The Gut-Brain Connection: Healthy Gut, Healthy Mind?

The Gut-Brain Connection: Healthy Gut, Healthy Mind?

THE GUT BRAIN CONNECTION: HEALTHY GUT, HEALTHY MIND?

YOUR GUT – YOUR SECOND BRAIN:

Have you ever had “gut-wrenching experiences” or “butterflies in your stomach”?

We don’t use those expressions because they’re more dramatic and help us embrace our inner divi-queens, they were created for a reason.

Your gut is super sensitive to emotions. Feelings of stress, anxiety and sadness can trigger uncomfortable symptoms in your gut (aka. Indigestion, diarrhoea, constipation, nausea, cramping, etc).

So the next time you feel queasy nausea churning in the pits of your belly or the sudden urgency of an impending poop-attack…it may not be the food you’ve just eaten, it may be the fact you’re on an awkward first date, about to face your boss, worrying about something or drowning in endless to-do lists.

This is why your gut is labelled your second brain. 

But did you know, your gut-brain connection actually works both ways. Yes your emotions (stress, anxiety, depression) can trigger gut symptoms, but your gut and how it’s functioning can also increase your risk of experiencing anxiety and depression. 

 

Holy macaroni, right?!

 

Your gut communicates back and forth with your brain all day long, so it makes sense that it has to influence how it operates in some shape or form. And it does, massively.

Current research shows there are three ways the gut influences the brain:

#1. Neural pathways

These are your nerves that connect from your brain to your gut. The big player here is your vagus nerve which has nerve endings all along your digestive tract, but also activates the areas in the brain that control mood (amygdala (fear centre), hypothalamus (master regulator) and bed of nucleus of the stria terminalis).

#2. Metabolic pathways

Metabolic chemicals such as hormones and neurotransmitters which either influence the end of your nerves in your gut to send a signal to the brain or are absorbed into your body, travel in your blood and cross your blood brain barrier and enter your brain.

#3. Immune pathways

Cells that form part of your immune system or inflammatory metabolites (such as lipopolysaccharides) which also either interact with the end of your nerves in your gut or are absorbed into your body and end up crossing your blood brain barrier.

And who influences all three of the above? Who can interact with your nerves, can produce metabolic chemicals and can influence immune cell and inflammatory metabolite production?

Your gut bacteria.

I’m sure you’ve heard of dysbiosis (aka. an imbalance between the good beneficial bacteria and the bad bacteria) being a huge cause of IBS, diarrhoea, constipation, bloating, gut pain, and really any gut issue.

Well, research has also identified that:

  • The severity and duration of gut pain is associated with elevated anxiety.
  • Anxiety frequently co-occurs with IBS and inflammatory bowel disease.
  • Antibiotic use increases the risk of developing anxiety later in life.
  • Infections in the gut (eg. gastro or food poisoning) has been associated with an increased risk of developing anxiety within the next 2 years.

So doesn’t it stand to reason that a huge causative factor of these gut conditions (aka. gut dysbiosis), may also be an influencing factor of anxiety, depression and stress?

The answer is yes.

One particular study (double blind, randomised controlled) assessed 55 humans who either took a probiotic with Lactobacillus helveticus R0052 and Bifidobacterium longum R0175 or a placebo tablet for 30 days.

At the end of the 30 days, those who were taking the probiotic had:

  • Improved depression, anger hostility and somatisation (Hopkins Symptom checklist-90 assessment)
  • Improved anxiety (HADS-A assessment)
  • Reduction in self blame and increased problem solving abilities 
  • Reduced 24 hour urinary cortisol (stress hormone measurement) while the placebo group did not change.

Honestly, I used to be amazed at the strength of an ant for its size but these minuscule bacteria blow ants out of the water with how brilliant they are!

 

My take home?

Suffering from anxiety, depression or heightened stress isn’t purely a psychological issue. Your health, and in this case your gut health and what bacteria are in your gut, also heavily influence your risk and susceptibility of experiencing mood changes too.

If you’re doing all the right things to improve your mindset and belief systems, but just aren’t getting relief from your anxiety, then have a look at your gut. Because if your gut function and your gut bacteria are constantly working against you to create an anxiety-prone brain, then you may always be prone to experiencing those flares of anxiety and panic.

My Anxiety Program is coming soon (I actually cannot contain my excitement to finally share it with you!) and because the gut and bacteria are an integral part in transforming your anxiety and finding freedom in life, they form part of the program. I’ve opened up a handful of Anxiety Transformation calls in the lead up to the program launch in October, so if you want to learn more – book a call! 

P.S

Please remember not all probiotics are the same. For anxiety and depression, Lactobacillus helveticus R0052 and Bifidobacterium longum R0175 are the strains indicated, while a different bacterial strain such as Bifidobacterium longum BB536 is indicated for allergic rhinitis, high cholesterol, eczema, immune enhancement and gastric bypass recovery…with no evidence this particular bacteria directly influences your mood. Check out my blog on probiotics here if you want to know more and avoid having expensive poo!

Is your probiotic actually helping you?

Is your probiotic actually helping you?

IS YOUR PROBIOTIC ACTUALLY HELPING YOU?

Probiotics 101:

Probiotics have become extremely mainstream in the past few years. It’s expected that you can simply pop a probiotic pill every day and feel right as rain!

But do you know exactly what you are taking, and what the specific bacteria in those probiotic pills are doing to your body?

No? Well you aren’t alone.

In all my years working in a pharmacy, health store and clinical practice, I stopped being amazed by how many people were on a probiotic “just ‘cause”. Customers’ would stare wide-eyed and shocked at what taking that probiotic supplement was doing to their body. Because for those 6 months of taking a probiotic to help with diarrhoea, the bacteria in that probiotic were known to speed up transit time and help with constipation. *face palm*

Now I have a question for you

Hands up how many people have bought a probiotic off the shelf purely because of its claims to be “multi strain” and with super duper high “40, 50, even 60+ billion CFU (colony forming units)” on the label?

I bet you’re sitting there thinking: that’s me! Well don’t worry, that was me too.

But I’m sorry to say, there is a very high chance you just bought yourself really expensive poo.

 

So how the heck do you know if you need a probiotic and that you’re choosing one that’s right for you and for your body?

 

Well, let’s clear the air of some common misconceptions and highlight the truth behind probiotics and your friendly gut bacteria.

 

1. Probiotics don’t change your microbiome.

Holy moly, this is a big one! When you take a probiotic, the bacteria in the probiotic only stays in your gut on average 2-14 days. The bacteria generally won’t colonise your gut and stay there for life. What they do is exert a beneficial effect as they are floating through. They can produce chemicals, fight off against pathogenic microorganisms, interact with your immune cells, etc, which can all improve your health while taking the probiotic. But generally the symptom relief wears off a few days post taking the probiotic as those particular bacteria are then found in your poo and are no longer in your intestines.

 

2. Any old probiotic won’t help, you need a specific strain.

The bacteria or yeast found in probiotics don’t all do the same thing. Nor are they all beneficial to your health. Every bacterial strain is as unique as you are. The therapeutic action of a bacteria all comes down to its strain. For example, Lactobacillus acidophilus is a common bacteria found in probiotic supplements, but the different strains help you with different symptoms.

Lactobacillus acidophilus W37: helps with bacterial vaginosis.

Lactobacillus acidophilus DWM 24735: helps with constipation, IBS symptoms, ulcerative colitis achieving and maintaining remission, and viral gastroenteritis.

Lactobacillus acidophilus CL1285: supports diarrhoea prevention with antibiotic use and atopic eczema treatment.

Lactobacillus acidophilus La-1: helps with depression, migraines and liver cirrhosis.

 

Imagine if you suffered from diarrhoea and you grabbed one off the shelf that contains Lactobacillus acidophilus 24735. This guy helps with constipation, so you are unknowingly making your diarrhoea worse. Grabbing a ‘multi-strain’ probiotic won’t be effective if the strains in the probiotic aren’t right for you. I often opt for single or a probiotic with 3 bacterial strains because I can make sure every single bacterial strain is essential for my client and their health.

3. The CFU only matters for individual species, not overall.

Ignore when a probiotic states 40, 50 or 60 billion bacteria. In this case bigger does not mean better! The important number or CFU to pay attention to is per bacteria. You need enough of the little guy to be therapeutically effective. Take for example Lactobacillus reuteri DSM 17938. You only need 200 million CFU to be therapeutically beneficial for constipation. Whereas Lactobacillus helveticus Rosell-52 needs 1 billion CFU to be clinically effective for anxiety. The number of bacteria really depend on what they’re being used for.

 

So here’s the big question:

do you need to take a probiotic?

For the general population, my answer is no.

I only advise taking a probiotic for a specific health condition or symptom if it’s warranted, and generally not for long term use (eg. Constipation, diarrhoea, eczema, anxiety, depression, thrush, bacterial vaginosis, etc). I don’t advise taking one for everyday well-being because there are more effective strategies.

 

What do I recommend?

Your gut bacteria are uber important. They influence soooo much, so making sure you have the right bacteria and a great diversity are one of my biggest concerns with every client. To achieve this, I recommend prebiotics which are the food for the bacteria. Your bacteria need to eat in order to survive and proliferate.

I stand by the principle and evidence, why not feed the beneficial bacterial strains already in your gut rather than add in a probiotic that only floats through temporarily? Your beneficial bacteria need food to proliferate and carry out their tasks in your gut, so feeding them with select prebiotics is the most effective method.

I highly recommend speaking to a qualified health practitioner who will be able to really guide what probiotic and prebiotic is needed and will be beneficial for YOUR unique health. Choosing any old probiotic supplement for the sake of it, isn’t doing much for your health, well except increasing the price tag on your poop.

The Truth Behind Detoxing

The Truth Behind Detoxing

THE TRUTH BEHIND DETOXING

& HOW TO DO IT THE SMART WAY

‘Detox’ is always the in word for January. You may be seeking a way to shed some of that extra ‘heaviness’ and ‘grit’ you accumulated over the Christmas and New Year binge?

You’ve browsed 100 different ways to ‘detox’ from juice fasts, water fasts, ‘magic pill’ detoxes, laxatives…but how do you know which one’s right for you or if any of them actually work?

 

The truth is: none of them will work if your own body elimination processes aren’t working.

In fact, you may be making yourself worse.

 

Here’s the snitch: we are always detoxing.

  • Your liver is constantly activating both phases of detoxification to eliminate toxins.
  • Your lymphatic system is always circulating to remove build up of toxic waste in bodily tissues.
  • Your kidneys are always filtering and excreting water soluble toxins.
  • Your gut is always housing those brilliant bacterial workers who assist in detoxifying incoming toxins and help to excrete them all out.

 

But your liver, lymph, kidneys and gut aren’t always working at their absolute best.

So if you try to detox your body while one of these systems is out of whack or exhausted, then you have lost one of the key methods your body has to get rid of toxic & damaging metabolites.

So now you have liberated toxins or damaging metabolites from your bodily tissues as part of your detox….but they can’t be eliminated…so where else do they have to go but continually recirculate throughout your body, all the while continuing to inflict damage?!

Definitely not the result you were after.

 

As a naturopath, I don’t encourage ‘detoxing’ as such.

I encourage supporting your eliminatory organs (aka. your emunctories: your liver, lymph, kidneys and gut), because if they are all working at their best, then they can (mostly) handle whatever toxins or grit you are throwing at them and get them out of your body automatically.

If you want to ‘detox’ the smart way, then gently nourishing your emunctories is the way to go. It will support your overall health, as well as be a sustainable and longer-term solution with long-lasting results (without those nasty side effects). Because it isn’t a detox, but a new way of living.

 

1. liver

Your liver is the big powerhouse, the head macho, the one who can have the biggest effect…and cause the most damage too.

Your liver has 2 phases of detoxification.

Phase one takes metabolites in your blood and starts to break them down into their new metabolites (usually more toxic than they were before). Phase two then grabs these metabolites and makes them inactive through various different detoxification channels to then be eliminated either via your stool or by your urine.

Where the liver goes wrong is phase one works brilliantly getting all these new toxic metabolites ready for phase two. Unfortunately, phase two can be very sluggish meaning these new toxic metabolites start to build up and inflict damage.

Phase two can be sluggish due to various reasons such as genetic variations, lack of nutritional cofactors, etc. So the best thing you can do is provide your liver with all the delicious and nourishing foods it needs to help these pathways along – the main ones being cruciferous (liver loving) vegetables such as brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, bok choy, dark leafy greens (caution in thyroid issues); and herbs that chelate to toxins such as parsley and coriander.

 

2. lymph

In my opinion the lymphatic system is one of the most underrated systems. It follows alongside your blood vessels and is the king at mopping up waste products to bring them to your main detoxification organs to be properly eliminated.

But if your lymph doesn’t have it’s own system moving it around  – it relies on you. So if your lymph becomes stagnant, then those mopped up toxins have no other way to get to your eliminatory organs to be detoxed and removed.

The easiest way to move your lymph is to move your body. The contraction of your muscles are the main way your lymph is pushed throughout your body. If you need an extra push, try dry skin brushing before your shower by brushing your skin in the direction of your heart to encourage full elimination.

 

3. kidneys

Water soluble toxins have one main way out and that is through your urine. So if you aren’t drinking enough fluid to be urinating regularly enough (and so that your urine is closer to transparent rather than dark yellow), then you will be retaining a lot of those toxic metabolites.

The solution is easy: up the fluid intake to 2-3L per day, and include wet sloppy foods, watermelon etc to boost incidental intake.

 

4. gut

Your gut has two influential factors: the fact it pushes out your stools and it houses your powerful community of microbes.

For one, if you aren’t passing a stool at least everyday (if not more), then your stool (filled with all toxins and wastes) is moving too slowly through your bowels, giving your digestive tract the chance to reabsorb some of those toxins back into your body for recirculating.

Two, you need a good diversity of the beneficial microbes to help with detoxifying, neutralising and eliminating your wastes and toxins, as they can reactivate toxins & metabolites for reabsorption and slow down transit time.

So this is a two prong approach: increase your fluid intake to promote regular bowel habits, and consume enough dietary fibre and a variety of it to feed all the beneficial microbes so they can effectively do their job.

In terms of fibre, aim for all colours of the rainbow in vegetables and wholegrains, and a variety of 40 whole foods. This is easier than it seems with red, white and black quinoa counting as one each (so 3 all up), red, purple and orange carrots are individually counted (so 3 all up), etc. Each new variety is a new wholefood.

 

5. extra love: skin

When you sweat you are effectively eliminating wastes through your skin, so having a good sweat can help to detox your body.

Go sit in an infrared sauna a couple of times per week to give your body all the support it needs.

 

Detoxing doesn’t have to be this intense 3-10 day hit, because if your eliminatory pathways aren’t prepared for it then you won’t be getting the results you’re after. Try to support each of these pathways, and watch as your health blossoms.

 

Your perfect detox plan is as individual as you are, so if you need help to kickstart your health for the new year, seek out a Naturopath to tailor the perfect treatment protocol for you and get you feeling fabulous for this new year.

 

X-mas Energy Bites

X-mas Energy Bites

X-MAS ENERGY BITES

Want a delicious & nutritious treat this festive season?

Then these are your girls!

Gluten free, dairy free, vegan, refined sugar free and nut free (*use the alternative). Easy to whip up in no time at all or let the kids get creative.

Try not to eat them all in one go!

Enjoy!

 

INGREDIENTS

1 C pitted dates
1/3 C raw cashews or sunflower seeds*
1/3 C raw almonds or pepita seeds*
4 Tbs chia seeds
2 Tbs shredded coconut (extra for rolling)
½ tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon

 

INSTRUCTIONS

1. If the dates are hard, then cover them with boiling water and allow to soften for 5-10 minutes.
2.  Place chia seeds, almonds and cashews (or the sunflower and pepita seeds for a nut free option) into your food processor/blender and process into a chunky finish.
3.  Strain the dates, add shredded coconut, vanilla and cinnamon, process until well combined. If you find your mixture is a little dry add a splash of water and process again.
4.  Use your hands to roll your mixture into bite size balls and set aside (you can make them as small or big as you`d like).
5. Place your remaining shredded coconut into three small bowls and in bowl one add in a beetroot powder, bowl two add in spirulina, and bowl three leave with just shredded coconut. (For a darker red or green colour add more dried powder). Gently roll some of your little bites to coat.
6.  Store in the fridge in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks (or pop in the freezer)

These make a perfect little gift (or save them all for yourself)!

 

Bloating: Are Your Eating Habits To Blame

Bloating: Are Your Eating Habits To Blame

BLOATING: ARE YOUR EATING HABITS TO BLAME?

Do you eat on the run? Do you chuck your food down? Are you multitasking while you gobble your food down? Answer YES to any of those? Then your bloating may very well be because of your eating habits.
We need to be in a parasympathetic state when we eat. Rest and digest.
This means you’re calm, blood flow is being directed to your gut and your digestive enzymes are being produced and secreted at an excellent rate, ready to digest all the food thrown its way. This needs to happen so that you can properly digest all of your food and absorb all the liberated nutrients – your body relies on them to function, otherwise your body is scrounging up what it can and does the best with the minimal tools it has at its disposal. It’s excellent at making do short term to keep you functioning like an apparent well-oiled machine. Long term though all those short cuts are not doing you any favours and that’s when chronic disease creep in. Unfortunately these days, we eat on the run or eat while attempting to multi-task. Although this is time saving, you aren’t getting the most out of your food.
This is because you’re in the opposite mode – sympathetic state: fight, flight or freeze.
  During a sympathetic response, blood is shunted from your gut and sent to your heart and muscles so they’re ready to run, your breathing and heart rate increases, and digestive enzyme production is shut down – because hey, eating isn’t a priority right now, running away from that scary monster is. These factors are brilliant when it comes to running away from a tiger. Just not when you want to eat. The problem is, your body gets a one-stop stress response. Meaning it produces the same stress response no matter if the stimuli is you running late for work or if a lion is chasing you. Stress is stress – cortisol gets produced and it has the same physiological action on the body every time it gets spewed out by your adrenals – it doesn’t care if food is just sluggishly sitting in your bowels being left to ferment and fester.
When you are chucking down your food, or watching TV and not paying attention to eating, you are bypassing that first vital step: turning off the sympathetic switch and turning on your parasympathetic mode.

No parasympathetic mode: no digestive enzyme production.

  Without the necessary digestive enzymes to break down your food, your still intact food happily carries on throughout your digestive tract, passing your stomach undigested and your small intestines undigested and reaches your happy little gut microbes sitting in your large intestine. With a properly functioning gut, only resistant starches found in fibrous food should reach your large bowels and feed your happy little microbes. So when these other food particles that should have been broken down way back in the small intestine reach your gut microbes, your gut microbes go crazy and thank you for their feast by munching away on all this foreign food and produce a by-product such as hydrogen gas.
The problem with hydrogen gas?
For starters it is a large molecule so it takes up a lot of room in your bowels. It’s healthy to produce some (when your gut microbes eat their normal fibrous foods) but if they keep producing more and more, your bowel has to expand and ta-da! You now have bloating. Hydrogen also has a propensity to speed up your transit time, so this means you may need to be rushing to the toilet to empty your bowels 3+ times per day. More prone to sluggish stools? Well you may have an excess of methane-producing bacteria. They gobble up four hydrogen molecules to make a much smaller methane molecule. This may seem great when they’re gobbling up all those extra hydrogen molecules from your poorly digested food, and help to create more room in your gut and effectively reduce your bloating….but methane does have a propensity to reduce your stool transit time, ultimately clogging you up.
And clogged bowels can also then lead to bloating.
  Your gut bugs are pretty fussy eaters and primarily only want fibrous food, so when all this non-fibrous food reaches your large intestines, the wrong type of bacteria end up having the feast and proliferating instead. This then potentially leads to a dysbiotic gut, which is a story for another day. Long term, this can start to produce ongoing gut issues and the poor absorption of all your nutrients ends up impacting energy and neurotransmitter production (happiness, calmness and motivation) leading to depression, anxiety and low drive, and essential nutrients for glowing skin and hair aren’t there, let alone every other enzymatic reaction in your body. Now this isn’t all doom and gloom, there are super simple ways to promote that parasympathetic state, switch on digestion and get those foods fully digested so you can reap all the nutritional benefit and feel amazing long term!  
So if you are guilty of eating on the run, shoveling your food down or basically multitasking while food is going in your gob – then try these 4 easy hacks to getting those digestive juices flowing!
 

1. EAT MINDFULLY

This is as simple as sitting down with your food and being mindfully aware of every spoonful going into your mouth. The taste, the texture and chew thoughtfully. You will be amazed at how much more you can taste and as a bonus all your digestive enzymes start flowing!

 

2. SMELL YOUR FOOD

That’s right, take a big waft of those delicious aromas. Have you ever found you can smell something delicious and suddenly your mouth is watering in saliva? That’s because the receptors in your nose pick up the scent from food and kick start your digestive enzymes, ready for the feast it’s about to consume.

 

3. MUNCH SOMETHING BITTER

This may make you scrunch up your nose, but bitter receptors on your tongue are like the golden key to getting those digestive enzymes flowing. This is why some people feel less indigestion with apple cider vinegar before meals. You can simply munch on dark leafy green prior to a big meal which activates the same pathways. Or grab some of that super tasty bitter herbals from your naturopath if you’re feeling lazy or need to kickstart your own digestive enzymes again – but don’t say I didn’t warn you! At the very least those around you will get a kick out of watching your face scrunch up in disgust.

 

4. SING

That’s right, I’m giving you full permission to bellow out a tune. Singing has been found to stimulate the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is the main nerve responsible for receiving the stimuli that its time to eat and sending out a signal to your digestive tract to start pumping out all of your digestive enzymes. But you need to be reaching different pitches: so go smooth with a low baritone before hitting that high note.

  If you are someone who often gets to the end of their meal and then struggles to remember what they ate or how they even got there, than start to include some of the above tips into your daily eating routine. The long term benefit of digesting all of your food and reaping off the nutritional benefits out of them won’t just help with your bloating and indigestion, but with the optimal function of your body too. Still being haunted by your gut? The gut can be a mysterious and wondrous thing, with many avenues for dysfunction to occur – it does hold 2kg of microbes after all which are all doing very specific and important tasks to keep your body tip-top! A Naturopath may be what you need to provide you with an individualised gut plan to rid you of your bloating, control your bowels, and get you feeling pretty fabulous!

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