Build Your Brain Gut Microbiome…And Raise Your Happiness Quotient
Brain and gut health are both necessary for us to feel happy and positive with an overall feeling of wellness. The microbial world in your gut not only supports your gastrointestinal system and general health, but is intimately tied to your psychological behavior and how you perceive the world. A gut that is lacking proper microbial balance and function cannot communicate efficiently with the brain, the immune system or the endocrine (hormonal) system. This can result in gastrointestinal diseases, immune disorders and hormone disruption, as well as anxiety and depression.
Communication between the gut and the brain goes in both directions; messages are relayed back and forth about our physiological state and our psychological state through the brain gut microbiome axis (BGM). The BGM is fully integrated into problem detection and resolution of imbalances in bodily systems. Many factors can disrupt functioning of the BGM. Stress, pharmaceutical drugs — especially antibiotics and PPIs (proton pump inhibitors) — infection, genetics, genetically modified foods, pesticides, toxins in the environment, food additives, Western diet and irregular eating all are destructive to the BGM. A degraded BGM can result in the disruption of important hormonal messages, such as the hunger and satiety response, which helps us know when we are full. It can also result in the loss of ability to produce calming neurotransmitters, initiating mood swings, anxiety or depression.
The physical structure of the brain is 60% fat and saturated with water. Hydration is key for optimum brain function as well as eating healthy sources of essential fats, especially omega-3 fatty acids found in cold water fish, nuts and seeds, and the oils derived from them. A leafy green salad topped with grilled salmon or cod, slices of avocado, chopped walnuts and a dressing of lemon juice, herbs and flax oil provides a good dose of omega-3 fats.
The brain's neural network requires essential fats and fat-based phospholipids like choline and serine to maintain cell membrane structure and for proper functioning and maintenance. Phospholipids can be found in most foods, to some degree, but they are especially high in eggs, milk, organ meats, lean meats, fish, shellfish, soy and sunflower seeds. The Western diet full of sugars, refined carbohydrates, unhealthy fats and toxic additives is not supportive for brain health.
Tips To Improve Your BGM
Foods For Brain Health: Leafy greens, berries, dairy products, broccoli, cauliflower and other non-starchy colorful vegetables, lean meats, organ meats, salmon, nuts and seeds, turmeric, ginger and green tea. Excellent supplements for brain health include B vitamins, vitamin E, fish oil and antioxidant formulations.
Foods For Gut Health: Healthy fats, vegetables, leafy greens, ripe bananas, pumpkin, butternut squash, and low sugar fruits like berries. All fermented vegetables like ginger carrots, pickled beets, kimchi, sauerkraut, and cucumber pickles; these are found refrigerated in stores and must be fermented with salt and spices only, no vinegar or chemical additives. Yogurt, kefir, kombucha, tempeh, miso, natto, fermented cottage cheese (farmer cheese), and fermented sour cream are more probiotic foods to enjoy. It is more economical to make fermented foods at home but it is time consuming. Probiotic supplements containing Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species as well as psyllium husk fiber and fish oil are great supplements for maintaining gut health.
Medications Disrupt Gut Health, especially antibiotics. Eat probiotic foods and take probiotic supplements with and after antibiotic therapy. Homemade chicken, turkey or beef stock with the fat left in is great for revitalizing the gut. Supplementing with L-glutamine can also help fuel and restore cells that line the intestinal tract.
Cook At Home, prepare from scratch when you can. If you need to buy processed food, read labels to avoid food additives as much as possible. Prepare foods in bulk and freeze in dinner portions so you will have healthy, homemade “fast food” when you don’t have time to cook. Buy or prepare ahead pre-measured portion cuts of protein (meats, fish, tempeh) that you can combine with frozen or pre-cut vegetables. A simple pan sauté of chicken and your favorite vegetables makes a quick meal.
Avoid Eating Too Many Junk Foods, breads, pasta, alcohol and sugar. When you go off this plan for special occasions, get right back on track with healthful eating as soon as you can. We all need to celebrate life and we need to be social and happy to stay healthy, so don’t beat yourself up if you go off your normal regimen. Make a plan for yourself and follow through.
Manage Stress by removing stressful activities, schedules, people and behaviors from your life. If you cannot remove a stressor completely, consciously take steps to mitigate the stress with targeted nutrition, more sleep, healthy exercise, behavioral changes and seeking professional help to assist you in maintaining your health.
Consider Meditation, deep breathing and yoga, which are all documented to improve BGM functioning and communication. When you become stressed, blood is directed away from the gastrointestinal tract while cortisol and adrenaline are released in the body for “fight or flight.” This constricts muscles in the gastrointestinal system and disrupts the normally unnoticed flow of digestion, which could leave you with unpleasant symptoms. Relaxation techniques can help you to manage stressors.
Nurture the intelligent microbes within your gut with appropriate foods and keep your brain sharp with plenty of sleep. Remember that your BGM becomes distressed when you become stressed; both your brain and gut will benefit from a stress management plan.
Beth Colon, M.S., BCHN, is a holistic nutrition counselor and owner of Holistic Nutrition Services LLC. She practices at The Healing and Wellness Center in Westborough, MA. Beth specializes in digestive health, is certified in holistic nutrition and is a certified GAPS practitioner. She can be reached at (978) 340-0448 or visit www.HolisticNutritionServices.com.