When you feel tired, depressed, stressed or anxious, the chances are you wouldn’t consider your digestive system or a food you have eaten to have anything to do with it.
Clinical studies into the gut-brain connection have revealed a complex communication system that ensures the proper maintenance of gastrointestinal homeostasis and is also likely to have multiple effects on cognitive functions like mood. The complexity of these interactions is via the pathways of the gut-brain axis. Scientists have discovered that the digestive system acts like a ‘second brain’ producing neurotransmitters such as serotonin – a contributor to feelings of well-being and happiness. In fact, scientists estimate that 90% of serotonin is produced in the gut! If the gut is damaged in any way, this pathway will be disturbed.
How does gut damage happen? If the gut has suffered a degree of damage – perhaps through the regular use of alcohol or painkillers, through bloating, gut infection, stress or antibiotics – you are more likely to react against the food you eat. The average person takes over 300 painkillers a year and the common ones, such as aspirin and ibuprofen, are the worst gut culprits in causing gastrointestinal damage, making you more prone to allergy. Food allergies and intolerances have been proven to cause a diverse range of symptoms. From nervousness to anxiety and depression. Cytokines activated by gut reactions can make you feel depressed and have direct effects on your serotonin levels.
HELP FOOD HELP YOU
Get rid of gluten. Gluten is particularly bad for your gut – as it is largely composed of a substance called gliadin. This substance irritates the gut and over time causes allergic reactions, in turn your immune system begins to produce antibodies. This has become a huge health concern in our western society as we are so over-exposed to gluten in our diets now. Inherently, we are not designed to process so much gluten. Our recommendation is to read “Wheat Belly” by William Davis M.D – a great resource on gluten and its impact on chronic health issues. The same is true with inherent processing of dairy products, which is the most common allergy and inflammation provoking food group.
Add glutamine in. Where does glutamine fit into the equation? Bone broth anyone? The simple amino acid glutamine feeds the gut mucosa and helps to heal a damaged gut whilst also helping to promote calming neurotransmitters such as GABA. Almost any food containing protein will contain some glutamine, but amounts vary. Animal foods are good sources due to their protein contents. Getting enough protein in your diet can ensure you are getting enough, but if your need is higher you may need to supplement. If the body’s need for glutamine is greater than its ability to produce it, your body may break down protein stores such as muscle, to release more of this amino acid.
And a splash of colour. We ask our clients to view their gut as a bank account, putting in all the right nutrients in to their bodies consistently, so you have a great supply for the times when you need to make withdrawals (like during your menstrual cycle or times of extreme stress and anxiety). My go to mood and gut healing foods to deposit weekly into your ‘account’ are:
- Zinc foods such as oysters, kale, broccoli, legumes, nutritional yeast and nuts
- Magnesium options such as avocados, dark leafy greens, fish and cacao
- B vitamin containing foods like dark leafy greens, red meat, beans, quinoa, asparagus, avocado
- Vitamin D foods – eggs and sardines
- Omega 3 fatty acid selections of wild caught salmon (not farmed), hemp seeds and chia seeds
- Probiotic rich foods such as kefir, yoghurt and sauerkraut
- Antioxidants – high amounts found in berries, beetroot, sweet potato. Even some dark chocolate 🙂
If you think your gut is in need of repair (love and happiness) you need to recover your gut integrity. “Healing and Sealing” is a treatment regime we use often in clinic where we work toward taking the insults out, treating your gut and serotonin pathways with a whole lot of love. Allowing your gut time to recover is an important part of keeping it healthy and promoting long term digestive and mental health.
With love and good health, by Naturopath and Clinical Nutritionist Carmen Cooper
- Marilia Carabotti et al, The gut-brain axis: interactions between enteric microbiota, central and enteric nervous systems, Ann Gastroenterol. 2015 Apr-Jun; 28(2): 203–209
- Catherine Paddock et al, Gut microbes important for serotonin production
- Pasquale Mansuetto et al, Food allergy in irritable bowel syndrome: The case of non-celiac wheat sensitivity, World J Gastroenterol. 2015 Jun 21; 21(23): 7089–7109.
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