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”

Nutritional Psychiatry: Your Brain on Food

“People don’t make the connection between how they eat and how they feel emotionally through the brain. They don’t realize there is a connection to food and the brain and emotional well-being.”

Dr. Uma Naidoo is a board certified psychiatrist, professional chef, and nutrition specialist. She is the director of Nutritional and Lifestyle Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital and also on faculty at Harvard Medical School.

In this fascinating episode, we discuss her exciting new book, This Is Your Brain On Food, which I highly recommend. Listen to the entire episode and subscribe wherever you get podcasts or listen here.

Key topics of our conversation include:

  • img_0728a.wDr. Naidoo’s journey as a psychiatrist and professional chef
  • How what we eat affects our brain
  • The origin of the gut/brain connection
  • The rise of mental health concerns
  • Food to avoid for mental well-being
  • Inflammatory foods
  • Orthorexia and food obsession
  • How to add more diversity in your diet
  • The impact of caffeine and alcohol on mental health
  • So much more!

Learn more about Dr. Naidoo here.
Follow her on Instagram and Twitter at @drumanaidoo

Find her book on Amazon or your favorite bookstore. This book is so helpful and needs to be part of your mental health library!

Why a Deep Breathing Practice Impacts Your Mental Health

Are you breathing? Like, for real?

I don’t remember a lot from my Latin class in college, but I remember this one phrase: “Dum spiro, spero.” It means, “While I breathe, I hope.” This quote has been heavy on my mind in light of everything going on today.

There is so much confusion and uncertainty causing mental distress and pain. It seems as if everyone is divided, and we are required to take extreme stances for every issue. I swear, if I wrote up a post about why I love having a dog, the cat people would come after me and attack my character. Totally kidding, but do you get what I’m saying? Have you felt the same way recently? It’s like everyone is on edge and forcing each other to pick sides… but when it’s the “wrong side” – you’re cancelled.

It’s exhausting. I find myself tense and edgy as a result, quick to react instead of thoughtfully respond. It keeps me in a triggered state. It keeps me STRESSED.

Chronic stress, or being in a constant state of fight or flight, can have negative effects on our immune system, digestive function, blood sugar, blood pressure, reproductive organs, decision-making ability, empathy, and so much more!

However, a regular practice of breathwork (deep intentional breathing) has been proven, time and time again, to take our body out of chronic “fight or flight” and straight into “rest and digest” mode. When we are only taking short, shallow breathes through the mouth, we perpetuate that stressed state. I’ve recently found that wearing a mask for a long time disrupts my breathing. I start breathing through my mouth more and I begin to feel a little panicked. I know that’s no bueno for my overall health.

If you could do JUST ONE THING for your health today, can you promise me you will take a few deep breaths?  As you may know, I’m a big fan of the simple 4-7-8 approach. Breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds, hold for 7, and out through your mouth for 8. Repeat two to three times. There are excellent apps to help get you started in a regular breathing practice as well, from Headspace to Insight Timer, to faith-based apps like One Minute Pause and Abide.

For more on the importance of deep breathing and how to incoporate it into your daily life, check out my video below!

How to Break Through Trauma and Find Healing

I may sound like a broken record, but learning to handle and process trauma is such a crucial part of whole body healing. In the latest episode of the Sparking Wholeness podcast, I speak with Suzanne Simpson, owner of Renewed Life Counseling, all about the effects of trauma in our life and how to break free.

img_9649Suzanne is a Licensed Professional Counselor, Board Certified Life Coach, author, and speaker who works with people to help set them free from emotional traumas so they can live a more victorious life.

Her newest book, Lost & Restored: Healing Your Heart with the Father, is a faith-based approach to digging into your life’s events that have significantly impacted you.

In this episode, we discuss the impact of trauma, how it is stored in the cells of the body, and how to find healing through a variety of new and different modalities beyond traditional talk therapy. Continue reading “How to Break Through Trauma and Find Healing”

Thanks to PTSD, I’ll Never Be a Hero

Thanks to Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, I’ll never be a hero.

I want to. I’d like to think that I’m a person of action, and that if I witness a dangerous event I’ll jump right into rescue mode. I’m a nice woman, and I like helping.

But I can’t. Trauma keeps me from moving. Trauma keeps me frozen in place, dissociating myself from reality, stuck to the floor in cement boots.

I taught English for 11 years, so looking back, I’m glad the topic of “disaster response time” wasn’t a job interview question. I wouldn’t have passed to the next level of interviews, that’s for sure.

I remember once when I worked at a middle school, a substitute teacher passed out in a classroom down the hall from me. I heard students running down the hallway, calling for the nurse. I peeked my head out the door, knowing I needed to check and see what was going on, knowing I needed to respond. But everything started moving in slow motion. I heard cries, I heard the words “CPR,” I saw others in action. But I was frozen. I couldn’t move.

I was chained to the past.

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I was 9 years old again, listening to the cries of my mother and grandmother as they try to revive my dying grandfather. I hear my grandma shout “No Freeman!” I watch him falling out of the car to the sidewalk and onto my front lawn. I watch them get out an epi pen, perform CPR, yelling for help.

I watch his eyes roll back.

Continue reading “Thanks to PTSD, I’ll Never Be a Hero”

An Integrative Approach to Mental Health – Interview with Dr. Noshene Ranjbar

The field of psychiatry is changing as new discoveries about the brain are made. There are many pioneers using evidence-based medicine to seek out different treatments beyond traditional methods and prescription medication. While meds are definitely helpful for some and are one helpful tool in the toolbox, according to Dr. Ranjbar, “we are asking them to do what they were not made to do.”

img_9005Dr. Noshene Ranjbar is Harvard trained and board certified in General Psychiatry, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and Integrative Medicine. She serves as medical director of the Integrative Psychiatry Clinic at Banner – University of Arizona Medical Center in Tucson.

In this episode we discuss the changes in mental health approaches in the last 20 years, how integrative psychiatry is different, nervous system dysfunction, common underlying issues that impact mental wellness, as well as Dr Ranjbar’s work with refugee and American Indian communities.

Click here to listen on the show page or here on iTunes. Continue reading “An Integrative Approach to Mental Health – Interview with Dr. Noshene Ranjbar”

The Mental Health Impact of COVID-19 – Interview with Psychiatrist Dr. Amelia Villagomez

I’m so thrilled to share that we have surpassed the ONE MILLION download mark on the Sparking Wholeness podcast! So what better way to celebrate than with an episode featuring an integrative psychiatrist who discusses the mental health impact of COVID-19!?

Dr. Amelia Villagomez is an integrative psychiatrist at Progressive Psychiatry in Fort Worth, Texas. She attended medical school at Texas A&M, completed her training in General Psychiatry at Yale, and did a fellowship in Child/Adolescent Psychiatry at Harvard. To further her education in holistic healing methods, she completed a fellowship for integrative medicine at The Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine and is certified in mind-body techniques. In this interview, Dr. Villagomez addresses the top mental health concerns during this pandemic and its aftermath.

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Download the episode here or subscribe on iTunes here.

Topics addressed:

  • How children and adolescents may actually be seeing a decrease in mental health concerns during this time, which poses the question: is an international pandemic less stressful than going to school?
  • How the pandemic is forcing us to rethink current paradigms.
  • Managing uncertainties and expectations.
  • The increase in insomnia, its causes, and what to do about it.
  • How the abundance of information may be negatively impacting us, stages of disaster, and potential trauma resulting with the current season.
  • The importance of mindfulness and staying in the current moment with self compassion and self awareness.
  • Nutritional support for mental health and why your brain needs 7-9 different fruits and veggies a day.
  • Why the gut-brain connection is something we should all be talking about.
  • Why the concept of PLAY is so important for mental wellness and holistic health.

Continue reading “The Mental Health Impact of COVID-19 – Interview with Psychiatrist Dr. Amelia Villagomez”

“You Can Make a Difference in How You Feel” – Interview with Dr. James Gordon

Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. James Gordon, Harvard trained psychiatrist, Director for the Center for Mind Body Medicine, and author of the new book, The Transformation: Discovering Wholeness and Healing After Trauma.

Our conversation blew my mind on many levels. Not only is Dr. Gordon an expert on dealing with trauma, he gives practical steps for addressing trauma that anyone can do!

What follows is a short transcript of the interview highlights, but the full recording can be heard on iTunes here or my show page here Continue reading ““You Can Make a Difference in How You Feel” – Interview with Dr. James Gordon”