Highlights from Jonathan Otto's interview with Dr. Elena Villanueva, for the Depression & Anxiety Series.
Dr. Elena Villanueva:
[00:03:00] What I see that I reveal to all of my clients when they first come in is that I tell them that there is always more than one cause. There are oftentimes three, four, or five different systemic engines in the body that are not working properly. It's when that happens that the seesaw, so to speak, teeters, and the person starts to manifest symptoms of disease.
[00:03:30] The body is very resilient, so the body can handle, typically, one thing that's a little bit off balance, but when you start compounding it ... So if you take, for example, a little bit of underactive thyroid … Maybe they've been diagnosed with a mild hyperthyroid from their health practitioner. Typically, a person can overcome that. Their adrenals will compensate. The exercise that they're doing or the way that they're eating, if they're eating clean, will help compensate for that.
[00:04:00] But if you start compounding an underactive thyroid diagnosis along with a parasite infection, along with toxins from their environment or their foods, like fluoride or pesticides, when you start compounding the issues, that's when people start to manifest symptoms. They can manifest symptoms in a variety of different ways, whether it's a diagnosis of Bipolar or a diagnosis of Hashimoto's, it really doesn't matter. What matters is that we find the root cause of the problem, and it's never one problem. There's usually three, four or five problems going on at once.
[00:05:30] We don't really know why my father took his life. He was a surgeon, a well-respected man. And, yeah, we don't really know why that happened; we can only suspect. But what I would like to talk about, since we're talking about this ... There's such a stigma behind depression or even suicide. It's been this shameful thing that nobody ever wants to talk about, and I think that we need to address this stigma. We need to address this stigma. This stigma needs to go away. It's time for people like us to speak out and to make people understand that there shouldn't be a stigma, and there shouldn't be any shame for the families of the victims who have actually taken their life.
[00:06:00] [00:06:30] My father took his life, and we all felt like we had to protect him, and to protect ourselves, so we told everyone that he had a heart attack. And the reason that I am now coming forth is because my job is to help other people. We need to be able to understand how we can help people so that they don't take their lives. We need to be able to help the families of the people who have taken their lives so that they don't have shame around what's happened, or that they had a family member who was diagnosed with bipolar, you know.
Experience of Trauma
Jonathan: I'm curious what it was like for you to have gone through the trauma of losing your dad, and then feel almost forced to have to tell a lie to protect the family. What did that feel like for you?
[00:07:00] [00:07:30] [00:08:00] I was so numb and so in shock; all of us were. It creates a ripple effect that no words can describe when someone takes their life. Whether it's a friend or a brother or a cousin, or your parent or your spouse, it creates a rip in your spirit and a numbness that you can't even put into words. At the time when that happened, all I could do was just to take one step forward at a time. I didn't even know what to do. I felt like my whole universe was gone. I felt like I was completely disconnected from everyone. And at the time, when we decided to tell everyone that my father had had a heart attack, we all thought that that was the best thing to do. We didn't want any stigma. We didn't want the negativity surrounding that to affect my father's legacy and the amazing things that he did for people.
[00:08:30] He was passionate about his work, and he was very good at his work, and he loved his patients. He loved his family and he loved his friends. He was the most amazing father and amazing friend, and amazing person that you would ever know. We did what we thought was right to protect him at the time.
[00:09:00] I was 35. I spiraled into depression after that happened.
I spiraled into depression and I couldn't pull myself out.
Trauma as a Trigger
[00:09:30] [00:10:00] Looking back, it was the trigger of losing my father, and losing him in such a traumatic way as well. It was hard to pick up the pieces. I felt completely shattered. He was my parent. What can I say? He was an amazing parent. To lose anyone in your family is going to be traumatic, and it's going to be a huge loss. To lose someone in a traumatic way, such as suicide or a horrible car accident, or something like that, it's a traumatic trigger that literally can change your genetic expression, and it can change your body chemistry. It changes it because of the emotional aspect or spiritual aspect of the trauma.
The Downward Spiral
[00:10:30] It took me years to overcome that. It caused a ripple effect that ... first I had the shock, and then the grief, and the feeling of loss. Then I started having to deal with my own depression from within. All the changes that started happening and the way that I was perceiving the world around me completely changed.
[00:11:00] I had four practices, and I ended up losing everything. I became so ill with my depression, and it spiraled into anxiety, and then brain fog and memory loss. I then lost my words, and I couldn't speak. I couldn't form my words. This was over the course of about three years that it progressively kept getting worse and kept getting worse, and I ended up losing everything.
[00:11:30] I lost everything because I couldn't function. I tried the prescription medications. I tried some counseling. I tried the counseling in the church, also. I tried everything that I knew available to me, everything that most of us know in our culture here in the United States. I tried everything that was available to me. Nothing was working.
[00:12:00] I even tried to reach out, at the very end, to some friends, and they didn't know what to do. They felt helpless to be able to help pull me out of there, and I lost everything. I was just very, very fortunate that, after I lost everything that I had, including my own home, and I was homeless for a short period of time ... It's a crazy story. I'm not embarrassed about it. I'm very, very fortunate that after losing everything and literally living out of my car, that I started to find the answers.
[00:12:30] [00:13:00] Right around the time that I had lost all hope, and had thought about even ending my life ... I have been there, and I will share that with my clients. I will share that with them because I want them to know that I understand where they have been. I'm highly educated. I always had it put together. I built four practices on my own, and I knew that if I had been able to do that once, that if I could just find the answers to the causes of my problems, that I would be able to put my life back together again. Sure enough, the answers did come to me, little by little, in little pieces and little bits, and I was able to find the root causes of my problems, which included dire necessity for gut work. I started taking antibiotics when I was an infant. And probably by the time I was three or four years old, had probably been under 12 to 15 to 20 rounds of antibiotics.
[00:13:30] I was a very, very sick young child. I had flu, sensitivities, and allergies like crazy when I was a kid. So I discovered that I need to do gut work. I discovered that I had some genetic alterations that were not allowing some of my systemic engines to work properly, mainly the engines that are driving my dopamine production in my brain, for example.
[00:14:00] I was able to learn that I had different nutritional deficiencies. I was able to learn how the body chemistry works, really getting back to the basics of biochemistry and understanding how your body's engines work. And little by little, I was able to start picking up my engines and getting my engines working optimally again.
[00:14:30] As I addressed my body's engines, so to speak, all of the symptoms started to go away. Now I help people. Now my mission and my passion and my goal in life is to show other people what I was able to do that has helped me. The methodologies that I've developed, through my own experience, are helping hundreds of people.
How Depression Feels
[00:16:00] It was a big struggle and super scary. Going through that, it was the scariest thing I've ever been through in my life. To go through depression and anxiety and to have the perception of the world around you completely turned upside down, it's very, very scary. It can make you feel hopeless, and make you feel alone.
[00:16:30] [00:17:00] Of course I felt alone, and I was embarrassed. I felt so embarrassed, because I was supposed to be the ... I was the doctor in town. I was the sports medicine doctor in town, and I was supposed to be the one that had the answers for the sports injuries. I was supposed to be the really well put together mom. People saw me in town as, "Wow. Look at this mother, this single mother that she's ... Look at all the businesses. Look at what she's doing. She's traveling with Olympic athletes. She has four practices. She started from nothing, as a single mom." That's what people saw, but what they didn't know, was that I was breaking on the inside. I was embarrassed and ashamed, and I didn't want people to know about that.
I didn't even want my mom to know, because she was so devastated by the loss of the love her life, of her husband, that I didn't want to reach out to my mother. I didn't want her to know that I was completely breaking on the inside.
[00:17:30] When I lost my house, and I left in my car with the gas and a couple of hundred dollars that I had, my dog in the car, and a hamper full of clothes in the trunk, I was too embarrassed to call my mother because I thought that everyone needed to see me in this light. And that when I was breaking, that I felt I didn't know what people were going to think. It was the stigma around being depressed, but I didn't want people to know that. I was so embarrassed and ashamed. I literally left in my car and didn't even tell my mother where I was going.
Reach Out For Help
[00:18:30] It was killing me. It was killing me on the inside. To keep something in like that and not share it with your tribe and allow the people around you who love you to help you. Of course, it was making things worse.
[00:19:00] Jonathan: Do you think that had anything to do with your father? Do you think that his experience ... Have you ever thought that experience you went through, that you would be willing to shield to such level that you were on the edge, but nobody knew, you couldn't tell anyone, do you feel like he might have felt like that?
Dr. Villanueva: I have thought about that, that he probably didn't want to share. We still don't know. That will always be the question that we'll always wonder, did he a get a diagnosis that was terminal, that perhaps he thought that he didn't want to be a burden on my mother? Or was he struggling with depression, and he never said anything?
[00:19:30] We have no idea, but we wish that he would have reached out, so that we could have grabbed him and put our arms around him and done whatever we could, for him. We would do that for any of us, right?
I think the basic premise of our very core of our being is to love one another and to help one another. Whether we're blood family or not, we want to help people.
[00:20:00] In this culture, we're taught to shove everything down. We don't know how to process. We haven't learned how to process traumas and we haven't learned how to process our feelings. We just shove them down, because if we talk about them, we're afraid that we'll get a negative response.
[00:20:30] When people come talk to me in my office, when they walk through that door, there's no judgment. They need to know that when they walk through the door, they can be who they are. They can feel how they feel, and it's okay. A lot of people who come see me, I believe, are going through the same thing because they're taught to shove it down, and they haven't found answers. So it just compounds, and it gets worse. The problem keeps getting worse.
Jonathan: What would you say to your dad? If you could, if you could talk to him right now, or you could go back to the moment, because it's relevant to families that are watching. What would you say?
[00:23:00] Dr. Villanueva: Just talk to me. Tell me what's going on. Let's find a solution together. I'll move mountains for you. We'll all move mountains for you. Just please tell us what's going on, and let us help you figure it out. We'll figure it out together. We're a tribe. We're your family. We love you. Give us a chance to help you figure this out.
That's what I would have said to him, because what if we could have fixed it? What if we could have fixed it? We just don't know that now.
Recovery is Possible
[00:23:30] It took years, but I've had closure, and I can talk about it now.
[00:24:00] I'm in an amazing place now. I'm helping hundreds of people. I have an amazing life. I have amazing friends, and I've healed myself. I'm healthier than I think I ever was, actually.
Speak Your Truth
[00:25:00] [00:25:30] It did cost a lot to me, but I've learned that being true to ourselves, and being true to myself, and learning who I was, or learning who I am, apart from my identity that I created for myself, is how I have rebuilt myself stronger than I ever was. I truly believe that the truth will set you free. Come out and speak your truth. Everyone's truth is going to be something different, but speak your truth. Not only is it going to help you, you're going to help millions of people because it creates a trickle effect. Right? It creates a trickle effect.
If you're true to yourself, and you speak your truth, and you have honor in that, you will be able to help other people. You'll be able to manifest your destiny of why you were put here on this Earth.
The Process Takes Time
[00:28:00] Well, one of the first questions that people ask is, how long does the process take? Well, we have to remember that, when you're looking at the biochemistry of the body, things can only change so fast. Somethings will change faster and other things will lag behind a little bit, but they'll catch up.
[00:28:30] I always tell everyone who wants to talk to me about my methodology that I've developed for helping people to overcome their health issues is, give me 90 days. Give me 90 days to work with you, and if you don't see big enough changes happen in 90 days, then maybe my program isn't right for you. But if you can commit 1,000 percent to everything that I'm asking you to do, you are going to see big changes in 90 days.
I can say that because I've been doing this for a while so I've been able to see it myself with the people that I've worked with. Typically, I like people to stick with me for a minimum of six months—six months to really get a big turnaround on their body chemistry, on their brain chemistry. But 90 days, there's some magic that can happen inside of 90 days.
Determining the Causes
[00:29:30] We need to look at the model that you've come from, and what you've been doing that hasn't worked for you. The model that you've come from or that you've been in for your treatments are based off a diagnosis and then a prescription to treat the symptoms. When you come into the health model or the holistic model, we don't diagnose. We don't really care about the diagnosis. We're looking for the underlying causes of the problems.
[00:30:00] [00:30:30] In my methodology, we're very, very data based in the way that we do things. We're gonna order labs—anything from doing very expensive blood testing to look at thyroid function, and gut function, and kidney function, and so on and so forth, to looking at genetic testing. There are actual tests that we can do to look at gut function so we can see exactly what the gut is doing. We can look at neurotransmitters, and that's a big one.
[00:31:00] For what we're talking about today, neurotransmitter testing is completely underutilized. There are going to be people out there who say that it's not accurate, but look at what the current solutions are. The current solutions are not really that accurate either. They're not working. It's a completely failed model. There may be some people who don't agree with neurotransmitter testing, who think that maybe it's not super accurate, but I can tell you that with everyone that I work with, we do neurotransmitter testing.
[00:31:30] Then we'll do other ancillary tests, like blood, genetics, hormones, looking at gut function, so that we can uncover all of the stones. We have to play detective, and we have to figure out what different engines are not working. What are the multiple causes that are contributing to the way that you're feeling, to this multiple of symptoms that you have, including depression and anxiety?
We order the labs that we need to order, and then we start spreading them out on the table. We start looking at the labs, and we start finding what things are out of balance. What different biochemical processes are out of balance in the body?
[00:32:00] Once we find them all, then we triage. We figure out what do we need to work on first? That is a big key.
[00:32:30] There are a lot of people who have done a lot of research to try to heal themselves who have already done a lot of testing when they come in, and they know the different things that are going on with them. They know that they have a thyroid issues. They know that they've had this underlying chronic infection, whether it's parasitic or fungal or bacterial or viral. They know that they've got a thyroid issue, and they know that they have a hormone issue, but they don't know in what order to take care of it.
That's where I come in, and I show them, well, let's do this first. After 30 days, let's retest and see if we've made progress here. Then we'll do the second 30 day sprint, and we're gonna work on this and this and this.
That's the approach that I take. It's looking at the data and letting the data decide what the plan of action needs to be and in what order that we need to address the body's systemic engines to get them up and running again.
[00:33:30] The first test that I would order would be what we call the functional blood chemistry panel. It is just an extensive array of values that we're looking at in the blood. It's more extensive than what a typical health practitioner would order for their patients.
That runs around $250-$260. Really it depends on where the person is going. Sometimes it can be more. Testing like that can run upwards of $1,500 to $2,000.
[00:34:00] [00:34:30] It's because of our medical system. They charge outrageous fees for that. Whenever you find holistic doctors to work with, we typically are in groups where we have been able to get discounted prices on the blood work. For the amount of values that we're wanting to see in the blood, if you just went out on your own, if you went out on your own to go and get it without insurance, you would pay $1,500 to $2,000 for that.
There are thousands of us, hundreds of us around the country who have access to these co-ops that we're able to get the blood at a much more affordable, or, you know, this blood testing at a much more affordable price.
[00:35:30] With the extensive blood work that we're looking at, the reason why I like to order that first is because it's giving us the broadest view of what's going on with the client. We can look at everything from their thyroid function to liver and gall bladder function, gut function, how they're metabolizing their sugars and carbohydrates, if they're having mineral imbalances, if they're having malabsorption issues, if they have systemic inflammation. We can look at a very, very broad range.
[00:36:00] There's a lot of things that we have to look at if we really want to find the root cause. To only do one test, that's really, really, really hard if you're trying to help the person to figure out what's going on. That would be the first one that I would order. If someone is coming to us with depression and anxiety, the second test that I'm going to want to order on them is the neurotransmitter testing so that we can look and see what the chemistry in their brain is doing.
[00:36:30] [00:37:00] [00:37:30] [00:38:00] [00:38:30] The neurotransmitter testing is looking at an array of the different brain chemicals that we have that affect our cognitive function, our mood, our sleep, our ability to process thoughts and have memory recall. We're looking at neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, GABA levels, epinephrine, norepinephrine, glycine levels, glutamate levels. We're looking at the different brain chemicals that affect our mood and our cognitive function, our sleep, our wake cycles, all of that. The reason why I think that's so important is because it's not always a serotonin issue. The majority of the anti-depressants and anti-anxieties that are out on the market from the pharmaceutical companies are targeted at serotonin levels. There are other pharmaceuticals that will also target GABA or dopamine, but the majority of them out there are targeting specifically serotonin. How do you know if it's a serotonin issue? Everyone assumes that it's always a serotonin issue, with that specific brain chemical. Look at what's going on around our country with people having horrible, horrible reactions to these pharmaceuticals that are called SSRIs that are specifically targeting the neurotransmitter serotonin. If people are having a horrible response to it, it's most likely that it's not a serotonin issue. By looking at the brain chemical testing, we can see what other brain chemicals or what other neurotransmitters are potentially involved in contributing to their depression, their anxiety, their brain fog, their memory recall issues, and then we can target those things specifically by addressing it through lifestyle and nutrition and by understanding the biochemistry of what helps you make the neurotransmitters and what helps you to break them down. That's where we want to look at all of the different tests so that we can see what's going on.
[00:39:00] [00:39:30] [00:40:00] For example, if you have someone who has a chronic parasitic pattern, if they're having parasites, and we know that with parasites there's oftentimes a lot of heavy metal issues that go along with parasites, well, that's going to affect the brain chemistry, right? It's not enough to look at the brain chemical test and see, for example, that there is too much GABA in the brain or too little dopamine. We need to see what's causing it. By looking at other ancillary testing, we can see, "Oh, well look. You have some toxic heavy metal loads here, and you also have a parasitic pattern. We need to address this, and in turn these neurotransmitter levels in your brain are going to level out." If there is a thyroid issue, we need to understand why is there a thyroid issue? "Oh, your doctor put you on a no-rinse, high fluoride toothpaste that you don't rinse from your mouth, and over the last six months your thyroid has gone into the toilet?" Then we need to address not the thyroid. There's not something wrong with the thyroid. It's the environmental toxins that are affecting the thyroid function, and when we eliminate the environmental toxins, then the thyroid will function properly and then that is going to affect the brain chemistry function. You could have someone with a parasite, heavy metal and thyroid issue, and you've got to address all of those factors so that the brain chemistry can balance itself. The body can heal itself if you remove the interferences.
Food for Healing
[00:44:30] We have the same glial cells in our gut as we do in our brain. We have the same tissues in our gut and in our brain. That's common knowledge amongst your more ... It's common knowledge amongst holistic practitioners that your gut is your second brain. We can use food to heal ourselves. What people don't realize is that a lot of the foods that they've been eating are poison to them. Our job is to teach them what foods that they're putting in their body that is literally killing them. It's like putting diesel in a gas engine. You can't do that. It's not going to work, right?
[00:45:00] [00:45:30] When you're eating genetically modified, pesticide-filled foods that are poisonous to your body, what do you think is going to happen? Your body is going to slowly break down until you finally end up in some disease process. You can turn it around by understanding what foods that you can eat to heal yourself. People need to ... we need to teach people to not be so disconnected from what they're putting into their body. People are killing themselves every day with the foods that they're eating, and they have no idea that that is what's contributing to their health problems.
[00:46:30] It takes a transformation. It takes a commitment and it takes a little coaching to learn how to do it. You see, people think that because the food is available in the grocery store that it must be okay.
[00:47:00] Even at Whole Foods. If they're selling it, it must be safe. If the FDA allows it ... I shouldn't have said that. If it's on the shelves, it must be okay. It must be healthy for us. "Oh look, it's fortified. Oh, it must be healthy." If you have to fortify anything, you shouldn't be eating it. Shop from the outside of the grocery store. Don't go down the aisles. Shop from the outside. Stay organic.
[00:47:30] Jonathan: I love that. Love that. If you're on a real budget, dirty dozen, clean 15, can be a real way to get around it. Looking for non-organic avocados would be quite fine, and the list goes on of things that you can consume on that, but then avoid other foods like berries like the plague if they're not organic, because it's just not worth it. You know, you're battling depression and you're putting in chemicals into your gut and you're expecting that to help you? No, it's not going to help you.
Dr. Villanueva: You're actually making yourself worse with the foods that you're eating.
[00:48:00] Jonathan: Yeah. You need to avoid that food. If you can't afford it, just avoid that food and you'll be full on other foods. It's not the only food. People around the world are surviving and thriving off a more limited supply of food than what we have, but if it's fresh, if it's real, if it's largely organic, you're on the right track.