We have all heard that saying “You are what you eat” but we have never really related this to the Gut-Brain Axis until recently. There are a psychological perspective and an abstract link between the brain and gut health. Lots of studies around the Gut-Brain Axis have been coming out recently and it shows that there is still a lot that we don't know about this link yet. If you are curious on how to beat depression and anxiety with psychological approaches and with gut health, then read on.
The Psychology Side of Depression and Anxiety
Gut health is a major factor in helping Depression and Anxiety but the psychology of it all also helps. We need to make sure that our past traumas and negative thoughts are healed as well. There are a few different therapies that you can practice with a psychologist. I had great success with these therapies and I am going to bring them to you so you can observe this aspect to help your depression or anxiety.
When I first went to therapy I pretended a pillow was my boss. It sounds foolish, but I could look at this pillow and explain to it exactly how I was feeling. I got so angry that my hands were bleeding after this experience. It was so powerful and it really felt like I got everything I needed off of my chest. I also had actors that would play the person I was having problems with. This way, you can fully speak your truth and authenticity. Even though it's not the person you are pretending they are, there is still conflict resolution. This is because you're holding the conflict inside and after you release it you can fully express the emotion and shift the change. Your mind can’t tell what’s imagined and what's real! If you are watching a scary movie, your mind can't tell if that's fake or your reality. So in the same way, I am having a conversation with this actor but my mind can't tell that it isn't who I say it is, this means my mind can resolve all of these issues.
“A lot of mental issues, depression, and anxiety happen because there are unresolved emotions trapped inside our body”
Another process is learning how to express emotions in a safe environment. You need to express anger, sadness, joy, or have a really deep conversation with someone. Anger is actually very powerful when expressed in a safe way. Your anger is telling your body that you aren't happy with something so when we suppress this feeling we end up feeling worse than if we would release it. I know it is hard but you cannot always try to please everyone, not rock the boat, and have everyone like you if you do it’s extremely stifling. That is the main reason I was anxious because I was seeking people's approval. To wear a fake smile every day is completely draining, it's also very damaging to your psyche. You need to learn how to be authentic and be fully accepting of yourself and need to be okay that not everyone is going to like you. This will help tremendously.
Another type of therapy that improves your mental health is Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy. This helps with irrational fears. People mistakenly blame external events for unhappiness. You need to give yourself unconditional self-love. The problem that people have is that they put conditions on the love that they give themselves.
I’ll love myself if I’m successful
I’ll love myself if I’m healthy
I’ll love myself if I have a lot of money
All those conditions that you put on yourself actually cause you so much pain, suffering, and anxiety. What you need to do is love yourself regardless of what happens and what you do. Even if something is going bad in your life outwardly, make sure you can love yourself unconditionally because it is a very powerful place to come from. By having full acceptance of oneself you can fully serve and help others without being stuck in your head. Say these things to yourself,
“I am an individual, I am a beautiful person, I am here to serve my purpose, I am enough.”
You need to cut through all the negative stories that you have been telling yourself, because they aren’t true. Recite that during hard times and it will make it easier to accept yourself.
Being stuck in your own head is a whole other feat. A lot of times when we struggle with anxiety and depression it’s because we are stuck in our own heads. A mask that people often wear is the critic. There is a voice inside your head that is saying, “Why did I do that?” Why did I say that? And that's the critic judging you. To deal with the critic, I found that you need to drop into your “body-brain.” We have 3 different parts of our brain:
The Frontal Lobe- Our Thinking Brain
The Reptilian Brain- Our Primal Brain
Paleomammalian- Our Emotional Brain
If you drop more into the emotional brain, it will free you from the critic. There are many ways that you can do this, but here are a couple of my tips:
- Exercise- go to the gym, have a high-intensity workout, this will help you get out of your head. How many times have you been to the gym or completing a workout and thought of other stuff going on in your life? It usually keeps you in the moment and out of your head. Another activity that helps is yoga. You are so focused on what the teacher is telling you and what poses you have to do that you are not in your head. Having this time to drop into your body will make you feel very free and liberated afterwards. If you are competitive, you may like Jujitsu. It's a competitive situation and you can't think of anything else but that moment. It makes you feel very refreshed. Exercise also releases endorphins, which helps put you into that better mood.
- Ice Cold Shower or The Sauna- Try to take a 5-minute ice-cold shower. You will feel euphoric after having this shower. You can also do ice plunges because they help to switch the state that your brain is in. On the other end of the spectrum, you could use a sauna and have the same results.
You don’t have to spend your life in the past or in your past traumas. The time for change is now, focus on these psychological aspects of your mental health and watch the change. Make sure to get enough exercise, expose your body to extreme cold or hot, love yourself through it all, and learn how to express your emotions in a safe environment.
Healing Depression Through Gut Health.
Although the psychological aspect helped, the main thing that healed my depression and anxiety was changing my diet. When I was younger I had a horrible diet, I was a very picky eater. All I wanted to eat was plain foods. Another thing that I loved was overly processed foods. I always felt like I was in a mental funk and it was horrible. I had no mental clarity, I was in a fog all day. A lot of that had to do with my gut health. I decided to change my diet and never looked back. Ever since I started eating healthier and have been treating my gut with the dignity it deserves I have been feeling much better.
Science is evolving and they found out that 90% of serotonin (the feel-good hormone) is produced in the gut. The way that a lot of anxiety drugs work is by keeping serotonin in the system longer. This is how they elevate serotonin levels, not by actually producing more serotonin.
90% of Serotonin is Produced by Gut Bacteria
50% of Dopamine is Produced by Gut Bacteria
So how do we manipulate the gut to feel better? Neurotransmitters control how we feel and a lot of that is controlled by our gut health! If we can improve our gut health does this help to improve our mental health? The answer is YES. There was a study performed in Korea and it found a way to analyze gut bacteria to see if a person was more neurotic or conscientious. Most people in the western world fall in the neurotic vs conscientious scale. If you are neurotic this means you would most likely be moody, nervous, and a worrier. If you are conscientious you would be organized, self-disciplined and detailed. By analyzing your gut bacteria, they could determine these traits and improve your mood just by changing your diet. There are also psychobiotics coming out on the market to help heal the gut to improve your mood.
Your gut bacteria can communicate with your brain, you have as many neurons in your gut as a small cat has in its entire body! Eating a clean diet to start growing that diverse gut bacteria is a great place to start. First, you can take out items that are disruptive to the gut microbiome, then start to add things that are good for it and improve diversity. All of the gut bacteria that we have in our system does not have the same job. Some of them create neurotransmitters, some help to digest food, and some produce vitamins. Ten years ago we did not have this much information on the gut microbiome but now we are seeing new studies coming out every month about how substantial it is.
One major step you can start with to improve your gut health is to add in probiotic foods. Some of these foods include kombucha, kefir, sauerkraut, and miso. Kefir in Turkish means “feel good.” Years ago, they found that people living in Bulgaria were living to be over 100 because they were consuming a lot of these probiotic type foods. This means that they are good for longevity and mental health. We have a great product that makes fermenting foods a breeze, check it out HERE.
What Damages the Gut Microbiome?
- Processed foods are number 1! Anything that's been altered from its natural form. A condiment is an example. Look at the ingredient list to find the word pasteurized. The food companies pasteurize the products because they need to be shelf-stable because of Shelf Stability = Dollars. Anything that needs a substantial shelf life is processed. The preservatives kill off all of the bacteria so it can have a longer shelf life. Some additives are antibiotic in nature like sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate, sulphates, and sulphites. These are bactericidal which means they kill the bacteria. Or they can be bacteriostatic which means they keep the bacteria species flatlined so they stunt any type of bacterial growth. When we eat these products they will carry those attributes into our bodies and kill off or stunt our bacteria.
- Emulsifiers- can alter the Gut Microbiome and increase inflammation
- Artificial sweeteners- They are not safer than regular sugar like we are led to believe.
- Antibiotics in Meat and Farmed Fish- This one is hidden. That is the biggest source of antibiotics because it’s not from a doctor it's from your food! SO even if you think you are okay because you have not taken antibiotics, you could still be ingesting them from your meals. They use these to boost the mass of meat they can produce. That antibiotic is still effective in the meat when we eat it so make sure to buy antibiotic-free meat.
Start by avoiding these products and see how you feel. Try to eat as clean of a diet as you can. I can almost guarantee that you will start seeing a boost in your mood if you implement these changes.
Beware of Your Restaurant Habit.
We have a MASSIVE foodservice industry. When you eat at a restaurant you believe that the food is freshly prepared. But there's a whole industry build on servicing quick-service restaurants. Many meals are just assembled at the restaurant but they are processed foods. These foods are just “heat and serve” and they are all full of chemicals. It's all about perception, you are perceiving that you are eating this fresh sandwich but in reality, it is all processed.
I recommend you eat fresh foods prepared yourself, it's hard and it takes more time but if you plan it you won’t regret it. Make a relationship with a good butcher, a farmers market, and an organic health food store and see the change in your gut health. Make sure you have a variety of fruits and vegetables, about 30-40 of different types a week. Each vegetable has a different type of fibre that can target bacteria. It sounds almost impossible to have 30 or 40 different types but it could be something as simple as having a different type of lettuce. Or try a different variety of fruit. Even if you have an apple, there are many different species of apples that you can eat to meet this goal.
The Gut is like a rainforest and a rainforest has a rich ecosystem. Different animal life forms all contribute to that rain forest. If you were to take out a food source, say every food source for monkeys, eventually, the monkeys would die out. Something would take their place but the forest would be in an imbalance because there's a missing part of the ecosystem. If you only eat certain foods, you are only feeding certain gut bacteria. It’s like any ecosystem if they have an abundance of a type of food source that one animal could have an advantage over they’re going to dominate that population. When looking at the western diet, we also see this. With the number of processed foods that are consumed you end up getting an imbalance of the type of bacteria. By increasing the diversity of fibres, we can rebalance this. We are giving other bacteria a chance to compete.
Something that we don’t think about with gut bacteria is our past use of antibiotics. Antibiotic use early in life may have set you back and damaged your gut microbiome. You need to repopulate the bacteria that have been damaged. There are some key bacteria that we look at that are very good for holistic health. Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria. This is why your fermented foods are so important because they contain these. Along with probiotics, you need your prebiotic fibres. Some examples of these are:
GOS (Supplement That Boosts Bifidobacteria.)- Bimuno
Overall, we need to eliminate processed foods, increase fermented foods, focus on antioxidants (green tea, dark chocolate), eat your vegetables and think of meat as being the side. Centre your meal around vegetables! Invest in good organic food. Rather than taking pills for your anxiety or depression, something as simple as buying organic could help you feel a lot better. Between working on your psychological issues and your gut health, you will be well on your way to being depression and anxiety-free. Make sure to check out my Fermented foods kit HERE and share this article with a friend so they can reap the benefits.
Author: Kriben Govender
Food Scientist and Founder of Nourishme Organics
Linked In: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kribengovender/