The Mind-Gut Connection
By Jamie Truppi, M.S.
“All disease begins in the gut.” ~Hippocrates
Also referred to as the gut, the gastrointestinal tract (GIT)’s most well-known job is to digest and absorb nutrients. But like any mysterious entity, it possesses a deeper purpose.
Surprising fact: The GIT is made up of more neurotransmitters (over 100 million!) than are found in the brain. For example, 90 percent of serotonin – a neurotransmitter that controls mood, obsession, sleep, and memory – is produced in the GIT to regulate appetite and digestion. If digestion is compromised, serotonin levels can drop, causing symptoms such as bloating and constipation, as well as adverse mental states including depression, anxiety and “brain fog.”
One of the most common GIT conditions, affecting more than 25 million Americans, is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a chronic condition that causes gas, bloating, cramps, as well as diarrhea and/or constipation. Interestingly, 70 to 95 percent of people suffering from IBS experience coexisting anxiety and/or depressive disorders.
Though there is no “known cause” of IBS, it is characterized by psychological, lifestyle and dietary factors. Dietary modifications aiming to remove allergenic/sensitive foods, repair the gut lining, improve digestive movements and bowel function, and stimulate the resident microflora can alleviate IBS. Implementing stress management and mental/emotional coping skills also has been shown to help.
Recent research links a dysfunctional gut to a myriad of health problems, including migraines, mood disorders, ADHD, Alzheimer’s, skin disorders (acne, eczema), arthritis, autoimmune disorders (multiple sclerosis, celiac disease), obesity, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and autism, to name just a few.
Gastrointestinal health offers a window into overall mental, physical, and emotional health and is, therefore, an excellent place to begin healing.
11 Tips for Improving Gut Health
- Limit exposure to environmental toxins by eating food grown organically (without the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers) and drinking high-quality water;
- Increase consumption of whole vegetables and fruits that contain anti-inflammatory phytonutrients along with prebiotic fibers and nutrients to stimulate proper gut function;
- Avoid foods that cause inflammation, such as refined vegetable oils and sugars, hydrogenated fats and conventionally raised meat;
- Limit intake of refined carbohydrates and simple sugars, which may cause imbalances in healthy gut bacteria;
- Drink plenty of clean water to support digestion and elimination;
- Limit use of medications that affect the gut – NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen) that destroy stomach lining; steroids are proinflammatory in response to stress; acid-blockers promote gut infections; antibiotics destroy healthy bacteria; and birth control increases the potential for candida overgrowth;
- Increase intake of fermented foods (such as kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi and kombucha) to stimulate beneficial gut bacteria;
- Source your meat, eggs and dairy from toxin-free, pasture-raised or wild environments;
- Sleep at least 8 hours nightly to help balance neurotransmitters, many of which are made in the gastrointestinal tract;
- Minimize stress and don’t over-exercise to keep inflammation at bay;
- Visit a functional nutritionist trained in gut health if you suffer digestive issues or suspect that your gut .
Jamie Truppi, MSN, is a functional nutritionist who seeks to understand the core imbalances of adverse health when guiding individuals toward wellness. Always starting with food, she focuses on improving chronic conditions, gut health, and family wellness. To learn more about Jamie or sign up for a personal or family consultation or class, click here.