How to promote a healthy gut-brain connection
Over the past decade, the knowledge of the gut-brain connection has grown at an exponential rate. The more we learn, the more we understand the connection between what we eat and its effect on what we think and our clarity of mind and vice versa.
Let me give you an example; have you ever had butterflies at the thought of having to sing or speak in front of a room of hundreds of people? Or have you ever eaten and drunk to excess and had brain fog the next day? These are simple examples of the gut-brain connection working both directions.
Stress, inflammation, a sluggish vagus nerve in your enteric nervous system and the microbiome in the gut all play a role in this phenomenon. Messengers continually go between the gut and the brain.
What stands out the most is the integrity and diversity of the microbiome, that group of organisms that live within your gut. They weigh more than the human brain and can make nutrients (vitamins B, K and fats), enhance the immune system, digest our food and produce the precursors for the brain and nervous system's messengers.
Ninety per cent of serotonin and 50 per cent of dopamine are found in the gut. An imbalance of these neurotransmitters is implicated in anxiety and depression. Yet when a patient presents to a psychiatrist there is very seldom talk of the gut, bowel movements and digestion. A holistic approach would prove more beneficial.
The microbiome is now being implicated in anxiety, depression, learning and memory, appetite and satiety, and much more.
By keeping our microbiome healthy and happy, we in turn keep our brain, thoughts and feelings more in check.
Depression, anxiety and other mental disorders described in the DSM have been increasing. On average in Australia one in four adults have been prescribed an antidepressant in 2017. These medications are reaching a younger audience, with children under the age of 10 being diagnosed with depression and anxiety and prescribed medications.
The science behind the connection between the brain and the gut will hopefully turn psychiatry practice around. Instead of looking at the brain the focus will be on the gut. The increase in mental disorders aligns with the decrease in gut health and diversity of the microbiome. Antibiotics in food and taken by prescription, glyphosate (herbicide/antibiotic sprayed on grains, legumes and seeds), refined packaged food like substances that are eaten by the masses and a lack of prebiotics and probiotics via the food chain have been a disaster to the microbiome and it’s diversity; couple that with an increase in C-sections and a decrease in breast feeding, these all change the babies microbiome for life.
It is becoming increasingly clear that the initial seeding of the microbiome at birth is crucial for long-term physical and mental health.
Not only are our brains affected by the dysbiosis of the microbiome, but there is an increase in gut disorders, including; inflammatory bowel disease, fructose malabsorption, SIBO, ulcerative colitis, celiac disease and more. There is also an association with skin conditions, allergies, food sensitivities, asthma and autoimmune disorders.
The body is a complicated innate intelligence that has evolved over hundreds of thousands of years on whole foods, movement, sunshine, vaginal birthing practices, breast feeding, small amounts of stress, family connection and holistic principals. Then in the last 50 years our evolutionary bodies have been subjected to many new things, including a deluge of chemicals. It’s no wonder we are not only seeing a rise in mental disorders but physical ill health in all age groups.
Being aware is step one, and knowing what to do to reverse the situation is the next step. There are many professionals; integrative doctors, nutritionists and naturopaths that can help.
Most professionals follow a similar protocol to the 'five Rs':
1. Remove – foods that may be a problem and harmful parasites and microbes like candida from the system;
2. Reseal – with whole foods, herbs, slow cooked meats, cooked plant foods (mainly non-starchy vegetables), organ meats, ghee, coconut oil and olive oil;
3. Replace – nutrients that may be needed; HCL, betaine, vitamins and minerals;
4. Recolonise – using fermented foods, food based probiotics and prebiotics; and
5. Reconnect – by managing stress to help your body rest and digest.
Add movement, sunshine, connection and clean water to this formula and you might find a ray of sunshine bursts through that hazy, tired anxious brain.
Cyndi O’Meara is a nutritionist, best-selling author, real food advocate, international speaker, film maker (What’s With Wheat) and the founder of Changing Habits, an online holistic health destination offering wellness products, programs and guides to nourish yourself and your family. Passionate about empowering people to make simple and long lasting changes to their health, Cyndi offers life skills to eliminate unhealthy habits and motivate people to make smarter choices about the foods they are consuming.