Gut health is brain health. The vagus nerve is one of the longest cranial nerves in your body and runs the dialogue from your digestive track to your brain. Studies have shown that damage to your vagus nerve can impact your mental health and neurological system. For a lecture about the power of the vagus nerve, check out this video.
Essentially, the presence of this nerve in our stomachs suggests the power that digestive health has on the brain. If our brains and our bodies are connected, we need to include gut health into our lives if we really want to optimize our mental health.
If you want to learn more, here is a great article on gut health. This article discusses 7 signs to determine if you have symptoms of an unhealthy gut. Signs such as bloat, gas, irritably, fatigue, or even anxiety can be linked to unhealthy guts.
While health gurus have (for the past 10-15 years or so) been pushing organic foods, and a number of fad diets pop up each year, these trends do not necessary help heal the gut.
Foods that are processed and packaged, even if “organic”, are not optimal foods for our guts. Our guts need whole foods, natural foods, and local organic foods whenever possible. Chemical exposure, genetically modified foods, commercially farmed foods, and processed foods are not what our bodies are biologically programmed to digest. This leads to an increase in acids in our stomach, potentially tearing our stomach lining. Eating these foods, especially at the rate our culture eats them, leaves our guts in distress and our bodies overworking to eliminate these foreign objects in our body.
The amount of antibiotics found in our foods also affects our gut micro biome and may have an effect on our neurotransmitter development and immune system, as well as beginning a cascade of inflammation reactivity, which each body handles differently.
To heal our guts, we need to clean up our diets, add a quality pre- and pro-biotic, and cook healing foods that are easy to digest. This time of year can be a great time to cook these foods, as winter is a time for slow cooking, warm spices, soups, and stews.
Foods that are slowly cooked, organic, and based on whole foods are the best for our digestive track. Eating these foods gives our bodies time to recover and rebuild. Our guts need time to reestablish and rebuild our stomach linings and gut flora.
There is a great diet resource called the GAPS diet, which claims to heal the gut and has been linked to treating immune disease, anxiety, autism and depression. This cookbook is a great resource if you are interested in getting started.
Finally, fermented foods have naturally occurring probiotics and are great for gut health. Paleoleap has some great recipes if you are up for trying them. Kombucha is also a fermented food that will help increase your immune system and heal your gut. While I am lucky enough to have a great supplier in my local farmer’s market, you can find kombucha in any health store.
So remember, when everyone starts talking about the latest diet fad and cleanse in the New Year, think about your gut. If you are able to eat clean, unprocessed foods, your gut (and your brain) will thank you.
Happy Holidays & Happy New Year.
Katie Gately, LPC, BCBA
Founder, Behaved Brain Wellness Center
If you’d like to contact Katie to discuss your gut and brain health, you can email her at KGately@behavedbrain.com.