The Gut-Brain Connection and What You Can Do About It

We are in the middle of a mental illness epidemic. According to a report done by the CDC in June, 25% of people between the ages of 18-24 seriously have considered suicide since March. The percentage was 16% for adults 25-44. 31% of all age groups reported experiencing anxiety or depressive disorder, and over 40% experienced adverse or behavioral health symptoms. “The prevalence of symptoms of anxiety disorder was approximately three times those reported in the second quarter of 2019 (25.5% versus 8.1%), and prevalence of depressive disorder was approximately four times that reported in the second quarter of 2019 (24.3% versus 6.5%) (2).” See full report here.  

These numbers affect me on a very personal level.

I was diagnosed with PTSD at a young age, followed by depression, followed by a diagnosis of bipolar disorder by the time I was 18. I was on many different medications to attempt to treat my mental disconnect, and while some of the worked, some did more harm than good. I understand what it is like to experience the deepest of lows and the highest of highs. I know what it feels like to have a brain that you can’t control, a mind that races and thoughts that spin around and threaten any kind of peace or stability.

One thing I have learned, in my last decade of mental stability, is that our mental health symptoms are always responses to an imbalance in our internal or external environment. External triggers could be grief, stress, or lifestyle disruption. Internal triggers could be something like blood sugar issues, thyroid dysfunction, nutrient deficiencies… or poor gut health. Learning about the gut/brain connection and addressing key areas in my physical health made a huge impact on my mental health.

Now, there is no one size fits all. What worked for me is not going to work exactly the same in someone else. But I do believe everyone can benefit from improving gut health.

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In a perfect world, the lining of the intestine allows entry to nutrients from our food to be absorbed and go where they’re needed. This lining is supposed to prevent toxins, bacterial overgrowth, and food products from exiting the gut lining. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work that way. When you have poor gut health, thanks to stress, toxins in the environment, overconsumption of sugar and processed foods, overuse of antibiotics or other common medications, and a whole lot of other triggers, the intestinal barrier becomes permeable, and endotoxins leak out. This is what the phrase “leaky gut” refers to. The inflammation that results leads to a myriad of health issues, but what is being studied a lot right now is the effect on the brain and mental health. Many psychiatrists are suggesting that poor gut health is at the root of many of our mental illnesses.

To further that point, it’s important to note that over 90% of our serotonin (the “happy” neurotransmitter) is produced in the gut, and serotonin cannot be produced without the assistance of amino acids. So if what we eat impacts the way our neurotransmitters are produced, it stands to reason that what we eat impacts the way our brains receive neurotransmitters and find mental wealth.

There are many lifestyle interventions that are FREE, that can benefit our brain function as well as our gut. To break it down in the most simple form possible, here’s the acronym LIVE to help you get started and give you some practical ways to start taking nourishing your gut and brain together!

Continue reading “The Gut-Brain Connection and What You Can Do About It”

How to Create Natural Neurotransmitter Balance for Mental Wellness

Are there alternatives to medication for mental illness? Is there a way to avoid all the long-term side effects? What other tools can we utilize to help balance our neurotransmitters naturally?

In this interview with Dr. Josh Friedman, we take a deep dive into neurotransmitters and how to optimize them for mental wellness, via food as well as amino acid supplementation.

Dr. Friedman has a doctorate in Psychology from New York University and did post-doctoral training in Psychoanalysis from the Training and Research Institute for Self Psychology (TRISP) in New York City. He also is certified as a Holistic Health Counselor from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York and earned a Diploma of Comprehensive Nutrition (Dip.CN) from Huntington College of Health Sciences.

Download this episode wherever you get podcasts!

Key Topics include:

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– The importance of digesting protein to create the right neurotransmitters

– The struggle with treatment-resistant depression

– Why B12 is essential for mental health

– How enzymes aid in digesting protein in order to benefit our mental health

– Amino acid suggestions for low serotonin, low dopamine, and low endorphins

– And so much more!

Find more info on Dr. Friedman’s work click here.

Books mentioned in episode:

The Mood Cure by Julia Ross

The Anti-Anxiety Solution by Trudy Scott

Anatomy of an Epidemic by Robert Whitaker

Questionnaire for amino acids mentioned in the episode click here.

My Top 5 Mood-Boosting Foods

I take eating for my mental health seriously. I don’t prescribe to a specific diet or style of eating, but there are numerous studies out there showing that food IS mood. For those of us who fight a mood disorder of any kind, the way we eat can impact brain health.

Because our gut microbiome produces necessary neurotransmitters like dopamine and GABA, plus 90% of our mood neurotransmitter serotonin, what we digest in our gut matters. What we feed our gut impacts what our brain receives.

Not all things will be digested equally by all people. Every BODY is unique, just like every brain is unique. But generally speaking, the foods I list here can be a wonderful addition to any body and brain!

Here are 5 of my favorite mood-boosters that I always try to add to my day:

Continue reading “My Top 5 Mood-Boosting Foods”

Homemade Bone Broth for Beginners

My latest obsession is something that has been around a long time. It’s not a supplement, a special drink, or an exotic superfood. It’s something my ancestors most likely consumed all the time, yet is sadly missing from the modern American diet.

Bone broth.

Specifically, beef bone broth made from grass fed beef marrow bones. You can use chicken bones as well (it’s super easy to use the bones of a rotisserie chicken), but beef is so nutrient dense, packed with healing amino acids and minerals, and the flavor is so hearty, that I prefer using beef.

The health benefits of bone broth have been documented over and over again and all it takes is a Google search to read about them. But here’s a short list: improved gut health, improved detoxification, skin and hair health, immune health, bone and joint health, reduced cellulite, improved food sensitivities, better digestion, improved metabolism, cellular health, antioxidant boost, the list goes on.

Now, the following is an imaginary Q and A session for my past self, back when I thought bone broth making was complicated. But don’t be like me and buy the carton kind that doesn’t taste as good. Start making this now! Continue reading “Homemade Bone Broth for Beginners”

Nourish Hormones, Detoxify, Improve Sleep and Boost Immune Health with Esther Blum

Esther Blum is a nutrition expert I have looked up to for quite a while! She is the bestselling author of Cavewomen Don’t Get Fat, Eat Drink and Be Gorgeous, Secrets of Gorgeous, and The Eat, Drink and Be Gorgeous Project. As an Integrative Dietitian and High Performance Coach, she provides 360 degrees of healing with physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual support. She has appeared on Dr. Oz, the Today Show, A Healthy You with Carol Alt, the ISAAC show, ABC-TV, FOX- 5’s Good Day NY, and Fox News Live. Esther is also frequently quoted in E!Online, In Touch, Time Magazine, The New York Post, The Los Angeles Times, In Style, Bazaar, Self, Fitness, Marie Claire, and Cosmo.

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In this jam-packed episode of the Sparking Wholeness podcast, we discuss the following topics:

  • How to detox properly
  • How to improve hormone function
  • Why protein is essential and why you may not be eating enough
  • Why managing stress should be foundational to health
  • What does leaky gut have to do with health and how to improve it
  • The real deal with gluten
  • How to hack the immune system
  • Practical sleep tips
  • How finding wholeness starts within

You can schedule a call with Esther here, and the first 12 people who respond get a FREE consultation!

Listen to the episode on iTunes here or my show page here.

Roasting Veggies for Beginners

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Want to hear something crazy? I only started eating vegetables regularly about 9 years ago. Before that, it seemed so daunting to chop and season, and I relied on packaged meals allll the time due to lack of knowledge and insecurity around cooking. If that’s you – you’re in good company and it’s not too late to start!

I thought I’d share how I do it! It’s fast, easy, delicious – and a great way to make in bulk and have on hand throughout the next few days!

Continue reading “Roasting Veggies for Beginners”

Green Lentil Curry

I’ve been in a pantry cleaning mood lately. I didn’t say organizing. You can ask my husband – organization is NOT my skill set. But I’m trying to make use of ingredients we have hanging out in the back of the pantry. You know those things you need for a recipe, you use a tiny bit of, then you forget about them? Those things.

So when I found green lentils that, for the life of me I can’t remember what we used them for, I decided to go searching for a way to cook them.

I found the original recipe here, and apart from the green curry paste, I had all the ingredients I needed on hand – total win. I added a few different things to the recipe, took away some others, and the result is a flavorful, hearty dish that is thicker than soup but just as warming. Continue reading “Green Lentil Curry”

New Year, Same Me: And That’s Okay

The biggest transformation that happened for me this last year had nothing to do with my body and had EVERYTHING to do with how I see my body.

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January 2019 compared to January 2020 – same me, but transformed perspective!

If you want to lose weight this year, great. If you want to take a different approach to health by balancing things from the inside out, that’s something I will continue to share about in 2020.

Just remember – someone else’s before and after doesn’t tell the full story. What looks like “discipline” may actually be disordered eating. What looks like gaining weight or hitting a plateau may actually be a year of grief and stress. We can’t measure success or failure from a picture.

What’s always missing in these before and after pictures is the DURING.

Continue reading “New Year, Same Me: And That’s Okay”

Re-Focus 2020: See Yourself More Clearly

Is it time for a change?

I’m not talking about weight loss, or a new goal or resolution. I’m not talking about a diet. I’m talking about getting a new view of YOU in the new year.

You probably have heard me say it – I’m a big fan of treating the root. And as much as I love partnering with people to make healthy habits, I also believe that focusing on laying a solid foundation FIRST is key to success.

That’s why I have partnered with Christian author and body image expert Heather Creekmore to bring you a 10 day wellness group to get your mind and heart ready for the new year.

Whether your goal is to lose weight, be more mindful of what you eat, or just feel healthier physically, spiritually and emotionally – this 10 day community can help kick start your goals.

Each day I will offer strategies to personalize your nutrition and become more mindful of your eating habits. I will bring you my favorite tools for learning how to listen to your body and find what’s right for YOU!

Heather will bring strategies to help you lay a solid, spiritual foundation for improving your body image and quitting comparison. She will encourage you with ways to improve your spiritual health so that your physical goals are easier to meet.

The 10 day group will take place through a private Facebook group January 6-16. We will post daily during the 10 days, and we will be available throughout to offer you support and answer all your questions.

In addition to daily tips, challenges, and special video lessons, we’ll be giving away two gifts to thank you for participating. I will provide my “Fast Track Family Recipes” booklet and Heather is gifting you “Mountain Top Experience: A Personal Body Image Retreat.”

The price to participate in this group is only $20! Sign up here or contact me in the contact tab if you are interested!

I hope you have a happy and healthy new year!

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Healthy Holiday Sides with Carrots and Sweet Potatoes

Carrot souffle and sweet potato bake that are grain free, dairy free, and refined sugar free? Yes, please!

Now, before you head to the recipes, I have to say one quick thing. I know it’s a pain when you are looking for a recipe and the blogger spends all this time with the description and build up and pictures and you’re like, “Just get to the dang ingredients, Karen!”

But after I say this I’ll be done – and you can go on your merry way to try out these recipes.

I get annoyed with the phrase “healthy” in regards to food choices during the holidays. Holidays are celebratory, and if you’re stressing out about whether something is “healthy” or not, and you’re panicked about every ingredient in your meal, you’re less likely to be able to digest the nutrients from that meal.

Stressing about food is the opposite of health, in my opinion.

That being said, it seems to me that every year I get busier with celebrations. We have countless parties, and all of them feature lots of food and lots of alcohol. Because monitoring my mental health is always priority for me, and I will do whatever I can to fight seasonal depression, eating loads of sugar and drinking sugary alcoholic beverages can be taxing on my mental stability.

Consuming lots of sweet treats and drinking alcohol frequently during the month of December will throw off my sleep, make me less well-rested the following day, and then cause my cravings to skyrocket – perpetuating the cycle. So while I don’t want to stress about my food, I do want to be MINDFUL about what I’m choosing and how those choices will make me feel afterward. (For more on eating for mental health and my thoughts on that, check out the Sparking Wholeness podcast episode 10.)

Which leads me to the recipes.

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Continue reading “Healthy Holiday Sides with Carrots and Sweet Potatoes”