Everything we consume has a direct impact on our health. One of the leading causes of digestive issues is poor nutrition, which isn’t exactly what you may think.
“Poor” nutrition does not have to always mean eating loads of processed foods or inordinate amounts of sugar. It can be much more subtle, sneaking into our well-meaning diets through refined sugars, carbohydrates, and additives.
Even a lack of nutritional balance can result in poorer health, which negatively affects one of the most important processes in our body: the gut-brain connection.
What is the gut-brain connection?
Your gastrointestinal tract has a mind of its own. The enteric nervous system (ENS) is a separate nervous system spanning across more than 500 million neurons, the messenger nerve cells that communicate directly to your brain.
While the ENS is largely responsible for regulating digestion, swallowing, and food absorption, it also plays another essential role. It can directly influence the production of neurotransmitters, chemicals that have direct influences on our mood and emotions. This is why integrated nutrition has become a part of so many psychotherapies. Doctors, counsellors, and other professionals now recognise that what a person eats can directly impact how they think and feel. The ENS forms the gut-brain axis, a two-way communication between the ENS and and central nervous system (CNS). It’s so powerful that digestive issues can directly influence emotional experiences.
Someone with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn's disease, or even general bloating and unease can experience more negative moods, poor concentration, and even greater anxiety. With 30 to 40% of the world experiencing digestive issues at some point in their lives, integrated nutrition is more important than ever when it comes to your mental health.
How Food Affects Your Mood
Did you know that your gut produces 95% of your body’s serotonin levels? This key neurochemical is often talked about in the context of depression, but it does so much more than that.
Serotonin affects general mood, memory, learning, sleep, heart health, and many more physiological processes. Low levels of serotonin can cause emotional problems, such as anxiety and depression, as well as difficulty focusing, sleep disruptions, and even chronic pain.
Because the gut-brain axis is so closely linked, it’s no surprise that people who seek integrated nutrition are often struggling with mental health issues on top of digestive problems.
Eating the right foods can lead to higher production levels of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. This leads to more positive, stable moods, greater concentration, improved memory, and better sleep.
Gut health is important for total-body wellness, so if you’re looking for a holistic approach to healthcare, integrated nutrition is an amazing place to start your journey.
Food Is Medicine: The Secrets of Integrated Nutrition
Integrated nutrition is a discipline that merges lifestyle with diet. Rather than focus solely on what you eat, a specialist considers how you live and feel. This, in turn, will affect the food choices you make and how your diet influences your mental health.
Integrated nutrition sees the gut-brain axis as a gateway to nourishing the whole person. As a holistic practise, it recognises symptoms in any part of the body as part of a much larger system.
So, rather than take a reductive approach, the integrated nutritionist looks at the “big picture,” including:
- Medical history
- Sleep patterns
- Stress levels
- Financial health
- And much more
You may not think that your job satisfaction or financial standing have anything to do with your diet, but take a closer look. People struggling with a job they dislike, or someone who is living paycheck-to-paycheck, is more likely to have higher levels of stress and inflammation throughout the body.
Higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol mean greater emotional strain. More negative moods tend to fuel negative thoughts, which can lay the groundwork for harmful beliefs that become self-fulfilling prophesies.
Ultimately, by unraveling the mystery of the gut-brain connection bit by bit, you can use your diet along with exercise and other forms of therapy to improve your entire well-being.
How to Improve Gut Health
There are several things you can do easily that will have a strong influence on your ENS, digestive system, and brain.
- Eat from the Earth. Avoid packaged, processed foods as much as possible. Swap out crisps for cucumbers, carrot sticks, and other crunchy vegetables. Avoid added sugars, instead opting for fruits as a natural source of sugar. You don’t have to be vegetarian or vegan to eat from the Earth, either. Instead, focus on product quality and origins. Limit factory foods whenever possible.
- Exercise often. Just 20 minutes of movement each day can improve digestion and strengthen the gut-brain axis. Yoga that promotes smoother digestion and absorption can also be beneficial.
- Get your nutritional levels checked. Dietary deficiencies can negatively impact your entire body, even on small levels. Get your levels checked by your GP to determine whether you are lacking essential vitamins or nutrients in your diet.
- Eat some fermented foods. Foods like kimchi, yogurt, tempeh, and sauerkraut all contain doses of gut-nourishing microorganisms called probiotics. Include some of these foods in your diet to give your digestive system a healthy boost.
- Try therapy. Talk therapy may actually be able to improve gut health. By learning to better manage mental health symptoms, you can also improve the effect your emotions have on your gut, and vice-versa.
If you would like to connect with a holistic health coach in the UK, we’re happy to help. Schedule a session with one of our professional practitioners to begin transforming your diet and lifestyle today.