In my previous newsletter, in the interview with Dr. Priya Virmani and Dr. Bonnie Schneider, we spoke about the practices of psychologists to help with mental health. As Nutritional Therapists, we also have to consider mental health as it can have a significant effect on health overall. We also now know that nutrition has a significant effect on mental health in many ways.
In fact, in the process of my research into depression for my last paper, I discovered many research studies that demonstrate the significant effect that nutrition has on depression and mental health overall. Additionally, both exercising and spending time in nature have been linked with improved mental health. The link between physical health and mental health is becoming more and more recognised in both directions: while mental health significantly affects physical health (with those who are living with mental health disorders suffering a significant increase in mortality), how we take care of our physical body also can significantly affect mental health (ie: poor nutrition, poor sleep, poor lifestyle all being causes of mental health issues).
Unfortunately, however, not all traditional Psychiatrists are recognising the importance of lifestyle and diet changes in improving mental health. With the sad rise of mental health issues during the Coronavirus pandemic, and even overall year on year, it’s becoming more important than ever for Nutritional Therapists and mental health experts to work together to bridge the gap that still exists and leaves many just as badly off after trying different medications as they were before medicating. This is why it makes me especially happy to when I get the oportunity to work with people like Dr. Priya Virmani, Dr. Bonnie Schneider, Ruth Carter and others who focus on mental health. In fact, I started my own journey with mental health (studying Psychology in University and then Coaching many years later) before realising the importance of nutritional health to help patients who were unable to be helped by focusing on mental health alone.
So what does our gut have to do with mental health? Well with the advent of much research throughout the years, we know that the balance of microbes in our gut can have a significant affect on our mental health as well as health overall. However, this link is not something recently discovered. In fact, Egyptians used to call the gut a “second brain”, a term that recently resurfaced and has been adopted by modern day scientists and Nutritional Therapists.
An especially interesting link has been found between the levels of probiotics in your gut and your mental heath. Much research has been dedicated towards finding specific bacteria, which lives in our gut and which might be responsible for our mental health. You can read more here: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/02/190213124350.htm.
Here is a great quote from the article: “Dr. Michael Gershon, a professor of pathology and cell biology and father of neurogastroenterology, adamantly believes that we have a second brain in our gut. In fact, he states there is bidirectional communication between the gut and the brain. With more than 100 million nerve cells lining our intestinal walls, it’s no wonder that when we disrupt the bacteria in this region with antibiotics, poor diet and toxic environment, it creates a neuropsychiatric effect influencing our mood and mental health.”
However science is still predominantly focused on specification of bacteria, as oposed to thinking more broadly: what might be causing this specific bacteria to appear in your gut in the first place or what might be causing probiotic depletion in a body which has been very clever over several thousands of years in reaching this stage. The attention once again is geared towards inventing a medicine – solving a problem by popping one pill, when if fact, that very same approach is the cause of many health related and especially mental problems in the first place.
Therefore, now that it has been proven that the gut has a significant effect on mental health, perhaps it is time to work on tackling mental health issues more holistically, meaning that instead of coming up with a pill to cure the gut, we should really think about the diet and lifestyle issues causing the problems in the first place. We should consider the processes that happen in our bodies when certain foods or chemicals are ingested. For example, what really happens chemically when we persistently eat from McDonald’s, drink that processed soft drink or eat that processed food that depletes the good bacteria in our gut allowing it to fill with bad bacteria instead and leading to a breakdown in both physical health (ie: immunity) and mental health.
Conversely, we should also become more aware of how more lasting positive change can occur through means of self analysis, mindfulness, meditation, exercise, adequate sleep and time spent in nature. Remember that big changes in life and health are built on little victories. Instead of setting yourself difficult to achieve goals like losing 15 kg in two months, start instead with little victories. Remember that building a fortress takes small steps first of constructing bricks, putting them on top of each other, etc: our little victories. Therefore, taking a pill, is not a victory. It’s an act that has little meaning to us – we are so detached from the process that we do not really respect it. A little victory can be simply getting up an hour earlier in the morning in order to make time to exercise, going to bed an hour earlier each night instead of staying up watching tv, giving up one particular food or a drink that’s bad for your health, taking one coffee off your daily intake etc. Once one step is achieved and practiced, the next will be greeted with much more motivation.
Small changes like adding regular exercise, eliminating processed foods and drinks, adding fruits and vegetables in ample amounts, sleeping better and longer, spending time in nature and meditating regularly can make significant differences to gut health overall thereby helping with mental and physical health and improving immunity.