A Gut Feeling

You may have already heard the term “leaky” gut floating around. Also known as Increased Intestinal Permeability, “leaky” gut is a term used to describe a condition whereby the integrity of the tight junctions and cells of the intestinal wall, and thus its functions (particularly the containment of materials and toxins) have been compromised. So the gut ends up “leaking” undigested proteins, particles, microbes, toxins, and waste metabolites into the bloodstream where they freely circulate (and shouldn’t be!). This can impact many aspects of our health, and can even affect the brain.

Why a gut tune-up is important:

The condition and functioning of the gut is not only important for digestive health, such as the ability to break down, absorb and utilise nutrients from our food, or mitigation of digestive conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Inflammatory Bowel Disease. It also feeds into, and has implications for other less obvious conditions.

Interestingly, the gut is also thought of as the ‘second brain’. This is mainly due to the fact that it relies upon the same neurons and neurotransmitters (such as serotonin) that are found in, and communicate with the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord). This helps us to understand the link between gut health and mental health, and how they feed into each other. And suffice it to say, how psychological, emotional and physical stress can cause digestive troubles.

Signs to look out for, include:

       Nutrient malabsorption -the inability to absorb essential nutrients

       Fatigue

       Chronic inflammatory conditions, such as: Asthma, Eczema, Heart disease, Dementia, Fibromyalgia, Pancreatitis, Gall bladder disease, Obesity, Autism, Depression, Lupus, Bleeding gums and Dental caries.

       Candida or Thrush infections

       Immune system function -susceptibility to, and ability to ward off infection; sensitivities and allergies; and autoimmune conditions such Hashimoto’s, Rheumatoid arthritis, and Type I Diabetes.

       Cognitive function: for example, clear vs foggy thinking, and memory decline.

       Mental health: poor mood (or moodiness and irritability), depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder

       Hormonal imbalances, for example PMS or PCOS.

       Skin conditions: eczema, psoriasis, acne, rosacea

       Thyroid disorders

       Joint pain

       Weight gain

       ‘Syndrome X’ (metabolic condition)

       Toxic build up

       Headaches and migraines

Factors that contribute to poor gut health and function, and “leaky” gut include:

       Stress! Stress has a major impact on the gut (among other things!), and I see this in clinic, time and time again… The gut is a sensitive organism, that is highly vulnerable to the ill-effects of stress. From the tension held in the nerve plexus that feeds into the gut (the vagus nerve), changes to appetite, decreased digestive capacity (the ability to break down, absorb and utilise nutrients from our food), ulcers, reflux, indigestion, constipation, diarrhoea and IBS, to lowered immunity, increased susceptibility to infections, and the development of neurodegenerative and autoimmune conditions such as Alzheimer’s, Multiple Sclerosis, and Rheumatoid Arthritis.

       Poor Diet -The SAD (Standard Australian Diet), which is laden with nutrient poor, processed, sugary, and fried foods. The SAD burdens the body with rubbish, and typically lacks essential nutrients found in a nutrient-dense fresh produce, and a chemically-reduced (Organic, where possible) wholefood diet that the body requires to maintain good health and functioning.

       Foods that commonly contribute towards and aggravate poor gut health include: sugar, gluten and unsprouted grains, dairy (although the A2 variety appears to be less so), caffeine, alcohol, processed/packaged and foods.

       Medications: particularly antibiotics, due to the fact that they tend to wipe out the good bacteria colonising the digestive tract, destroying the ecological balance; the oral contraceptive pill; paracetamol and ibuprofen, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) being most common.

You can take back control of your gut health today by:

       Remove common culprits from the diet, like gluten, dairy, and sugar. This can be challenging to think about, but it doesn’t have to be too complicated or hard. The ability to collate the right resources and support, and make a plan goes a long way in making any dietary transitions like this smooth.

       Take your time to eat. Even if it is just 5 minutes, undistracted.

       Chew well. It may sound silly, but by paying attention to chewing each mouthful more completely, we’re actually helping the mechanical breakdown of our digestive process, which takes a burden off our digestion, and makes it noticeably smoother. Digestive disturbances are reduced, and nutrient absorption is enhanced.

       Get serious about minimising your stress levels -see my articles on 6 Ways to Beat Stress Fast, and Little things you can do to Unplug for a few good pointers.

       Eating more leafy greens, which feed and encourage good bacteria growth in the gut, and help physically sweep toxic waste out from the bowel. They’re also rich in stress-busting nutrients.

       Trying a gut-healing Bone Broth. You can find good recipes for how to make a bone broth all over the net. It is a nutrient-rich, mineralising broth that helps restore the mucosal lining of the gut, aids digestion and the immune system.

       Seeking professional help for a proper assessment, and treatment.

 

Beat the bloat and feel better (for Summer)

bloating.jpg

You know that uncomfortable feeling when your tummy feels swollen and bloated. You may notice it happens after eating too quickly or having something you know doesn’t sit well with you… Maybe it happens after a certain meal, or perhaps it’s even become kind of normal.

That constant uncomfortable feeling and tightness around the waistband; self-consciousness from feeling like you must look 6 months pregnant or closely resemble Santa; skipping meals to avoid blowing up or not being able to “stomach” certain foods at certain times; sporting a classic muffin top and daydreaming about being able to slip back your comfy pants can really suck the joy out of your day. Especially when it starts to become more of a “norm”.

But did you know that it’s not just “normal”?

A bloated tummy can be caused by a number of factors, and usually a little combination of them, such as:
• Diet and reactive foods/drinks such as that toast or cereal you had for breakfast, the latte midmorning, or perhaps the wine at the end of the day
• Not chewing food properly
• Inadequate enzymes and gastric secretions
•Stress (a major culprit, going hand-in-hand with dietary causes) –and can be situational, everyday stuff or accumulative, and includes aspects like rushing around, feeling time poor, eating-on- the-run, and particularly mental or emotional upsets. Deadlines, places to be, something pressing or on your mind?
• Permeability of the gut wall (is it letting toxins leak into the bloodstream?) from certain foods (especially processed, sugary, wheat or dairy based foods), medications -including oral contraceptive pill, antibiotics and over the counter stuff like paracetamol, hayfever meds; alcohol; parasitic infections; chemotherapy; and stress.

Did you know…

The gut, digestive system, our thoughts and emotions are inextricably linked…This is via the nervous system which keeps them highly attuned to one another, which we know often at a more intuitive level which we articulate through the language we use when we refer to having a gut feeling; or having the guts to do something; getting the (insert appropriate proverbial that starts with ‘sh’ and ends with ‘s’) with someone or something; when something doesn’t “digest” or “go down” well; feeling sick in the guts or sick to the stomach about something…

So how healthy is your gut? Is there an imbalance of harmful (unhealthy and disease causing) bacteria (badies) vs beneficial bacteria (the good guys) in the gut, compromising its delicate ecosystem?

This can manifest with a number of digestive and non-digestive related symptoms, with bloating being high on the list…

If you experience regular bouts of bloating, it’s likely there is more to the story and probably not just “something you ate”.

But the good news is, you don’t have to put up with it and you can beat the bloat this Summer by following some simple principles and practices.

Left unchecked, an imbalance ofharmful bacteria (aka bacterial dysbiosis) can be responsible for a whole gamut of unfriendly symptoms, butcan lead to more serious conditions such asinflammation of the bowel and autoimmune activity.

Here is a common cluster of symptoms that often accompany bloating, and may be indicative of something more going on:

  • Brain fog: impaired clarity of thought, poor concentration and memory –for example, with word recall or forgetting what you came into the room for or what you were going to do next…
  • Mood disturbances such as depression and irritability
  • Fatigue/Chronic fatigue
  • Seemingly uncontrollable cravings for sweet, surgary foods (candida feeds on sugar)
  • Poor immune function e.g. more susceptible to infections going around such as colds/flus
  • Autoimmune activation as seen in Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Fibromyalgia, Rheumatoid arthritis, Multiple sclerosis…
  • White coating on tongue
  • Belching
  • Abdominal pain
  • Excessive need to pass wind
  • Sensation of food sitting in the stomach after eating
  • IBS and Inflamed bowel
  • Headaches & migraines
  • Joint pain
  • Poor stool quality
  • Insomnia
  • Rashes
  • Easily broken nails
  • Itchy skin, ears, nose, throat, vagina, penis, “jock itch”,perianal region, feet(Althlete’s foot)
  • Cystitis
  • Weight gain
  • and last but certainly not least, Bloating!

If you'd like to get your digestion back on track and end the discomfort of bloating then come and see me, I'd love to help.

Shanna Choudhary, Live Well Naturopath

Shanna is a qualified Naturopath and EFT Practitioner, and member of the Australian Natural Therapists Association (ANTA). 

Shanna's interest in natural medicine came about through her own health challenges. She has a special interest in helping people with natural fertility, hormone balance, stressanxietydepression, fatigue and general wellbeing. 

Learn more about Shanna
Make an appointment to see Shanna

 

Why Gelatine is Good for You

You may not have noticed, but gelatine is currently undergoing a makeover. It’s gone from a leading an unheralded life as a gourmet food ingredient in desserts like panna cotta and chocolate mousse to being a pin up star of the paleo movement.

The key to it’s turnaround in fortunes? It’s all to do with the recent explosion in our understanding of the importance of gut health and the integrity of the gut lining to our overall wellbeing. We now know that gelatine can repair leaky gut and soothe and heal the digestion like almost nothing else.

Gelatine has a gritty back story. It’s produced in a process similar to making a traditional stock, by boiling the bones, skin and connective tissue of animals like pigs and cows to yield up to 18 amino acids including glycine and proline. If you have read about the benefits of bone broth then the same applies to gelatine except that in this case the final product is both colourless and odourless and dissolves in water so it can be added to smoothies, soups, or just about any food.

Gut Health

Gelatine restores integrity to the gut lining and heals leaky gut which is often the root cause of food intolerances, allergies and autoimmune diseases. Gelatine also improves gastric secretions and helps with low stomach acid. Additionally, it’s ability to hydrate the bowel aids in promoting good intestinal transit and healthy bowel motions.

Skin and Bones

The amino acids found in gelatine are the building blocks of collagen the protein that gives the skin its elasticity and structure. Gelatine is also known to strengthen joints and soothe inflammation which makes its beneficial for those suffering from arthritis or joint soreness after exercise.

Sleep and Mood

Gelatine can keep you calm and sleeping through the night. The glycine found in gelatine has been found to assist with sleep quality without causing grogginess or side effects. Glycine naturally reduces the uptake of norepinephrine: a stress hormone which triggers feelings of anxiety and panic.

It’s important to get a good quality gelatine made from pasture raised cattle so skip the supermarket gelatine and source some from your local health food shop or trusted online whole foods retailer.

Wes Smith is Live Well's Director and has 20 years experience as a practitioner and wellness educator. He has a special interest in working with chronic immune issues, stressanxiety and depression
Wes is passionate about inspiring and educating people to create and sustain their vitality and wellbeing so they can live life to the full.
Wes also enjoys teaching meditation and is the creator of meditatewithwes.com an online resource for learning how to meditate. es has a B.App.Sc.(Acup), Diploma of Herbal Medicine, a Yoga Teaching Diploma and is an APHRA registered acupuncturist. Learn more about acupunctureherbal medicine and meditation.

Learn more about Wes
Make an appointment to see Wes

Is Leaky Gut Legit?

Leaky gut is a controversial topic, many conventional medical experts have dismissed it as a holistic mumbo jumbo but recent research evidence is suggesting there is reason to take it seriously.

What is Leaky Gut

Your gut wall is the site of a tremendous exchange of nutrients. People suffering from leaky gut however, are thought to have a gut lining that is overly permeable. This hyper-permeability allows substances like toxins, microbes and undigested food particles to enter the blood stream and cause havoc.

How Strong is the evidence?

Whilst the theory seemed plausible, the evidence was unconvincing until a pioneer in gut health Dr. Alessio Fasano, director of the Mucosal Immunology and Biology Research Center at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and his team discovered a gut protein called ‘zonulin’ which can tighten or widen the openings in the cell membrane of the gut wall. This discovery created a paradigm shift in understanding of the gut lining and whilst, there is still debate about the impact of leaky gut, we have an accepted model that explains how large molecules that cause diseases like allergies and autoimmune conditions are ending up in the blood stream.

What Causes Leaky Gut?

There is definitely a genetic component, to whether you are prone to gut permeability and whether you suffer adverse reactions from the particles that slip through. There is also strong evidence that when the balance of your gut flora, the beneficial bacteria that make up your microbiome becomes unbalanced you’re susceptible to developing an overly permeable gut lining.

What’s the Impact?

Opinions differ, but most agree that allergies, autoimmune diseases like type I diabetes, a thyroid condition called Hashimoto’s disease and Chron’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome are linked to leaky gut. Other conditions including inflammatory skin conditions such as acne and psoriasis, mood disorders and even autism are also thought by many to be connected to leaky gut although not everyone agrees. Given how rapid and steep the learning curve is with regards to the gut and the immune system it is fair to say we will no doubt hear more about the effects of leaky gut in the years to come.

How to Heal Leaky Gut?

It depends on your symptoms and your overall wellbeing, but in general terms healing the gut requires re-establishing a healthy gut flora. There are also specific nutrients that can heal an inflamed and overly permeable gut wall but it is a complex area that is best treated professionally. For further information I recommend speaking to Live Well's naturopath Shanna Choudhary or a holistic GP who specialises in nutritional wellbeing.

Wes Smith is Live Well's Director and has 20 years experience as a practitioner and wellness educator. He has a special interest in working with chronic immune issues, stressanxiety and depression
Wes is passionate about inspiring and educating people to create and sustain their vitality and wellbeing so they can live life to the full.
Wes also enjoys teaching meditation and is the creator of meditatewithwes.com an online resource for learning how to meditate. es has a B.App.Sc.(Acup), Diploma of Herbal Medicine, a Yoga Teaching Diploma and is an APHRA registered acupuncturist. Learn more about acupunctureherbal medicine and meditation.

Learn more about Wes
Make an appointment to see Wes

 

The Bugs That Keep You Healthy

Did you know that the vast majority of the cells in your body are not human. If you’re squeamish I apologise, you might want to stop reading now! Remarkably, you’re currently hosting bacteria cells that outnumber your own human cells by a factor of 10 to 1.

Before you rush off to lather yourself with antiseptic cream its worth noting that the human microbiome (the collective population of all the non-human cells that inhabit us) is a crucial part of the ecosystem that keeps you healthy and happy.

What researchers are discovering is that these microbes are not invaders or freeloaders but in fact crucial facilitators of our basic body functions including digesting food, producing vitamins and keeping the immune system buoyant.

It’s actually when we throw the dynamic balance of the microbiome out through excessive use of drugs such as steroids, hormones, anti-inflammatories and acid-blockers and of course antibiotics, as well as poor diet and prolonged stress that we start to see systematic decline in the health of our microbiome and consequently our wellbeing.

Its fair to say our current understanding of the impact of the microbiome on our health is still emerging. Yet already we know there are direct links between many types of cancer, especially colon, breast and cervical; autoimmune diseases like thyroid disorders, multiple sclerosis and type 1 diabetes; as well as digestive disorders like Crohn's disease and irritable bowel syndrome. Additionally there are strong links to many mental health conditions including anxiety and depression.

As more evidence emerges its likely that many many more illness will be traced back to an imbalance in the microbiome which is exciting in that it opens the very real possibility of a more holistic approach to treating disease. In other words tackling the cause of illness rather than just masking or managing symptoms. Perhaps, even more importantly, our emerging understanding of the microbiome offers more scope to discover ways we can prevent illness taking hold in the first place. 

Wes Smith is Live Well's Director and has 20 years experience as a practitioner and wellness educator. He has a special interest in working with chronic immune issues, stressanxiety and depression
Wes is passionate about inspiring and educating people to create and sustain their vitality and wellbeing so they can live life to the full.
Wes also enjoys teaching meditation and is the creator of meditatewithwes.com an online resource for learning how to meditate. es has a B.App.Sc.(Acup), Diploma of Herbal Medicine, a Yoga Teaching Diploma and is an APHRA registered acupuncturist. Learn more about acupunctureherbal medicine and meditation.

Learn more about Wes

Make an appointment to see Wes

Why Have We Become So Intolerant?

Food intolerance seems to be on the rise, a 2012 study revealed 17% of Australians are afflicted, but I’m guessing that figure has risen sharply since then. Better awareness of the the link between the foods we eat and a range of uncomfortable symptoms including headaches, diarrhoea, palpitations and mood changes is no doubt part of the rise in reporting. The other I believe is chronically high levels of stress.

What if I told you that you don't just digest food, you also digest experiences: emotions, conversations, images, thoughts and events? It makes sense doesn't it.

From the holistic perspective of Chinese Medicine the same organs that process the food you eat, are all highly involved in ‘digesting’ your life’s events. Which explains why, when you’re stressed, your digestion will often go haywire. Not only are your stomach, intestines, liver and gall bladder trying to process the muesli you had for breakfast, they’re also trying to break down and integrate everything else that’s happened this morning.

I find the link between digestion and stress most obvious when it comes to the assessing the health of the liver. From a Western perspective we’re used to thinking that what disrupts healthy liver function is indulging in alcohol and processed foods which is true, yet I see hundreds of clients who eat really well yet show signs of liver toxicity and overload. When you understand that, according to Chinese Medicine, the liver is the organ primarily associated with processing emotion, people start to get why they’re feeling irritable, fatigued and their digestion is out of sorts.

What’s this got to do with intolerances?

At the end of a busy day, your nervous system loves to switch off and relax, which is almost impossible to do when you have unresolved emotional clutter kicking around inside of you. When you can’t switch off, your immune system is constantly on edge and your digestive organs vulnerable to inflammation, both of which leaves you predisposed to developing allergies and intolerances.

So one of the most powerful ways to tackle food intolerance is to learn how to have a kinder relationship with your emotional wellbeing. The other is to make relaxation a daily habit, as commonplace as brushing your teeth. That way you’ll clear away the clutter of each day to leave your mind and body in a sate of relative peace and equilibrium.

Wes Smith is Live Well's Director and has 20 years experience as a practitioner and wellness educator. He has a special interest in working with chronic immune issues, stressanxiety and depression
Wes is passionate about inspiring and educating people to create and sustain their vitality and wellbeing so they can live life to the full.
Wes also enjoys teaching meditation and is the creator of meditatewithwes.com an online resource for learning how to meditate. es has a B.App.Sc.(Acup), Diploma of Herbal Medicine, a Yoga Teaching Diploma and is an APHRA registered acupuncturist. Learn more about acupunctureherbal medicine and meditation.

Learn more about Wes

Make an appointment to see Wes

Signs you may have food intolerance

Discovering a food intolerance or sensitivity can be a confusing process. Often, the symptoms are mistaken for simply not feeling well. Research shows it can be years before possible food intolerance is explored. We don’t like to hear that we need to cut something out of our diet, consequently food intolerances can be ignored. On the flip-side, some people are cutting out many foods they could otherwise be enjoying, unsure of what’s causing them discomfort.

The difference between food intolerance and allergy

Firstly, let’s be clear about what the difference is between a food intolerance and a food allergy. Where there is a food allergy, an abnormal immune system response prompts the body to make antibodies to 'fight off' a food. The response is usually quite sudden and intense, including symptoms such as:

●      itchy skin

●      rashes or hives

●      swelling

●      vomiting

●      shortness of breath

●      chest pain, and

●      a drop in blood pressure.

Anaphylaxis is a combination of the above symptoms — it’s life threatening and must be treated immediately. Allergies will cause an immune system response every time a person eats the allergen which is most commonly: gluten, peanuts or tree nuts, fish or shellfish, milk, eggs or soy.

Food intolerance or sensitivity is a much slower process within the body; it comes on gradually. Your body may not respond well to a substance only once it’s eaten often or in large amounts. For example, you might tolerate low levels of wheat throughout the week, or you’re able to eat a pizza when you’re relaxed and well. However, once there is a build-up of wheat in your system you start to see and feel your symptoms.

Here’s the KEY to managing intolerances: Your overall health and well-being will have a big impact on how your body handles substances that it’s sensitive to. I’ll discuss this further at the end of the article!

Signs of a food intolerance

Signs that you may have a food intolerance can be both physical and emotional. This is mainly due to the link between gut health and the brain. A food intolerance may cause one or many of the common symptoms below:

●      nausea

●      bloating, gas, cramps

●      diarrhea and/or constipation

●      Irritable Bowel Syndrome

●      stomach pain

●      joint pain

●      vomiting

●      heartburn

●      candida / thrush

●      skin rash

●      headaches

●      weight gain or weight loss

●      lethargy, feeling flat

●      irritability

●      anxiousness.

Why am I intolerant to certain foods?

There is much debate and research into what’s causing the rise in food intolerance. One recurring theme is the move away from natural and organically farmed foods to processed, artificially treated and preserved foods, as well as the many artificial additives for colouring and flavour. Many of these additives have not been tested enough to know the full effect they have on our health. Shockingly, some additives that are known to cause damage are still being used. This varies from country to country as to what chemicals are allowed to be in our food.

As an example, this image from Grainstorm.com shows how modern wheat is processed: starting as an ancient whole grain and ending up stripped of its nutrients into white flour form.

Another possibility to consider are enzymes. Lactose (the sugar in milk) is one of the most common intolerances and is due to an enzyme deficiency or defect. Enzymes are needed by the body to help with the breakdown of natural substances found in certain foods. Without the relevant enzyme, or not enough of it, the body cannot deal with part of the food. In this instance, the enzyme ‘lactase’ is needed to digest and absorb lactose. You might experience cramping, bloating, diarrhoea and lethargy as your gut struggles with breaking down the lactose without lactase.

It’s not always artificial chemicals and toxins that can cause an intolerance. While it’s extremely important that we strive to clear these damaging ingredients from our food sources, some people are intolerant to natural food chemicals such as amines found in cheese, chocolate and wine (“nooooo!”) and salicylates found in certain fruits and vegetables. This is why some people struggle to identify the source of discomfort as it can be something ‘healthy’.

What do I do next?

Mind-body medicine and a holistic approach to your health means that by checking in with your gut health and what foods may be compromising your health and well-being, a positive ripple effect will occur across your physical, emotional and mental health.

You body has many mechanisms to talk to you and let you know that there’s a problem. Listening to and observing your body after you eat and keeping a food journal is a great way to track and identify patterns of an imbalance.

If you suspect something might be upsetting you, cut it out completely for two weeks and re-introduce it to see how you feel. Your body will need some time to balance and heal which is why you need sometime without the substance.

And finally — get some help. There are many ways to use food as medicine to support health and well-being and get your body back on track. Don’t put yourself through an elimination diet without professional guidance from a naturopath, nutritionist or dietician.

Special Offer!

To help you discover what substances you may be intolerant to, I’m offering 15 minute kinesiology food intolerance testing for only $30. Let’s start the process and give you an opportunity to ask your body where stress lies with food. This offer will be available until Thursday 26th May! Call now on 6295 0400 to book your spot. Don’t miss out!

I will leave you with food for thought: food intolerances are not a life sentence — by working to heal your body, improve your physiology, treat any other underlying causes or connections. and find balance emotionally and mentally, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to once again enjoy a glass of wine or a piece of cheese.  Kate

Kate's passion is to educate and empower each client to understand their mind, body, and Spirit and how these aspects are all connected. Her integrative approach to health and healing is to explore and treat the whole person. Kate is the creator of Holistic by Nature and is also on the expert panel of I Quit Sugar.
To find out more about Kinesiology please click here.

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Food and Mood - emerging research aligns with traditional wisdom

You may have you heard about the gut-brain connection, or heard the gut being referred to as our ‘second brain’. But what if I were to tell you that you could fundamentally change your mental health and how you feel, by treating your gut?

Sounds “out there”, doesn’t it...

But if you’ve ever “followed your gut”,

had “butterflies” in your tummy from excitement,

or a “knot” in the pit of your stomach when you’ve been worried,

a “gut-wrenching” experience,

“lost your appetite”,

found yourself “hangry”  (being a moody-chops because you haven’t eaten in a while),

or had the proverbial “s**ts” with something;

then you’ve experienced the gut-brain connection first-hand, and can probably conceptualise how inextricably linked our gut, mood, and emotions are.

It may come as little surprise to you, that anxiety and other mood and mental health disorders can be directly linked to poor gut health...

Whilst gut health has always been at the core of Naturopathic philosophy and treatment (we’re talking in the realm of a couple-thousand years, since Hippocrates ‘The Father of Modern Medicine’ time). It is only in more recent times that we are seeing both a huge shift in paradigms and awareness; with more promising research on the gut-brain relationship emerging, the idea is coming into a space of more understanding and general acceptance. There are now even bestseller books based solely on gut health at the local book store! It’s wonderful to be able to discuss the relevance of the gut and how it is linked to mood, skin, autoimmune disorders and more -and suddenly it’s actually kinda plausible; not just some crazy thing you might hear about in a Naturopathic consultation...

Did you know that you are about 90% bacteria?! I’m not kidding...And the make-up, or balance, of this bacteria (our personal “ecosystem”) can impact not only our gut, digestion, and immune system function; but can also profoundly impact our mental health and emotional wellbeing.

There is a rapidly expanding body of research showing that specific strains of bacteria are indeed influencing our brain. They are actually termed ‘psychobiotics’, because their actions are not dissimilar to that of psychiatric pharmaceutical drugs (like common anti-anxiety drugs that work by targeting GABA receptors). These bacterial strains have been observed toinfluence our emotions, higher cognitive functions, ‘intuitive’ (perhaps quite literally, “from the gut”!) decision-making and motivation. In studies on both mice andhealthy human volunteers, using an array of brain-scanning and psychological tests, psychobiotics are having distinguishable effects.

One study on mice of calm vs. anxious highlighted the psychiatric possibilities of modulating gut flora when faecal microbiota was transplanted from an anxious strain of mice caused a previously calm mouse to behave very anxiously. And, yep, you guessed it... A transplant of gut content from the calm strain had a relaxing (and even confidence-boosting) effect on the anxious strain.

Our mircobiome is influenced by factors like how we were born (vaginal vs c-section), if we were breastfed or bottlefed, our diet or stress levels, metabolism, medications -especially antibiotics, age, geography, and genetics. Whilst there is much more to learn, especially on the exact mechanisms of action; what we are understanding is their ability to modulate our brain chemistry. With a serious percentage of neurotransmitter (NT) production and receptor sites residing in the gut (40 NTs in the gut have been identified, to date), it makes sense that if the ecology of our gut is out, our mental and emotional wellbeing is going to follow (and vice versa).

But our mental health and emotional wellbeing is not just governed by the health status of our microbiome. It is also profoundly influenced by an orchestra of nervous system data, endocrine, inflammatory and immune messengers...

The gut pretty much has an entire nervous system cosmos of its own. This is the Enteric nervous system, which is embedded in the gastrointestinal lining, and also referred to as the “second brain”. The Enteric nervous system contains an estimated 500 million neurons -yup; and it is thought to house more neural tissue than that the spinal cord or the peripheral nervous system (everything outside of the brain and spinal cord!).This means there is a veritable information superhighway in there; that is constantly sending, receiving and reacting to various neural and chemical signals!  Some of these messengers that traverse it include:

●      Stress hormones such as Adrenalin, Noradrenalin, Cortisol

●      Metabolites including toxic materials produced by the microbiome -which, Sarkis Mazmanian, a Medical Microbiologist and Professor at the California Institute of Technology, says function as “equally drug-like chemicals” in their communication with the brain.These metabolic molecules have a demonstrated ability to cause behavioral abnormalities in mice that are associated withanxiety (and even autism) when otherwise healthy mice are inoculated with them.

●      Inflammatory cytokines: messengers of inflammation

●      Serotonin: the happy, calming, feel-good NT (95% of which is produced in the gut, meaning only 5% is made in the brain)

●      GABA: the chillaxing NT (significant amounts of GABA are synthesised by the bacteria species Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, which are known to inhabit the gut);

●      Dopamine: the pleasure and motivation NT (about 50% produced by the enteric nervous system in the gut)

The role of stress

“Stress” can be experienced on different levels (mental, emotional, physical), and originate from various sources (e.g. nutritional, chemical, psycho-social, environmental, visceral). Now, consider how extensive this nerve plexus in our bellies I’m talking about is; and how positively connected this neural superhighway is to our brain... This (enteric) nervous system, and the vagus nerve are highly attuned to our thoughts, moods, emotions, and of course, stress response. In fact, stress signals release neurotransmitters and proinflammatory cytokines, affecting the gut in a number of ways, one of which being the initiation of an inflammatory cascade, which compromises intestinal integrity; contributing to ‘leaky gut’ issues.

Some studies have demonstrated how bacterium exposed to noradrenaline (a stress hormone) clearly responded to stress, and may even induce stress, as a heightened perception of stress or anxiety-like behaviour has been demonstrated.

So, whilst the ‘beneficial’ bacteria are associated with more positive mood and mental health states, greater nerve plasticity and repair; the pathogenic bacteria appear to have the opposite effect.

As you can see, a crucial part of treating anxiety, and other mood and mental health disorders (even more serious disorders such as bi-polar and schizophrenia) actually lies within addressing the gut.

Naturopathic treatment

The basis of Naturopathic treatment uses the tenets of ‘Nutritional Psychiatry’ (that is, a nutritional medicine approach to prevention and treatment of mental disorders) to restore mental (emotional and behavioural) wellbeing.

From a Naturopathic standpoint, it is always important to work holistically. So one would also consider the regulation of these pathways through not only the modulation of the microbiome inhabiting the system; but also the repair the intestinal lining to resolve any pervasive“leaky” gut issues. The latter being where toxic metabolites may be escaping into the bloodstream causing a cascade of chemical messengers to ensue. This inflames the system and the brain; which is a mechanism shown to cause, drive, and exacerbate mood and mental health disorders.

The power of a few significant dietary and lifestyle changes are utilised; avoiding those things we understand have a negative impact on our gut, microbiotica, and mood -such as: processed, fried, and sugary stuff.  And getting stuck into real, whole foods; fresh, from the source, non-adulterated, that grows in the ground, on trees, in your garden, or hails from a farm, and are recognisable as foods (wild-caught fish, organic, grass-fed meat, free range eggs, legumes, leafy greens, and an array of fresh, seasonal fruit and veg for example), rather than packaged goods. Along with specific, individualised supplementation to replete and balance the system, where necessary.

Craniosacral therapy

The Journal of Neurogastroenterology and Motility reported the probiotic Bifidobacterium longum NCC3001 normalised anxiety-like behavior in mice with infectious colitis by modulating the vagal pathways within the gut-brain. The gut-brain connection is actually via the vagus nerve, which acts as a direct neuronal higway between our gut, brain and organs.

Craniosacral therapy can work to activate and “tone” the vagus nerve. This downregulates the sympathetic stress response in the body, and promotes your natural relaxation response, elevating feelings of calm and stability, and decreasing inflammatory mediators.

As your vagus nerve is activated, you are reassociated with what it feels like to be at ease. It stimulates the release of oxytocin (aka the “hug” or “bliss” hormone), and has a myriad of other benefits on the gut, digestion, organs and wellbeing.

If you would like to make a Naturopathy or Craniosacral therapy appointment, you can book online.

Shanna is a qualified Naturopath and EFT Practitioner, and member of the Australian Natural Therapists Association (ANTA). 

Shanna's interest in natural medicine came about through her own health challenges. She has a special interest in helping people with natural fertility, hormone balance, stressanxietydepression, fatigue and general wellbeing. 

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