Heal the Gut & Heal the brain
It might seem a little hard to imagine, but much of what happens in our stomach is controlled by our head, and vice versa. Maybe not so hard to imagine when we recall a time that we may have eaten something high in sugar that made us feel elevated only to then feel depressed later on, or to arrive at work on Monday after a bad eating weekend and feel sluggish and unmotivated. It’s certainly not hard to imagine to Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride (MD) who successfully improved her son’s autism through balance and restoration of the gut flora and it’s also not hard to imagine to the thousands of mums out there who cured their kid’s ADHD by eliminating additives and sugars from the diet.
For me personally, I spent years depressed and agitated until switching my diet to one which contained less refined carbohydrates, additives and alcohol.
Here’s a small bit of science for you – we’ll keep it simple. The gut and brain are integrated and communicate in a two way fashion through the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) and Hypothalamic-Pituary Adrenal (HPA) axis.
The HPA controls many body processes, amongst them digestion, immune system, mood and emotion.
The ANS is further split into the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS), the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) and Enteric Nervous System (ENS). The PNS sends signals to smooth muscle...the stomach being one of these, and is responsible for some of the gurgling sounds in your stomach, no, you might not be hungry...just relaxed. The SNS controls the fight or flight response and is also responsible for gut motility. Have you noticed when in an extreme state of anxiety or fear that your appetite disappears? The ENS is in the gut, and communicates with the brain via the Vagus nerve, but here’s the interesting thing, it contains more neurons than the brain and should the vagus nerve ever be severed it will continue to function. The ENS also uses many of the same neurotransmitters as found in the brain, such as serotonin and dopamine. You have more serotonin in your gut than you do in your brain!
Remember, the ANS is a two way system, messages are always being sent via the nerves from the brain to gut...gut to brain. Given all of that, it now seems hard to imagine that there isn’t a link between gut health and mental health.
Nearly 2/3 of the immune system is in the gastro-intestinal tract (GIT) and is controlled by the balance of good and bad intestinal flora. On average everyone carries 2kg of this bacteria in their gut. The key here is balance. When the balance is in favour of good flora, our immunity is strong, we feel healthy and happy, and we absorb nutrients efficiently. When the balance has been tipped in favour of bad flora, nutrients can’t be absorbed easily, toxic by-products are released into the bloodstream and we feel physically and emotionally generally unwell, and we end up with things like sinus, asthma, allergies and in very serious cases we end up with disease.
You may have heard of Candida, this is a condition where the balance has been tipped in favour of bad intestinal flora and can end up being quite a serious medical condition if untreated. People with candida report a huge range of symptoms, and amongst them, feeling depressed or irritable.
The bad flora feeds off sugar and yeasts and proliferate by inhibition of the good flora through use of antibiotics, poor diet and stress. Could it be that your sugar, bread and alcohol cravings are a result of an imbalance in gut flora? How do you feel mentally, are you as happy and relaxed as you think you should be?
Scientists are now becoming very interested in this subject and are also experiencing the same results as Dr Campbell-McBride in the area of autism. I anticipate a growth in research into the link between gut health and mental health.
Here are some things you can do to ensure your gastro intestinal tract is kept healthy and balanced:
- Keep a food diary and add ‘body signs’ to it, things like bloating, flatulence, headaches, irritability, asthma attacks, stomach cramps, poor sleep, skin, hair...etc
- Pay close attention to your breath. Many toxins in the body release substances that can be detected in the breath, a common one is breathing what smells like alcohol after eating a lot of sugar.
- Limit the consumption of sugars, yeasts (including bread) and fermented products if you’re feeling ‘generally unwell’ and can’t put your finger on it.
- Take a good quality probiotic daily to re-populate the good flora (not just yoghurts and yoghurt drinks)
Balancing the gut flora is an involved process depending on its state of imbalance.