Long standing digestive conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and functional dyspepsia (FD) bloating, gas and wind, are collectively known as functional gastrointestinal disease (FGID). It has been known that psychological conditions such as anxiety, and depression have caused these conditions via the stimulation of the vagus nerve. The neurological stimulation of this nerve changes the chemistry in the digestive system. The psychological symptoms appear first and then create the gut issues as a consequence over time.
Researchers last year tested this theory in a random population in Australia. They discovered that one third of the individuals with anxiety and depression at baseline developed a FGID after one year. Interestingly one third of the people with pre-existing FGID, yet without a mood disorder had developed anxiety or depression. The authors concluded “While brain-gut pathways are bidirectional, a major subset begin with gut symptoms first and only then psychological distress develops, implicating primary gut mechanisms as drivers of the gut and extra-intestinal features in many cases.
So what does this mean? Well when we are stressed we send a signal via the vagus nerve into our digestive system and this them changes the chemistry in the digestive system. Changing it from an ideal environment into a less ideal environment. This will ofter express itself as inflammation, bloating, gas, wind and discomfort. This will effect the amount of nutrition that is absorbed from the food that we eat. Digestion takes 50% of your blood and takes between 20 to 40 hours from when we consume it to when it’s evacuation at the other end. The less efficiently our digestive system is working the more our blood is stuck around the digestive system. This leads to feeling tired, full and low energy after eating. Over 70% of the bodies serotonin (happy chemical) is found in the gut. It is then drawn up into the brain to allow us to feel happy. If the digestive system is not working efficiently, i.e bloating, gas, wind, inflammation and uncomfortable then the level of serotonin being drawn up into our brains is limited. This will effect our mood, energy levels and sleep pattens and along with digestive issues.
Two years ago science showed that once inflammatory markers are up in the gut then they are also up in the brain. This inhibits the ability for the serotonin to work effectively, changing our moods. The serotonin works like a lock and key system allowing us to feel good, yet once inflammation is present the key maybe floating around in the brain but it cant get into the lock. So it is rendered ineffective in enhancing our moods, this is the case when people that take anti depressants but don’t get the relief desired. About 30-40% get great results but the rest less so. It was shown that by reducing the inflammation in the gut this then reduced the inflammation in the brain, enhancing the effectiveness of the medication. This has lead to further studies that are currently under way to understand this process further.
In my 17 years of clinical practice I have never known of a client who suffers from anxiety and or depression for medium to long term that does not have gut issues, and visa versa over the long term. As the study shows above that if you have gut issues and they are not resolved within one year then it will effect your mind and mood, potentially creating anxiety and or depression for a large group of the population.
Naturopathic medicine teaches us the gut is the centre of the world for our health. Once you have a healthy gut the rest of the health in the body and mind will follow naturally. As science is continually discovering the link between the gut and the mind and visa versa our Naturopathic teachings ring louder. Just last month the Researchers at Deakin University have found the diet can help those suffering from severe depression.
They put dozens of patients with major depressive disorders on a Mediterranean-style diet rich in whole grains, legumes, fresh fruit and vegetables, olive oil and nuts. After 12 weeks of healthy eating, researchers said one third of the participants reported a significant improvement in their mood and symptoms. The results of the study were recently published in the international journal BMC Medicine. Professor Felice Jacka, director of Deakin University’s Food and Mood Centre, said the Mediterranean diet had been credited with improving cardiovascular health, reducing the risk of diabetes and increasing longevity.
“We already know that diet has a very potent impact on the biological aspects of our body that affect depression risks,” she said. “The immune system, brain plasticity, and gut microbiota seem to be central not just to our physical health, but also our mental health. “And diet, of course, is the main factor that affects the gut microbiota.”
Professor Jacka randomly selected 31 participants to embrace the Mediterranean diet and reduce their intake of sweets, refined cereals, fried food and sugary drinks. One of the participants who changed her diet, Sarah Keeble, described the program as life changing. “I felt clearer in my mind. I felt balanced. I felt happier. I actually had a lot more energy. I felt I could really kick this in the butt,” she said.
By reducing sweets, refined cereals, fried foods along with sugary drinks and replacing it with a healthy clean diet this was enough to change peoples quality of life both physically and mentally. Our Naturopathic for fathers would be very happy that science is catching up and now validating what they have known all along. Heal the gut and heal the mind as you are what you eat.
Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food. — Hippocrates, father of medicine, 431 B.C.