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The Father of Medicine, Hippocrates, once said: “All disease begins in the gut.” A wise man for his time indeed. Throughout history and leading to our present time, his teachings still hold true. So when discussing mental health and regaining control of your mental self, we must begin by talking about your gut health.
In the last decade, studies have begun to show just how important gut health is for maintaining and improving mental wellness. Researchers have been able to prove that gut health has a direct effect on the mental health of an individual and are calling it the gut-brain axis.
What is the gut microbiome?
The gut microbiome can be viewed as the working community between bacteria and hormones within the human digestive tract. There are approximately 100 trillion bacteria that reside in the gut from over 100 different species, which include toxins, viruses, and fungi, among other things.  Many of these are referred to as the “good gut bacteria” as they do more than just aid in digestion. The good gut flora multiplies so quickly that it leaves no room for the bad bacteria to increase and grow, leading to a proper balance and optimal health & digestion.
Maintaining a proper balance of gut bacteria and feeding the good flora while making choices that inhibit the growth of the bad bacteria is crucial because it allows the digestive tract to properly remove waste. This leads to toxins being expelled from the body instead of being absorbed by the digestive tract lining, entering the bloodstream, and complicating health, including mental health. With the cleansing of the digestive tract occurring, the intestinal walls are capable of metabolizing hormones and nutrients efficiently.  This is important to mental health simply by thinking about hormones such as serotonin, which is mostly produced and absorbed in the gut. Serotonin is the hormone that stabilizes mood, increases happiness, and aids in sleep. Therefore, impacting mental health and anxiety disorders greatly.
In addition, there are numerous lines of communication from the brain and gut by the enteric nervous system having a bidirectional line of communication with the autonomic nervous system and the vagus nerve in the spinal cord.  It is important to note that the autonomic nervous system plays a large role in the regulation of the anxiety response between the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system; commonly known as the fight or flight mode.
In other words, gut health plays an important role in reducing mental health issues and anxiety disorders. Therefore, nutrition should be one of the first things addressed to aid in the reduction of anxiety. It is a simple change that is realistic and affordable, making healing in a holistic manner achievable.
Utilizing nutrition to promote gut health with the intention of reducing anxiety.
Let food be thy medicine, and let medicine be thy food.
As we analyze the standard American diet, we notice just how far we have come from treating food as medicine. The common diet is high in sugar, refined carbohydrates, and processed foods; while at the same time not receiving enough of the nutrient-dense foods that aid in proper health. We see a negative spiral taking place with poor nutrition, the rise of anxiety disorders, and an increase in the number of medications being prescribed. Making a change from the typical high carb, high sugar, processed foods to more nutrient-rich foods, such as quality carbohydrates such as high fiber grains, vegetables, organic fruits, and leaner, grass-fed meats can dramatically improve mental health. This can be achieved by utilizing a few simple steps.
- Begin by utilizing a food journal to track what you are eating and how you feel physically and mentally after. Addressing your relationship with food is just as important as discovering if you may have an intolerance to certain foods
- Commit to every week or two removing 1 unhealthy food from your diet.
- In addition, every week begin by adding one nutrient-dense food more to your diet.
- Add probiotics & prebiotics to your daily diet.
Another thing to consider is conducting a 3-day water fast. Fasting helps to “reboot the body”, as one doctor states. He says that a water fast is able to rid the body of “diseases of dietary excess” which can lead to poor mental health due to the gut-brain axis.  By bringing the gut back to a state of cleanliness, the gut-brain axis can function at a more optimal rate, and serotonin production can commence properly and be thoroughly utilized. This should only be done with the okay from a healthcare professional since there are certain individuals for whom a 3-day water fast would not be safe.
This lifestyle change is important to focus on because many individuals are not giving enough credit to what they eat for having a strong effect on their mental health; whether that be positive or negative. Utilizing food as a healing tool can provide individuals with feelings of clarity and calmness once the digestive system is cleansed and functioning properly.
But wait, there’s more! Healing the mind and regaining control of your mental self also takes place on a spiritual level; which we will discuss in part 3.
1- Wang, H. X., & Wang, Y. P. (2016). Gut Microbiota-brain Axis. Chinese medical journal, 129(19), 2373–2380. https://doi.org/10.4103/0366-6999.190667
2- Martin, C. R., & Mayer, E. A. (2017). Gut-Brain Axis and Behavior. Nestle Nutrition Institute workshop series, 88, 45–53. https://doi.org/10.1159/000461732
3- Gustafson C. (2014). Alan Goldhamer, dc: Water Fasting-The Clinical Effectiveness of Rebooting Your Body. Integrative medicine (Encinitas, Calif.), 13(3), 52–57.