’ve talked about depression and anxiety and bipolar. ADD, ADHD respond to a lot of the similar modifications.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

They do. More of an emphasis on dopamine support [crosstalk 00:38:52] the serotonin. Dopamine’s derived from phenylalanine and tyrosine.

Michael:

Yeah.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

So that piece can play a role. It’s 50/50 I would say for medication and/or a supplement approach. Lots of nutrients and the diet piece. If people are listening and they have children, I would always start with the nutrition piece with children and building in the tyrosine and magnesium and zinc and all these co-factors that are required for that particular pathway. But in some cases, starting with medication can be life changing for people.

Michael:

Yeah. I have a friend who just started taking I don’t know if it was Ritalin or something a few weeks ago and she’s posting daily updates on her life. Life as someone medicated who has ADHD and then it’s like, “I could do this and this and this and this and this,” and she was a mess before with all of those types of things. Gabor talks about that too and says, “I’m not opposed to medication for certain conditions.” But for kids he always recommends trying to go, because we don’t know how that affects their brain development and everything else. And now the statistics on the percentage of kids in this country that are medicated is pretty eye opening to say the least. And I would’ve been one of them.

If I was young now, they would have me on meds by the time I was seven I’m sure. And we don’t know. Then they’re more likely to be on other meds and other thi- it starts a cascade. But we try to take a pretty balanced approach around here with Rebel Health Tribe and the things I do. I am not a hundred percent anti-conventional medicine and things like that. Steroids saved [inaudible 00:40:38] life basically during her last flare and there’s times where certain things are necessary.

I’ve thought about it. I’ve tip-toed around it. I’ve noticed a lot of things though now that I feel a lot better if I do or don’t do or so I’m still kind of there. But the dopamine, we did a presentation for one of our master classes with Dr. Dan Kalish and he did it on dopamine and while watching the presentation, it was another one of those light bulb moments. Someone who’s deficient in dopamine or has blunted dopamine receptors will have and then this slide came up and I was just looking at the slide. I’m like, check, check, check, check, check, check, check, check, check, check, check, check, check, check also leads to drinking. People with low dopamine love alcohol and feel great when they drink and all this. So yeah.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

A lot of gets connected with that.

Michael:

Yeah.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

There’s another book that is written by an integrative psychiatrist that you may have heard is called Finally Focused.

Michael:

No, but I’m going to write it down.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

And the author is James Greenblatt.

Michael:

I’m really interested now and actually want to make it my focus going forward is working with people that have, they’re adopted of attention issues or depression is where I want to go because once you spend so much time on yourself, it only makes sense that you just turn that into something to give. At least to me and to you.

The book’s been out four years. Now you’re pretty well known in the naturopathic medicine space as a go to resource for mental health related stuff with naturopathic medicine and now this is not a replacement. Going with naturopathic medicine and with diet and lifestyle things, this is not a replacement for counseling or certain types of therapy or things like that, right?

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

That’s right. That’s right. It’s like with the engine of the vehicle, you still need the frame. It’s this and that. Right? [crosstalk 00:42:30]

Michael:

Yeah. Each kind of compliments, right?

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Yeah. I would love it if naturopathic medicine was incorporated as a primary first line piece. Let’s start here perhaps. And start with that. It’s more difficult with depression depending on how depressed somebody is because let’s face it, if you don’t want to face the day and you don’t want to get out of bed, it’s going to be really challenging for me to say to you, “Okay. Now I want you to start exercising and change of diet.” You’re not even cooking.

Michael:

When I was at my worst a few years ago, I knew all things to do. I knew the nutrition things and the health things and the meditation things and the whatever. And if I got out of bed and was reasonably productive for even a little bit of time in that day doing literally anything, it was a win. And I would write up these huge lists of stuff I was supposed to be doing because I knew all the things that would help me feel better and I was the one writing the list. I knew the things. And I would never do any of them. And then you feel shame and guilt for not doing the things. If you give somebody in that situation a huge list of things to do and they don’t do it, you could be putting gasoline on the-

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Fire.

Michael:

… on the situation. Yeah.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

[crosstalk 00:43:45]. Well, the other piece here that I have overlooked is the support piece. We often need that person. For me, it’s been my running partner. I have these scheduled dates and I won’t show up are myself, but I’ll show up for her. That’s important and we all need someone.

I remember this one story I heard. This teenage boy, he was depressed and the mom, she didn’t know what to do. Every day she made a sandwich for her son and she put it by his bed. Sometimes he ate it, sometimes he didn’t. It was random. Eventually he got better. She felt like she wasn’t doing anything because she didn’t know what to do other than making the sandwich. And he told her that that was his lifeline was the sandwich. Never underestimate the small things that you do to support somebody. It may just be the thing. As simple as making a sandwich can be for someone. And don’t take it personally if they don’t each the sandwich. Just make the sandwich, you know?

Michael:

Yeah.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Yeah.

Michael:

Yeah. And people in that state may not be the best at expressing their gratitude or expressing their needs either. But those things are always noticed and each one has a little impact for sure. Yeah, I’m glad you mentioned that. The value of support not only for little things like that, but also to have someone to go through. We’re both kind of, I don’t want to say on the other side, but have been through and come out and managed things and are generally in a better-

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

State.

Michael:

… state. But you don’t see it, but I had a lot of support and the time, I’ve been through two pretty serious episodes. And the time that I actually opened up and accepted support and was open with people on how I was doing and feeling and whatever, I made it through that one a lot easier than the time that… Because a lot of people you shut down.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Right.

Michael:

You shut down. You don’t tell anyone. You keep it to yourself. You’re the only one that knows that you’re suffering and I even would lash out at people if they were like, “Hey, what’s wrong?” Or “What’s going on?” I’d be like, “I’m fine. Now leave me alo- whatever.” And lean into the support-

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michael:

… from people-

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

[crosstalk 00:46:15]

Michael:

… around you if you have it.

All right, well I’m trying to think if there’s anything else that I wanted to ask. We covered some big needle movers, your own trajectory through school and working with patients. And I guess the next step, what ultimately needs to happen is some sort of integration between the Functional Medicine, naturopathic medicine, health, nutrition, wellness approach with the people on the “other side” who are doing the therapy and the counseling and these kind of things. Educating them on the importance of a lot of these things too. But I know with some licensure things, they’re outside their scope. Because my mother-in-law is a therapist here in California and she started watching all of our stuff years ago. The MegaSpore probiotic that we work with took away her lifelong allergies and asthma and then she got really interested in all this health stuff and she started learning all these things that relate to mental health and all this. And she’s like, “But I can’t make these recommendations to my clients because it’s out of the scope of my practice.”

It almost has to start at an organizational level of the governing bodies and the things like that. But you can steer people towards information, but-

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Could she say that it could be beneficial if you consulted in addition to working with me with a [crosstalk 00:47:43]

Michael:

Yeah. With a naturopath, with somebody. She just can’t be the one who gives the information with a therapist license. At least here in California because it’s not part of their scope of practice. I’m seeing the fields really in the last five years or so wake up to the value of each other. And that’s what I’ve been working on building with the other platform that I have is merging the two sides. Getting everybody in the same room. Because for the naturopathic and for chronic health conditions that aren’t mental health associated necessarily, people don’t realize that doing the mental health work and the emotional work and that kind of thing can have a real impact on a condition that you don’t even think would be related to that. So the more we can get everybody in the same room. Because healers traditionally in cultures, they weren’t the medicine person and the therapist person and the this person. That person was all of the, they saw it as one thing. Because it is one thing.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Yeah, yeah. One system. Right. It’s one system, but we’ve partitioned it.  [crosstalk 00:48:47]

Michael:

But I’m sure there’s a lot of therapists who have read your book and a lot of counselors who have read your book and people on that side that aren’t the naturopathic side, they’re more on the therapy counseling side, I’m sure it’s opened a lot of eyes there. Because everything they’re doing will work better if people follow these guidelines as much as possible.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

I was just going to say one thing that I may have skipped this over. Just recognize that when it comes to everybody as individuals, there’s the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual and what we’re talking about is that the physical is often divorced from working with the mental, emotional and spiritual. But on that physical side, I just want people to understand that there’s three macro systems in the body.

You’ve got the neurotransmitters which is what we’ve been talking about mostly. The dopamines [crosstalk 00:49:32].

Michael:

Yeah.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

But you also have your hormones. And every single hormone, if there’s a deficiency, symptoms can be depression and anxiety. And then the organs of detoxification and your immune system which you touched on when you mentioned the probiotics. There’s a huge gut brain relationship. Those three macro systems are important to have somebody understand from a root cause which system or systems are we going to be supporting in the body. And often the go to is always, “Oh, neurotransmitters.” If somebody’s depressed, oh, it’s always neurotransmitters. But we want to be mindful of the age of a patient because for women, the onset of menses or in their 20’s or in their late 40’s, early 50’s and even for men too, another who’s deficient in testosterone, one of the main symptoms is depression. Just wanted to mention that piece because I don’t think I did, that we’re always wanting to figure out which system or systems. It can be more than one thing going on as well, right?

Michael:

Yeah, for sure.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

And this is really important. If you start medication, for example, and theoretically you should get better. But if you don’t, then there can be explanations for that. It can be the wrong macro system, there could be something from the environment blocking receptors. I didn’t talk about the environmental piece. But I guess what I want to leave people with is just understand and know that there is an explanation for what you’re going through and it may not always be on that physical level. In my case, it was partly I think to help me realize that this path that I was on wasn’t the right path.

Michael:

Oh, that’s beautiful. And check out her book. I couldn’t recommend it enough for anybody with any sort of mental health challenges. I don’t even know of another one similar out there. It’s really well done in tying naturopathic medicine to how people are feeling and addresses different systems.

Links are below. I know your website and everything is below. What’s the best way for somebody to get a hold of you directly if they wanted to either find out more about your book or consult or do any of that type of stuff?

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Yeah, probably through the website there. There’s a contact form.

Michael:

Okay, great. Yeah we have everything down below in the show notes.

I learned a lot. I’m grateful for your time and your story and for everything that we talked about in the last episode that led you to be doing everything that we talked about in this one. I think it’s important for people to realize that everything that you’ve went through is part of who you are and what you’re doing. And I try not to want black that part of my life out and walk away from shame around it or any of that. It’s just something I went through that shaped who I am and I’m grateful for it.

Thank you so much and I look forward. Maybe we’ll do a master class or some other type of thing in the future where we get into some details on some of this stuff.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Absolutely. I’m here.

Michael:

All right. Thank you so much, Dr. Chris.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal:

Okay, you’re welcome. Take good care.

Michael:

You too.

And this brings us to the end of today’s episode. Head on over to rebelhealthtribe.com/kit to access the RHT Quick Start Bundle which includes four full length presentations from our RHT master classes, two downloadable PDF guides and a 15% off coupon which you can use in our retail shop. If you’re on Facebook, come join our Rebel Health Tribe group over there. And finally, if you like the show, please subscribe, leave a review and share with your friends.

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