Does Mental Illness Exist?

Hi Dr. Burns,

I am halfway through “feeling good”, I just want to say how powerful it is. It is absolutely fantastic so far. I am applying your techniques to myself.

Do you mind me asking, and this is nothing to do with my health, is the whole idea of low serotonin levels being linked to depression a mere myth? Is there a link between depression and any brain neurotransmitters your opinion?

What about mental illness, does it exist?

Kind regards, Shane

To see Dr. Burns’ response, CLICK HERE.

6 thoughts on “Does Mental Illness Exist?

  1. It wasn’t a myth for me! I started taking some supplements for gut health and after 2 months was able to stop my anti-depressant. That was a year ago. I’m not a Dr. but I was told that 80% of serotonin is produced in the gut, to look there first. I took a chance and am so happy it worked. Why give me a pill if there’s a way to help my serotonin naturally? I’d give you the name, but people will think I’m just plugging my product.

    • Hi Chrissy,

      Thank you so much for your thoughtful email. I am somewhat hesitant to have to say that the placebo effect will get you every time, because I don’t want to hurt your feelings! In other words, if you strongly believe in something, it has a strong chance of helping you, even if it has no real effects above and beyond the placebo effect. And regardless of the cause of your improvement, it is still great that you are feeling better now.

      Here are a couple facts about serotonin, the gut, and your moods:

      1. Any serotonin produced in the gut cannot pass the blood-brain barrier, so it cannot get into your brain and have any effects on anything, much less your mood.
      2. L-tryptophan is the essential amino acid that the but and the brain need to create serotonin. L-tryptophan cannot be produced by humans. You have to get it in your diet. L-tryptophan is absorbed into the bloodstream from the gi tract, and then diffuses into brain tissue where it is transformed into serotonin by an enzymatic process having nothing to do with the gut.
      3. In a landmark study I co-authored in the Archives of General Psychiatry in 1975, we reported that massive doses of L-tryptophan given to depressed veterans at the Philadelphia VA Hospital had no beneficial effects whatsoever on depression.
      4. You can increase L-tryptophan in your diet by eating more of the foods that naturally contain it, such as chocolate, dairy foods, meat, fish, turkey, chicken, and a number of other foods. However, this will not improve your mood, except via the placebo effect. And you don’t need any special “products” to raise your L-tryptophan intake, although there is no reason to increase your L-tryptophan intake if you are on a normal diet.

      But if you are marketing a product, and making money off the erroneous notion that serotonin or L-tryptophan are natural antidepressants, my note will likely fall on deaf ears! I am writing this more for visitors to the website who may be looking for scientifically sound information about the causes and treatments for depression and other emotional problems. Placebos can be quite powerful, and even beneficial, but let’s remember that they are still placebos!


      • I very much appreciate your response! It gives me a lot to think about. I had no preconception about the product I take. I was trying it to lose weight. Being able to quit the medication was a side note. The weight loss didn’t happen by the way until three months after I quit the medications. I had been trying for some years to lose weight. The product I take has had some remarkable results for many different health problems. Some anti-depressants create weight gain, this could be part of it. I really appreciate your explanation to me of the brain/gut connection. Are you saying diet and supplements have no effect then? I use your book “Feeling Good” all the time, instead of a pill. The 10 cognitive distortions go down easily – without water!

      • Hi again, Chrissy, and thanks! Had no notion you’d be open to my babblings. I appreciate it! So many folks seem to have a kind of religious commitment to something they believe about health or moods.

        As long as one is one a normal and reasonably healthy and balanced diet, I see no need for supplements of any kind for health or emotional well-being, although I know that tons of folks love that stuff. But losing weight–that’s definitely cool! And healthy, too! Way to go, Chrissy!

        Thanks for the kind words, again, about the 10 cognitive distortions. Yes they go down easily, because we all do them! Inexpensive, too, and no side effects!

        You’re right, as well, about the weight gain side effects of many psychiatric drugs, including some antidepressants. No fun, and not helpful at all!

        Here’s a funny story. When I was a first year medical student, we had lectures from several biochemists who had won the Nobel Prize for their research. I think one of them had the last name of Berg. In one of his lectures he asked if we knew what the “perfect” food would be if you could just eat one thing, or one dish. People guessed various so-called “healthy” things. The answer he proposed was a cheese burger. The beef has pretty much all of essential amino acids and everything you need, and I guess the cheese, bun, and lettuce and tomato add a little of this or that as well. I thought that was pretty cool, but likely not “politically correct” these days!


      • Thanks for your response – I guess time to go find the perfect burger.
        BTW, I’m open to ALL of your “babbling” as I credit “Feeling Good” with many, many positive changes in my life. To have the chance to thank you personally is quite frankly something I never dreamed of when I first picked up the book in the 90’s. I love technology!

        Sent from my iPhone

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