How digestive health and mental health are related has become a hot topic in holistic health circles these days.
I thought then I’d write a quick, basic post to explain how it all ties together.
To begin with the foundation to our gut health, is very much the state of our gut flora. Dr Alejandro Junger the author of “Clean Gut” aptly describes the human gut as “similar to the root of a plant: both are hidden, both absorb water and nutrients, and when sick, both can show symptoms on organs far way, like the leaves and branches or the skin and hair.”
Specifically how robust, diversified and healthy our beneficial microflora is, largely determines our digestive health . It’s our good bacteria and yeast that keep our gut lining healthy, and go a long way towards preventing unhealthy microflora from over growing and taking over (dysbiosis).
Antibiotics, too much coffee or alcohol, inflammatory foods (sugar, refined carbs, meat, dairy etc) damage the intestinal lining and feed unhealthy bacteria and yeast. These unhealthy microflora in turn generate a lot of toxic residue from their activity which further damages the delicate intestinal lining. Holes then starts to appear in the intestinal lining, a condition referred to as “leaky gut syndrome”, which means that undigested food and toxins then leak out of the gut which the immune system then responds to with an “inflammatory response”.
As the below will outline, once the body is in a state of systemic inflammation, this throws off our neurotransmitter levels which can then lead to deterioration of mental health.
When inflammation is high, the adrenal glands produce the stress hormone cortisol to basically help balance out the inflammation. Often the adrenal are already in an exhausted state, so are fatigued further due to the issues stemming from the gut.
With chronic levels of high cortisol in the bloodstream, eventually this leads to a hormonal imbalance which negatively affects our brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) such as serotonin and dopamine (mood neurotransmitters) as well as melatonin (and others). A vicious cycle then develops; taking melatonin as an example, when its levels drop we lose sleep or don’t sleep well, which then means our already exhausted adrenal glands don’t get well rested, resulting in further fatigue, anxiety and depression (further feeding into the loop).
Meanwhile with more toxins entering the bloodstream, more stress is placed on the liver. Eventually the liver becomes overburdened, becomes sluggish and thereby produces less bile which results in compromised digestion. With poorer digestion, there is less nutrient absorption so again the fatigue, anxiety, depression negative feedback loop is fed further. Bile also lubricates the stool, so with less bile there is more constipation, therefore more toxicity re-entering the bloodstream and more of a downward spiral.
Finally, it’s also worth noting that inflammation also lowers sensitivity to thyroid hormone which can lead to “sub-clinical hypothyroidism” which I see a lot of in my clinical environment. Whilst thyroid hormone tests are coming back as in the normal range, the patient still presents with the symptom of hypothyroidism, such as fatigue and depression. Leaky gut syndrome and the resulting suppression of the immune system, chronic inflammation etc I feel provides a strong causative explanation.
The solution? Well this is obviously self serving but I truly believe my supported fasting programs provide a sound pathway to healing, sealing and regenerating the gut.
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Aaron Travers is author of “The Boda Fast – a three step plan to lower inflammation, maximise fat burning and restore vitality”. Aaron writes at www.thebodacleanse.com.au and shares his ideas and experiences on health and wellbeing from his personal life and through working with clients clinically and those doing his “supported fasting” programs. Every Friday he sends out his newsletter, click below to subscribe.