Key to Happiness & Wellness: The Mind Gut Connection
More and more as a Naturopath I observe conditions that share an interesting trait. Conditions such as Fibromyalgia (chronic pain and fatigue disorder) that incorporate dual synchronised aspects. On one had the condition impacts emotional state and the mental outlook one has on the world. And on the other hand the emotional state of the person and their mental outlook is one driver of the condition. Of course there are also physiological drivers for Fibromyalgia as well.
After having a history with Fibromyalgia myself I know first hand the experience of these aspects simultaneously, and how each can influence the other. And this is why Naturopathically, and holistically we work on the mind, body and spirit together to achieve wellness.
The Mind Gut Connection
As we continue to learn, as a race scientifically, about the human body we increasingly discover more connections between the mental and physical. Gut health is one of those areas where science is catching up on what traditional healers have understood, and we are now discovering in detail how this connection exists. We know the health of the gut, and it's bacteria make up influence the mind, emotions and thoughts. And equally the mind, emotions and thoughts will influence the micro biome and function of the gut/digestion.
How empowering it is when we realise that our bodies are a complex interplay of quantum energy and biology all synchronised beautifully, if not painfully at times. And to understand that our health relies upon ourselves, not our practitioners, the government, our genes, society, it is the energy we use ourselves that create our wellness. How exciting it is to understand that we have so much more to learn about the relationship of our minds and bodies.
What is the Microbiome?
The microbiome is your individual ‘farm’ of good and bad bacteria, living in your digestive tract, a result of what was passed down to you from your mother, what has been planted, and what has been fed along the course of your life. The microbiome is the harmonious relationships of these bacterias (good and bad) and how they affect the growth/additions of other symbiotic bacterias.
The microbiome is essential to an effective yet balanced immune system, strong digestive function, healthy metabolism, optimal nutrient absorption, and positive cognitive and emotional wellbeing.
Did you know our brains are actually influenced by the bacteria in the digestive tract? For example, bifidobacterium are capable of secreting large amounts of GABA; a neurotransmitter that supports relaxation and sleep. In addition, lactobacillus species of gut bacteria have been shown to influence GABA levels in certain brain regions. Together they can have a significant impact on our nervous system, stress responses, mood and sleep.
Poor vitamin status and an imbalanced microbiome affects many of our neurotransmitters (chemical messengers), reducing the way they bind to receptors, thereby altering the communication network in the body. What does this mean? One example is serotonin; our ‘happy’ neurotransmitter. Many of the serotonin receptors are located in the gut, so gut dysfunction (often resulting from poor nutrition/imbalanced microbiome) reduces the ability for serotonin to connect (bind) to these receptors. In this way, gut health has a direct impact on mood, and mood will then directly impact gut function. The vicious circle that is Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
Animal studies have shown that induced states of dysbiosis (imbalance of bad bacteria to good bacteria in the gut) can promote anxiety behaviours and cognitive dysfunction. And on the other hand, we know that psychological stress itself can lead to dysbiosis. This relationship between the mind and the gut is so integral to our wellbeing, and involves a holistic approach via both the mental and physical.
How are Intolerances Significant?
This is a big topic, but I’ll use gluten as an example. For those sensitive to gluten, its intake can decrease blood flow to the frontal and prefrontal cortex of the brain effecting neruotransmitter levels, focus, stress management, organisation and short term memory.
It’s true, not all people who avoid gluten are coeliacs, but some people who aren’t coeliac can still be intolerant. The intolerance of gluten can present in many ways, not always noticeable in gut symptoms. Many will experience increased inflammation, or mixed messages in the body that can lead to autoimmune flare ups, increased stress / anxiety, mental fogginess, headaches, and pain. The mind gut connection is strong and so heavily influenced by the food we eat.
What Else Can Alter Our Microbiome?
Environmental toxins, including heavy metals
Stress, Anxiety, Depression
Medications and antibiotics
Drugs, Alcohol, Food Additives, Preservatives, ingested toxins
Lack of movement and exercise
Lack of sunlight
In establishing a healthy lifestyle, some questions come to mind…..
What impacts the food choices you make? Or the length of time you spend on a wellbeing initiative?
What causes you to stumble along the way, to give up on a fitness program?
What raises your stress levels, causing your body to burn through extra amounts of essential nutrients?
What causes your uneasy emotions, that all but debilitate your digestive processes?
What causes you to crave certain foods?
Stress is one of the most prominent aggravators on health in current society. Taking control of your thoughts is a huge step in, not only reducing stress, but establishing and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
My advice is to listen. Tune in to you, and truly listen. Your body is communicating all the time with your mind in so many ways (and vice versa). Once you hear what is being conveyed in these messages you can correct make empowered changes to your internal dialogue. If you are being hard on yourself, replace that dialogue with things like: “I am worthy”. “Let it go”. “I’m loved”. “I am successful”. And many more which you know you need to hear.
And remember if you are embarking on a wellness journey, it all starts in the mind and gut. Equally, what you are thinking will impact your success, and the health of your gut will impact your thoughts and abilities. Any factors that impact the gut such as parasites, yeast, dysbiosis, leaky gut, IBS, diet simply must be addressed in order to achieve success.
And lastly, please consciously feed your microbiome! The good bacteria in your tummy does not eat processed foods. It only eats fibre, pre-biotics, fermented foods, natural, nutritional foods that are all too scarce in the modern diet. If you’re not feeling full, you need to ask yourself, have you fed your microbiome the right food? It may still be starving! If, at every meal, you are feeding your microbiome, you will be moving ahead towards wellness in leaps and bounds.
Hopefully in some ways this has been helpful. Natural health practitioners see you holistically and treat accordingly. For more information on how Naturopathy can work for you, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org