Welcome my sister Kelsey back to the blog! Together we will be working on a series that covers the many ways in which nutrition, digestive health and mood are related. We hope that you find it helpful. If there are any topics that you would like to see covered, leave us a comment and we will try to add them to our series too!
Stop worrying. I cannot count the number of times I have heard those two words in my lifetime. Too many at that, and believe me: if I could have stopped, I certainly would have. Growing up I was constantly worried about getting sick, being stuck somewhere, or the possibility of bad weather coming. Anything that I could not control I was anxious about. I was that kid that all the school nurses knew by name because I frequently visited the nurse's office complaining of a stomachache. Most days I was told just to hang tight and wait it out. I would then return to class and continue the day with a gnawing pain in my stomach. Back then, I did not have the insight to realize that my anxiety and stomach pains were very much related.
What has been the most frustrating to me, is that even when I knew I had severe stomachaches, no one seemed to believe me. It was as if people thought I was making it up. Even throughout college I suffered through days where my stomach was so bloated it was difficult to eat. I visited doctors searching for clues and answers as to what was happening, but they waved it off, indicating that I most likely had Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and that there was not much they could do.
As for my lingering anxiety, it was treated as a totally separate component of my health. It seemed as if I was always only getting one side of the story. Nobody was telling me that the issues with my gut could be causing or contributing to mood or that my anxiety could be the cause of my digestive issues. Better yet, I had no idea that when my gut issues were resolved, some of these problems would naturally go away.
Therefore, I would like to shed some insight on this topic! I want to help people understand that there is a connection between anxiety/stress and digestion. Now I’m not saying that once you fix your gut issues, your anxiety will all disappear— rather, if you are able to treat GI issues successfully, you may see overall improvements in your physical and mental health. I know that once I started to return to a more traditional whole foods diet, take extra measures to replenish key nutrients, and balance my gut flora, I noticed remarkable differences. I still continue to get anxious from time to time, but I am able to manage it much easier and, for me, that is huge! Now I hardly experience any abdominal discomfort and I have seen positive changes in my mood and activity levels. But enough about me, let's delve into what this series will be all about.
Understanding Anxiety and Digestive Health
There are many overlapping ways in which our digestive health and moods affect one another. From the foods we eat to the balance of bacteria in the intestines, these topics can quickly become complex; especially because our bodies are unique and we are all so different. When it comes down to it, the brain and the gastrointestinal system really are connected— and in more ways than one. When you experience psychological factors such as anxiety or stress for example, it can affect the basic movement and contractions of the GI tract leading to abdominal discomfort and inflammation. Conversely, the gut is like a second brain that produces its own set of chemical messengers. When digestion is disrupted for whatever reason, it sets off alarms in the nervous system that exacerbate symptoms of anxiety. It is important to be aware of this bi-directional, multi-layered relationship because it can offer insight and possible solutions to your overall health and well-being.
While we may not be able to cover everything, in this series we will look at many of the key ways in which our nutrition, digestion and mood are related. Along the way, I hope that you will find information that is helpful to you.Here are some of the topics we will look at:
- Why healthy fats are key for good mood
- Looking at the role of cholesterol
- How vitamin B12 can help with digestion and stress
- The Importance of mind-body relaxation techniques
- Getting enough zinc into the diet
- Cortisol and fight-flight-freeze
- Understanding probiotics and the gut-brain connection
- The benefits of magnesium, the calming mineral
- Connecting proteins, amino acids and neurotransmitters
- Impact on Adrenals- HPA axis and the endocrine system
- Other hormones- leptin, adrenaline, etc.
If there is anything else that has helped you, or that you are interested in learning more about, just let me know. As a community, I believe we can build a valuable resource about this under-discussed topic!