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Heal Your Gut, Heal Your Brain

At Be Well Consulting, we spend a lot of time advocating for the gut’s role in overall health and wellness. We’ve written previously about its influence on bloating, inflammation, and autoimmune disease. Today we’ll be exploring the gut’s vital role in supporting a balanced brain.

Go with Your Gut.

Going with your gut is a common idiom for a reason. On an innate level, people have understood the gut’s vital role in decision-making instincts for decades. Often called the body’s second brain, experts call this little brain the enteric nervous system or ENS. Made up of two layers of over 100 million nerve cells lining the gastrointestinal tract, the ENS helps regulate emotional shifts.

ENS’ Depression Connection.

New research in the fields of neuro and gastrointestinal medicine points towards the connection between depression, anxiety, and gut or bowel problems. According to Jay Pasricha, M.D., director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Neurogastroenterology, “For decades, researchers and doctors thought that anxiety and depression contributed to these problems. But our studies and others show that it may also be the other way around.”

Improved Treatment.

Armed with this information, medical practitioners and nutritionists can explore new and more effective methods for treating digestive or cognitive issues. For example, antidepressants might be prescribed to treat IBS to calm overactive nerve cells in the gut instead of the brain. On the other hand, dietary changes may be a safe and effective way to improve mental health concerns. Because the brain is made up almost entirely of fat, the fat you consume in your diet can have a significant impact on the fat available to nourish your brain. You are what you eat! Every person is different, so what works for one person may not work for another, but as research in this area expands we will continue to have new opportunities available to help heal your brain.

Your Healing Path.

As with any health innovation, new information never trumps the signals of your body. If you’re battling gastrointestinal or mental health challenges, we recommend assembling a health team that honors your individual body and needs. However, If you believe exploring gut issues is part of your healing path, please get in touch with us today; we’d love to help you take control of your health!

Nature’s Medicine Box: 5 Healing Herbs and Spices

1.   Turmeric – Traditionally used in Indian Cuisine, this bright yellow gem of a spice has been used as medicine for centuries. Over the past 10 years more studies have emerged on the health benefits and anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric. Research has also linked turmeric to cancer prevention and treatment. Turmeric is fat soluble, therefore to reap the health benefits make sure add to food that contains fat. Sprinkle turmeric on your eggs, add turmeric to your favorite coconut chicken dish, or combine turmeric and lemon juice with olive oil and use as a salad dressing.

2.  Cayenne Pepper – The capsaicin in cayenne pepper is well-known for it’s anti-inflammatory effects and as a digestive aide. Cayenne pepper has been used as a supplement to help ease pain with arthritis as well as relieve headaches. Add a kick to your food by adding cayenne pepper to fish, chicken, poultry, or vegetables.

3.  Cinnamon – Loaded with antioxidants, this spice has been used for years for it’s medicinal and healing properties. Lab studies have found cinnamon to be an effective supplement for reducing inflammation. And some research has found cassia cinnamon to help lower blood sugar in people with diabetes. There is no established dose recommendation for cinnamon, but some studies have found that just 1 tsp a day can provide the health benefits to decrease inflammation and blood sugar. Please note that very high doses of cinnamon can be toxic and if you do take a supplement, please consult with a registered dietitian and your physician. Add a dash of cinnamon to your morning oatmeal or mix with cottage cheese, apples, and almonds as a mid-afternoon pick-me-up snack!

4.  Dill – The oil from the dill plant is rich in monoterpenes, which are known for its cancer fighting properties. Dill is also known for it’s antibacterial properties and is high in antioxidants. Enjoy fresh dill with chopped cucumbers added to Greek yogurt or season your favorite fish with cayenne pepper, lemon and fresh dill!

5.  Mint – Mint has been used for ages as a healing herb. It is best known for it’s ability to sooth the digestive system and is often used as a natural remedy for nausea and motion sickness. Nature’s first breath spray was actually fresh peppermint leaves! To reap the benefits of mint, add fresh mint leaves to water, sip on mint tea, or add chopped mint to fruit salad.

Nutrition Simplified

 1.  Eat More Plants. This is one piece of unwavering advice every nutrition and health professional agrees on: eat more fruits and vegetables. Time and time again, research has proven that the best way to decrease risks for chronic diseases and manage your weight is by eating more fruits and vegetables. Not only are they low in calorie, but fruits and vegetables are loaded with phytochemicals, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fiber, which are all key nutrients to a healthy body.

2.  Consume Less Sugar. Unfortunately, sugar is that secret ingredient many food manufacturers and producers have added to their food to make it taste oh-so-good and increase sales. However, the long term consequences of eating too much sugar are real. From tooth decay to weight gain to an increased risk for cancers, sugar is an ingredient every nutrition and health professional will recommend to eat less of. Some people need to cut sugar out completely from their diet because it can be so addictive that a little bit only increases cravings for more. Others can eat and enjoy sugar in moderation. The key is to find what works for you and walk away with the take home message to reduce your overall sugar consumption. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that women limit added sugar to no more than 6 teaspoons a day, which is equivalent to 25 grams of added sugar or 100 calories. For men, it’s 9 teaspoons per day, which is equivalent to 36 grams of added sugar or 150 calories.

3.  Eat Less Processed Foods. The real food movement has helped this message that nutrition experts have been promoting for years: eat more real food in their natural state and decrease processed and packaged foods. Generally speaking, processed foods will be higher in sugar, fats, and additives. The best way to practice this is to think about eating more food from the earth and relying less on food from a package or box.

4.  Drink More Water. Plain and simple, drink more water. Water helps with digestion, absorption, circulation, transportation of nutrients and maintenance of body temperature. Staying hydrated also helps maintain a healthy weight and promotes healthy looking skin. If plain water does not appeal to you, you can still reach your hydration needs with other fluids such as tea, coffee, and my favorite – fruit infused water!

5.  Move More. Although this tip isn’t a nutrition recommendation, it’s one that everyone should follow. In today’s modern world of working on the computer and taking a car or bus to and from work, it takes a conscious effort to stay active. The American Heart Association recommends thirty minutes a day, five times a week. Remember that when it comes to your health, every little step adds up. Stay consistent and have fun — you are worth it!

Bloating, IBS, and Trigger Foods

Bloating, cramps and stomach irritability can feel like minimal concerns, however, if you’re struggling with issues daily then it may be time to consider making lifestyle changes. Digestive problems are one of the most common reasons why people seek medical help; they can hamper everyday activities and routines.

While there are many methods for treating intestinal discomfort, the medical community is increasingly seeking solutions outside of traditional medications and treatment plans. Constant bloating and related stomach issues are diagnosed more and more as symptoms of poor digestion.

As we’ve written about extensively in previous blog posts, the overall health of our gut and digestion is reliant upon whether or not we’re cultivating rich microbiome. Our microbiome is the good bacteria that make-up a large part of our gastrointestinal system and determine the effectiveness of our immune system. When the delicate balance of this bacteria is compromised, it can have a massive impact on our wellbeing.

The good news? There are dietary changes that we can make that will drastically reduce the instances of bloating, IBS, and discomfort. With the careful diagnosis and guidance of a nutritional expert, your trigger foods can be determined and eliminated from your diet. One incredibly common trigger food for many adults is dairy; others might be alcohol, caffeine, gluten, or sugar. I have seen individuals react to many foods you might never expect like chicken, apples or avocados.  Every person is different, so finding the foods that you react to is an important first step to eliminating bloating and IBS.

Beginning with an elimination diet may be helpful, though for some individuals food sensitivity testing will provide information to get results much more quickly and effectively. These diets aren’t just about reducing or weight loss; they help figure out how your system reacts to different nutrients and functions at its best.

In addition to an elimination plan, adding foods rich in good bacteria to your diet, lowering or addressing everyday stressors, or exploring potential stomach acid or enzyme deficiency issues may be recommended. While it’s often a process to get at the root of what’s triggering your individual bloating or IBS issues, rest assured, there is light at the end of the tunnel. With a good nutritional plan in your corner, you can overcome your chronic gut problems! Contact the experts at Be Well Nutrition Consulting to get your gut back on track!

"Lynda has been terrific! One on One coaching has been the answer for me. She has taught me how to eat better and live healthier in a lifestyle of much travel and eating out! She has given me a great ideas and has challenged me to be my best in a very realistic sustainable way. I am so happy to have found her!"

– Julie B.