You might be thinking to yourself, “gut health and brain/mental health”? What IS this guy talking about? More on that in a bit.
Taking a step back, the idea that the gut is linked to/involved in several other diseases and that, in turn, these diseases can influence gut health is actually not new. Hippocrates, we’re told, made this observation some 2400 years ago and is credited with the quote below.
“all disease begins in the gut”
Hippocrates 460 – 370 BC
Fast forward to the 18th century and the idea that mental health specifically is connected to the gut emerges;
“the primary seat of insanity is the region of the stomach and intestines”
Phillipe Pinel, French Pyschiatrist 1745-1826
Back then it was thought that mental illness was due to the putrefaction of food and that the bowel was nothing more than a ‘human septic tank’ leaching toxins into the body and poisoning the mind; the solution? Surgically remove the bowel. While there is a kernel of truth to the idea that intestinal contents can be absorbed into the blood stream and contribute to poor health conditions [“bacterial trans-location”], the idea that the bowel was singularly responsible was/is a stretch – thankfully we’ve come a long way since then….
The fact of the matter though, is that our gut and brain are inextricably linked – see my post The Gut Brain Axis. Your Ally for Better Health; they are connected to each other via the spine by the vagus nerve, through the action of neurotransmitters [most are produced in the gut], and even by the gut bacteria (microbiota) that call our gut home. The gut and the brain are in constant contact; endless chattering, each influencing the other.
Studies confirm that it’s impossible to have the best mental health while ignoring the health of hte gut and vice versa; our mental state and the health of our brain affects our intestinal well-being. The two go hand-in-hand.
But why ‘gut health’ and not simply ‘digestive health’? That’s because there’s so much more to the gastrointestinal (GI) tract than simply digestion. Just focusing on digestion is a very reductionist view; medicine has taken the body, broken it down into systems (immune, cardiovascular, renal, occular etc.) and organs and tends to treat the different parts in isolation, as separate entities. However, gut health requires an integrative & holistic approach; we need to consider all of the functional aspects of the GI tract: muscular, immune & nerve function, neurological (mood), as well as, the gut’s influence on endocrine (hormone) & cardiovascular function, as well as, metabolism.
Healing your mind
You simply cannot have/achieve your best possible emotional, psychological or spiritual health if you don’t address the biology of your brain – you have more control over this than you realize. What you eat and drink directly affects the structure of your brain and structure, in turn, influences function, not only in terms of your risk for physical brain diseases such as dementia, but also your mood and other mental health disorders. Improving the quality of your diet & getting more key nutrients can mend and support good mental health. You’ll simply get more ‘bang for your buck’ whether you choose to use medications and/or talk therapy when you nourish your brain [and heal your gut].
Healing your gut
The gut is the largest external surface to the outside world (take a second to think about that), and it’s a super complex organ so it needs a lot of attention. Like the mind, you simply cannot have your best possible gut health unless you consider everything that influences gut function: GI illness, effective digestion, absorption & elimination, intestinal permeability, gut bacteria (microbiota), inflammation, immune status but also your overall sense of well-being/quality of life and how this influences your mood, stress levels and more.
While the focus of my practice is digestive/gut and mental health, I still counsel people on general healthy eating, nutritional management of other chronic diseases (diabetes, cholesterol/triglycerides, bone health, kidney/renal, oncology, inflammatory disorders like autoimmune diseases etc), eating for activity but not high level sport nutrition. I do not counsel on weight loss, that is best done by someone with appropriate counselling specifically for weight loss.
Brace yourself though, you will not get the standard, unhelpful advice such as ‘all foods fit’, ‘variety, balance, & moderation’, or be told that ‘there’s not enough proof to try a new approach’ to your health concerns. The theories, ideas, research and steps to healing found on this site will be new to most readers – both those seeking help and those in the health field. While there is a large and growing body of robust data and literature that challenges the status quo, it’s simply not ‘main stream’ – yet. I use an integrative & functional approach to nutritional therapy that focuses on identifying root causes and imbalances versus chasing symptoms in order to significantly improve health. The nutritional recommendations are evidence-informed, likely novel, and safe.
To be clear, you’re in the right place if you’re one of the countless people who have been unable to get help from traditional medical approaches. Join the revolution and discover how food and nutrition can heal your gut, nourish your brain and improve your mood and mental well-being whether you have chronic mental illness, want to improve your brain function now, and into the future, or have some kind of gut health issue.
To find out what nutritional coaching service is the right for you, click here
Doug Cook RDN, Integrative & Functional Nutritionist
“the gut & brain guy”
Heal your gut; heal your mind