Welcome to my Brain Food Series – a monthly online educational tool for integrative and holistic resources for your mental well-being. This tool is designed to share educational research on how food and holistic lifestyle practices have the potential to boost your mood, combat fatigue and insomnia, reduce your stress, and improve your memory and concentration! This guide aims to equip you with the knowledge to take this research out of academia and into your kitchen and life through recipes, foods and product information. Together, let’s make mental health part of the mainstream wellness conversation.
Anxiety and Depression in America
There is a growing epidemic. Anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older and 322 million people worldwide live with depression. Additionally, too many Americans live in a mental fog. More than 16 million people in the United States are living their daily lives in a brain fog, having trouble remembering, concentrating, or making decisions that affect their everyday life. These figures are unfortunately just what we know. They do not include those silently suffering or the thousands of individuals self-medicating with sugar, caffeine and alcohol just to manage their mood and energy levels to get through the day.
Brain Food Series
Each month I will be walking you through different nutrients (from Omega 3-fatty acids to magnesium) and how they can help improve your mood, sleep, productivity levels and energy. We’ll start with food and then expand to holistic lifestyle practices such as meditation, because food for your brain is truly more than just what we put on our plate. This series is about giving you the tools to help boost your mood, decrease your anxiety, increase your energy and feel good!
Ready to get started?
How Gut Health Can Affect Mental Health
This month we’re focusing on how your gut health can affect your mental health. A vast amount of research exists on the gut microbiome and we are now just beginning to understand the role gut health plays in mental health. It would be impossible to cover all of the research in a single post, so for this post, we are going to focus on two areas: The neurotransmitters (simply put, chemical substances) that are produced in your gut and help regulate mood, sleep, energy levels, as well as your ability to handle stress, and how a poor diet can disrupt healthy gut bacteria and what that means for your mental health.
Your microbiome—the bacteria that live in your gastrointestinal (GI) tract—plays an important role in your brain health as there is a direct biochemical pathway between your GI tract and your central nervous system (CNS). This direct pathway is known as the gut-brain axis. Through this pathway, your gut and your brain are in constant two-way communication. Meaning, your brain talks to your gut (e.g. a gut feeling) but we now know is that your gut is also talking directly to your brain. Simply put, what’s happening in your gut can directly impact your brain.
Diet and Leaky Gut
Research has shown that any disruption to the normal and healthy balance of this bacteria can cause the immune system to overreact. A dysbiotic state (an imbalance) of your gut bacteria leads to increased intestinal permeability and allows undigested food particles, toxic waste products and bacteria to “leak” through your gut flood the blood stream. This is what is commonly known as leaky gut. Increased intestinal permeability causes an immune response in your body, which can in turn lead to the development of symptoms of disease that occur not only throughout your body but also in your brain. This inflammation and bacteria imbalances have been shown to contribute to anxiety and depression as well as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), diabetes, asthma.
How does the bacteria in your gut become altered? The mucosal membrane of the GI tract, disrupting the gut-brain axis can be negatively altered through poor diet choices, radiation treatment, stress, antibiotic use, and chemotherapy. In fact, diet alterations can have significant impact on the gut bacterial composition in as little as 24 hours. However, the bacterial composition is restored if the change in diet is only temporary. We’ll be do a deeper dive into the diet piece in the next post of this series.
Neurotransmitters in Your Gut
Your gut microbiome also produces a number of neurotransmitters responsible regulating your sleep, mood and stress levels. More research is showing that a healthy gut environment is key to the production of these neurotransmitters. Roughly 90% of serotonin, your happiness neurotransmitter, is housed and stored in the gut. Consequently, a serotonin dysfunction in the gastrointestinal system could result in impairments in brain function, such as those involved in mood, sleep, and behavior.
Worth mentioning is that the gut also is home to neurotransmitters such as dopamine, glutamate, norepinephrine, and Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA). GABA is the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter known to counterbalance the action of the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate. This means that of one of GABA’s role is to pump the breaks when the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate is overactive (i.e. to control fear and anxiety). Low levels of GABA can lead to increased anxiety while low levels of norepinephrine may lead to conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and depression. What we are seeing now is that a healthy gut microbiome is one key factor is the products of neurotransmitters that regulate are mood, anxiety levels, energy and sleep.
So how can we help improve our gut health? Next up in the series, I’ll be sharing more about how diet effects gut health and a few recipes you can make to promote your gut health. Make sure you’re following me on Instagram so you know when those recipes go live.
The gut health primer is brought to you in partnership with SilverFern brand, an incredible company I deeply respect that’s focused on developing gut health solutions. I use SilverFern Brand products daily. Please you the code “Kerri” for 15% off any purchase on the SilverFern website.
This series would also not be possible without the groundbreaking work of pioneers in the field of nutritional psychiatry. Individuals who peaked my interest in brain food including, Dr. Drew Ramsey, Dr. Kelly Brogan, Dr. Mark Hyman, Dr. James Greenblatt and Dr. Nicole LePera to name few, as well as the countless researchers working tirelessly to understand the root causes of mental health.
An important message The entire Brain Food Series is designed to be a guide, to share educational information that empowers you in your own wellness journey. The information in this series in not designed to take the place of a medical doctor and nor is this series designed for you to act on every single topic I share each month. Some topics may be more relevant for you than others. Lastly, the field of nutrition and nutritional psychiatry are a rapidly evolving fields, with research updated frequently. All information is intended to motivate readers to make their own nutrition and health decisions after consulting with their health care provider. Readers should consult a doctor before making any health changes, especially any changes related to a specific diagnosis or condition. No information on this site should be relied upon to determine diet, make a medical diagnosis, or determine treatment for a medical condition. The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. No information on this site should be used to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any disease or condition.