When I initially studied nutrition, this topic struck a cord with me. Finally, something makes sense. I personally have experienced anxiety and digestive issues since grade school, I also was an overweight child which was not common in the 70s. As I teenager, from constant starve-binge dieting, it was discovered I was hypoglycemic. I knew something was wrong when my friends felt fine from not eating all day and I felt like I was about to pass out and couldn’t focus. As an adult, I also starting experiencing brain fog, memory lapses and weight loss resistance.
I like to begin this topic with sharing some interesting facts:
- 90% serotonin is in the gut.
- Interesting when the anti-anxiety medications address the brain
- 70%-80% immune is in the gut.
- Immune becomes lowered from gut inflammation, also known as leaky gut
- More than 60 million in the US suffer from impaired digestion and antidepressants are the #1 prescribed drug
- Connection….many impaired guts and the top prescription drug is for mind-mood
- 100 trillion bacteria live in your gut and anxiety/depression has been linked to lower levels of bacteria in gut
- Gut bacteria impaired and the mind is impacted
- 60% of the brain consists of fat
- Who has been on a low fat diet or calorie restricted diet and felt crumby? Our brain needs fats for mental clarity, concentration and focus… but the healthy ones
Inflammation is becoming more and more, commonly discussed in relation to health, but how does the gut become inflamed? The top influences; from environmental factors such as chemicals in bath-beauty products, pesticides, contaminants in our water and air, foods like sugar and gluten, certain prescription drugs, gut infections, i.e. yeast, virus, bacteria, and stress.
If the gut becomes inflamed, a.k.a. leaky gut in the small intestine, this leads to food sensitivities and lowers immune. Now certain foods, like gluten, can pass through the gut lining. This can cause autoimmunity to be expressed. This same reaction in the gut can occur in the brain as well, a.k.a. leaky brain, because foreign substances can pass through the blood-brain barrier. Brain inflammation is associated with depression, anxiety, brain fog and autoimmune brain problems.
Medications like antidepressants are often ineffective for long term because they aren’t addressing the underlying inflammation, where the serotonin is produced.
So if brain health begins in the gut, what can you do?
- Balance the bacteria in your gut by adding probiotics through supplementation and raw fermented foods (kimchi, sauerkraut)
- Reduce triggers that cause inflammation though eliminating gut irritants such as gluten, corn, dairy, sugar, soy and GMO foods, clear gut infections and address blood sugar if applicable
- Support neurotransmitters through food and supplementation with amino acids. Amino acids are highest in animal protein; bone broth is excellent. Here is an example; tryptophan, an amino acid, is a precursor for serotonin. Tryptophan, (as in the turkey experience on Thanksgiving) is also needed for sleep, another common symptom with anxiety. High tryptophan foods include nuts, seeds, red meat, chicken, turkey, fish, oats, beans, lentils, and eggs
- Add in healthy fats such as olives, avocados, coconut, to boost brain function. Eliminate pro-inflammatory fats such as fried food, chips, vegetable oils
- Seek support to manage stressors
If you’re wondering how this relates to weight loss resistance (WLR), here are a few examples. Typically, when one is anxious or depressed, it’s difficult to focus on proper food selection because the mind is looking to relieve stressors, many times, through food. Next, if the gut is inflamed, the body is in stress mode. This produces excess cortisol which leads to cravings (sugar and salt), belly fat and WLR. Lastly, if you’re not absorbing nutrients from an impaired digestive track, you’ll never feel satiety, and always be hungry. The body needs healing first.
If you have been thinking about putting an end to the diet mentality and quick fixes, you’re exactly right! Your body is not a used car. Treat it like it deserves, to be healed and loved. Weight loss is a healing journey which involves healing the gut, on a physical and emotional level.
Refer to my infographic on How Digestion Impacts your Weight Loss Efforts for an overview of this topic.