One of my specialty areas in private practice is chronic illness. I love helping those with prolonged illness find emotional balance during times of stress and turmoil. In this article, I want to talk about the importance of gut health from the perspective of enzyme support and would like to help you explore the connection this could have with anxiety, depression and more. Many of my posts are written from a professional slant; this article is more personal in nature. I hope it speaks to you.
Looking at the Health of Your Gut
Did you know that 90%+ of Serotonin production occurs in the gut and that the gut is being called our 2nd brain? Healthy gut bacteria produce neurotransmitters like Serotonin, Dopamine and GABA. Shocking, right? When our gut is out of balance and not in a healthy place, it can directly effect our mood. What we eat can impact the balance of the gut and thus directly impact the brain.
GMOs, processed sugars, gluten, dairy, chemicals, preservatives, hormones, pesticides, etc can all help to create an imbalance in the gut and in some cases can cause undigested particles to leak into the blood stream. Not good.
Hippocarates said "All disease begins in the gut". Could this mean that many mental health problems can originate here too? ABSOLUTELY.
Probiotics, Pre-biotics and Enzymes Can Positively Impact the Gut
A couple of weeks ago I was preparing for a workshop at my practice that included a talk about the gut connection with mental health. During the research phase of my preparation, I was coming across article after article that looked at the importance of probiotics, pre-biotics and enzymes. Probiotics and pre-biotics have been on my radar for years (read an article I wrote about good/bad bacteria here), but enzymes? I have used enzymes with my son to help keep his bowels regulated, but have not thought about using them for anything else, especially not mental health. I was intrigued and read on to learn that enzymes can be a HUGE factor in balancing the gut, which (did we mention that 90% of all Serotonin is produced in the gut?) can directly impact mental health. Interesting.
Within proximity of my workshop, I began to have abdominal discomfort and distress. Because of my recent training, my instinct was to grab my son's enzymes. What happened over the course of the next 3 weeks surprised me.
Targeting Mental Health Proactively and Purposefully
I am open about my own tools to improve my own mental health. As I write this, my autumn "happy lamp" (a future post!) is going; I constantly smell of essential oils, utilize yoga as my emotional and chemical detoxer and have many loving people and relationships in my world. I do not pretend to be emotionally symptom free, I just manage my own mental health as proactively as I can. BUT, to get ahead of a symptom, understand the why and target it at the source, now that's worth writing about.
The Voice of the Body. Don't Quiet the Chatter, Listen to it!
Over the past year, I have been working out imbalances in my hormonal system and have noticed this new healthier balance impacting many other systems in my body as well. Although this greatly impacted my emotional health, I still struggled with keeping anxious feelings at bay.
Within a week of taking the enzymes for abdominal discomfort, I noticed a noteworthy change in my own anxious level. Lately, I had been awaking with anxious feelings, going to bed with them and felt emotional distress in my chest waxing and waning during the work day as well.
What I though was an understandable anxious preparation for a difficult day at the office, was actually gut related...NOT work related. My evening jitters were not due to this trigger or that, but was my gut trying to get my attention.
Two weeks into routine enzyme support, I found myself feeling much more calm and balanced throughout the day. My out of the blue anxious feelings were down by 95%! I thought I had reasons for the anxious buzzing and internal chatter. What I didn't know was that this chatter was actually my body trying desperately to be heard. My gut was speaking to me, but I wasn't listening.
Listening to the Words Within the Voice of the Body.
What a beautiful thing. To learn WHY you may feel down or anxious, to get ahead of it and tackle it instead of popping a pill or suffering through is a gift. Scattered, splintered energy, feelings of darkness and despair, anxious chatter can all benefit by looking through the lens of the gut. Neurotransmitters are responsible for balancing more than just anxious feelings. Many other symptoms can be as a result of your body's neurotransmitters not being able to do their job efficiently and effectively.
While researching for this article, I ran across a research study that looked at autism and gut health. In this study, children on the autistic spectrum were given enzymes for 3 months. The children in the non-placebo enzyme group showed significant changes. " ...the parents of this group rated significantly improved emotional response, general impression score, general behavior and gastrointestinal symptoms..." When I read articles like this and I experience the emotional difference myself, I become SO thankful that my gut became distressed a month ago. SO grateful that this ailment was able to bring me down this path to be able to bring this information to my family and to you.
Gut imbalance is more than emotional. Food allergies and sensitivities, itchy patches of skin, blemishes on the face, fatigue, joint pain and imbalances in digestion are examples of physical symptoms that can occur in the body when the gut is swinging out of balance. Learning to listen to what the body is trying to tell you can give vital information.
I Think my Gut is Trying to Get my Attention, Now What?
If this article speaks to you, you can now be empowered to make a difference. The first step is to seek the advice of a medial professional who understands the importance of good gut health and begin to take steps to create balance. I have a handful of blog posts speaking to the importance of probiotics, diet and other gut health related topics that could help guide you on this path as well.
Finding the link between physical and mental health can be a gift. Learning how to listen to the body and becoming familiar with it's voice is an amazing tool that can help decode a multitude of symptoms and lend its way to empowerment. What is your body saying to you today?
Gabrielle Anderson is a family therapist at the Family Therapy Center of Northern Virginia in Ashburn, Virginia. She enjoys writing about mental health concerns from a natural, health related perspective. This and other posts are NOT to be used to diagnose a problem, but are rather information to be taken to your medical health professional to explore possibilities and options.
Kuhn, Merrily RN, Ph.D. What is in our Food, Institute for Brain Potential: CEU Training
One of my specialty areas in private practice is chronic illness. I love helping those with prolonged illness find emotional balance during times of stress and turmoil. In this article, I want to talk about the importance of gut health from the perspective of pre-biotic and pro-biotic support and would like to help you explore the connection this could have with anxiety, depression and more.
Think of the Gut as a Second Brain
Did you know that 90%+ of Serotonin production occurs in the gut and that the gut is being called our 2nd brain? Healthy gut bacteria produce neurotransmitters like Serotonin, Dopamine and GABA. Shocking, right? When our gut is out of balance and not in a healthy place, it can directly effect our mood. What we eat and the ratio of good vs bad bacteria can impact the balance of the gut and thus directly impact the brain.
Hippocarates said "All disease begins in the gut". Could this mean that many mental health problems can originate here too? ABSOLUTELY. There are many ways to approach gut health. In another post, we discussed the importance of enzymes, in this post, we will look at bacteria's influence.
Good Bacteria Has an Important Role in Overall Health
In the past decade, our culture has become very clean. We like to kill all pathogens and bacteria, thinking this will keep us healthy and free from illness. While killing bad bacteria on a shopping cart or on your little one's hands can be quite helpful, if you are not purposeful in your attempts, you may also be killing the good guys too.
Our bodies have many trillions or up to 3 pounds of good bacteria. Isn't that amazing? This bacteria is very important for maintaing a healthy immune system, the production of vitamins like K and B and for digesting our food. This bacteria is what fights outside pathogenic intruders from invading the body. As you will see below, good bacteria can help us maintain a balanced mental health as well. Increasing this bacteria and protecting it from being killed can be an important first step is establishing balance in the gut.
Too Much Bad Bacteria can Adversely Impact Your Mental Health
When the health of the gut becomes compromised and bad bacteria overtake good healthy bacteria, yeast can grow to unhealthy levels. Sugar can help feed this overgrowth process. The average American consumes 100 pounds of sugar in a year. Think of how much fuel we are giving to the bad bacteria!
An over-population of yeast can impact the lining of the intestine making it permeable and allowing toxins and undigested food particles to leak into the blood stream. But it also can impede the production of Serotonin. An overgrowth of bad bacteria and an unhealthy gut can initiate cloudy thought processing, irritability as well as anxious or low mood feelings.
80% of our immune system lies within our gut. When the intestines chronically leak toxins, the immune system becomes compromised which tends to increase systemic inflammation in the body. Systemic inflammation can impact the body and brain and can lend itself to ailments that span from achy joints to depressive feelings or even feelings of panic. More mental health impact!
We mentioned above that the production of Vitamin B can be impacted with poor gut health. The B vitamins are a wonderful nourisher for the nervous system and an important factor to one's mental health. Sometimes a 50-100mg dose of a multi-B vitamin is recommended for those struggling with mental health symptoms, other times a Methyl version of Folate and B-12 is encouraged. Talking to an informed medical professional about these options is important. BUT helping the body produce what it needs to is a crucial proactive step in maintaining good healthy mental health.
What can be Done to Improve the Health of Your Gut?
We have read what impact an imbalance in good and bad healthy flora can do to one's mental health. Let's look at what a healthy amount of pre-biotics and probiotics can do for one's mood.
Probitocs are live bacteria that are helpful to the digestive system. Pre-biotics are the fibers in natural whole foods that give probiotics the fuel they need to maintain and reproduce. Both probiotics and pre-biotics can be taken in the form of a pill or can be ingested in certain foods.
Good bacteria like lactobacillus and B. Bifidum for example have been used in research studies with mice. Mice that were given these helpful bacteria had a reduction in their anxious like behavior. Other studies have looked at the link between healthy microbes in the gut and the reduction of depression and anxiety.
What a beautiful thing. To learn WHY you may feel down or anxious, or have cloudy thinking. To get ahead of it and tackle it instead of popping a pill or suffering through is a gift. Scattered, splintered energy, feelings of darkness and despair, anxious chatter can all benefit by looking through the lens of the gut. Many other symptoms can be as a result of your body's neurotransmitters not being able to do their job efficiently and effectively.
Take the Probiotic Challenge
Why not try implementing the addition of daily probiotics into your diet for three weeks to see what changes you feel? Your best angle for success is by introducing a well made multi-strain probiotic that also contains a pre-biotic blend.
Also begin to eat foods that naturally contain probiotics. Fermented food choices such as raw sauerkraut, low sugar yogurt, kefir, kombucha are wonderful ways to introduce probiotics into the body naturally.
Remember. Sugar tends to feed yeast. Reducing sugar and simple carbohydrates while targeting yeast and increasing good healthy flora is an important step to changing the environment of your gut. Adding supplements and natural foods into the diet and reducing sugars can be a nice balance.
Gabrielle Anderson is the a family therapist and the owner of the Family Therapy Center of Northern Virginia in Ashburn, Virginia. Although therapy is her specialty, she loves incorporating natural methods and is constantly searching for biological or environmental explanations for mental health ailments whenever possible. This and other posts is NOT to be a replacement for medical attention or advice. Please talk to your medical professional to see if these ideas could help you or a loved one.
Kuhn, Merrily RN, Ph.D. What is in our Food, Institute for Brain Potential: CEU Training
These blog entries are written by our very own clinicians. When inspiration hits, another entry will be logged.
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