If you’re feeling stressed out, welcome to the club. Statistics show that stress in general, as well as extreme levels of stress, are both on the rise in the United States — and many people feel they’re simply not doing enough to manage that stress.
There are plenty of tried-and-true methods that can help people de-stress – such as exercise, socializing, and participating in hobbies – but there is one very powerful stress management technique that has slipped under the radar: adding prebiotics to the diet.
While probiotics have been getting a lot of much-deserved attention lately for their significant health benefits, prebiotics have been largely glossed over for some reason. Probiotics are the good bacteria that are found in fermented foods, whereas prebiotics serve as the food for this “good” gut bacteria. Prebiotics might be lesser known than probiotics, but they are no less powerful.
According to persuasive research from the University of Colorado Boulder, prebiotics can help manage stress by altering the structure of the brain in constructive ways.
The researchers divided three-week-old male rats into groups and gave some standard chow, while others got chow with prebiotics in it. They then measured how their diets impacted their behavior using tests such as open field tests, which assess anxiety levels by measuring how much time the animals are willing to spend in open areas. They also used EEG brain activity testing to monitor the animals’ sleep/wake cycles, as well as their gut bacteria and body temperature.
They found that not only where the supplemented animals less anxious, but they also slept better than the control group. The mice who took prebiotics spent more time in the restful and restorative non-REM sleep then those that did not take prebiotics. The researchers also say that the dietary prebiotics can improve sleep in the REM and non-REM stages after stressful events.
Adding even more significance to the findings was the fact that the regions in the brain associated with brain plasticity actually increased in size in those rats that were fed prebiotics. Even though this particular trial specifically examined brain development in young animals, the researchers say that they believe prebiotic ingredients can protect people of any age from stress.
Some good natural sources of prebiotic include artichokes, leeks, onions, raw garlic, and chicory. When gut bacteria digest the prebiotic fibers found in these food, it causes them to multiply, which has the effect of improving get health overall. It also releases byproducts that can impact brain function.
Fortunately, prebiotics are heat-resistant, which means cooking foods that contain them won’t destroy them and they will reach your intestine without being affected by the digestion process.
The prospect of getting rid of stress is probably more than enough to send you the grocery store in search of food that contains prebiotics. However, you might also like to know that they have plenty of other beneficial effects for your body. For example, because they improve the gut microbiome, they can help combat constipation and diarrhea, prevent inflammatory bowel disease, help with intestinal cell detoxification, and increase nutrient absorption.
One particular type of prebiotic called resistant starch has been shown to help stabilize blood glucose levels, reduce appetite, encourage weight loss, and increase sensitivity to insulin. However, it’s important to keep in mind at this only applies to natural resistant starches and not those made with chemical processes. Resistant starch can be found in unripe bananas and plantains; potatoes and legumes that have been cooked and then cooled; potato starch; and cassava powder.
Adopting a healthy habit to help manage stress is a win-win situation for your mind and your body.
Dr. Valerie Taylor is originally from Boxey, a small town on Newfoundland’s south coast. (Provided by Valerie Taylor)
Groundbreaking research by a scientist originally from Newfoundland’s south coast could broaden treatment options for mental illness — thanks to fecal transplants.
Dr. Valerie Taylor, head of psychiatry at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto, is studying how gut health could affect mental illness symptoms.
The research is the first to potentially link gut bacteria to bipolar disorder, but it’s part of a growing area of investigation that examines how the bacteria that live inside our digestive systems might affect our mental health.
Taylor’s potentially groundbreaking research relies on a medical treatment that might make some squeamish: fecal transplants.
‘An aha moment’
Taylor’s path to the unusual treatment wasn’t as winding as the small intestine, and actually came to her through direct experience with a patient.
She and a patient of hers struggled because she was unable to find a treatment that relieved the symptoms of his mental illness. While the patient was being treated with antibiotics for pneumonia, she noticed that those symptoms were decreasing — and that they unfortunately returned once the antibiotic treatment ended.
Scientists use donated stool to make a filtrate, or a slurry of sorts, out of feces, similar to this one made to treat C. difficile. (Maureen Taylor)
“For both of us it was sort of an aha moment,” Taylor, originally from Boxey, N.L., told the St. John’s Morning Show.
“What’s going on that an antibiotic that fights bacteria seems to be helping with his symptoms of depression?”
When she began researching the idea she found that there was interesting research done in animals, mainly rats and mice, showing that altering the bacterial flora in their digestive systems could, for example, make them anxious when they were not previously, or alleviate depression. It made Taylor curious about what the results would be like in humans.
“Humans aren’t rats or mice so we may not see the same things, but we thought that it was really worth looking into.”
Going straight to the source
It’s not advisable to give someone a particular antibiotic over the long term without an infection to fight, because it can lead to antibiotic resistance, Taylor said.
That meant changing the bacteria where it lives.
“We decided to go straight to the source, in that we’re interested in the [gastrointestinal] system,” Taylor said.
“So what we’re doing is a process called fecal transfer, which is exactly what you think it is.”
Taylor is chief of psychiatry at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto. (Ben Rahn/A-Frame)
For a fecal transfer, a carefully screened, healthy person donates stool, which is then prepared in an infectious disease lab into a filtrate.
The prepared stool is injected into the gastrointestinal tract of the patient in a sort-of reverse colonoscopy.
Taylor’s study will monitor those patients to see if changing the bacteria in the GI system by introducing healthy bacteria actually has an impact on mental health outcomes.
Valuable results either way
The idea of a fecal transplant may sound strange, but there is interest in this research, said Taylor, who has received inquiries from people around the world who want to be part of the study.
“I think it speaks to the fact that a lot of the medication treatments that we have for mental illness don’t work very well for a lot of people, and people are desperately ill,” she said.
Worldwide, depression is the leading cause of ill health and disability, and anxiety is the most common mental illness in the U.S.
In the U.S., more than 16 million people struggle with depression, and 1 in 4 women in their 40s and 50s are on antidepressant drugs. Up to 14 percent of pregnant women are also on antidepressants, despite the risk of birth defects
There are compelling links between a high-sugar, processed food diet and poor mental health outcomes, and studies investigating the connection between obesity and mental health add further support to the diet-depression link
Studies have shown women with abdominal obesity are at increased risk of anxiety and depression
On the whole, a diet that nourishes your gut microbiome, reduces insulin resistance and optimizes mitochondrial function — such as a cyclical ketogenic diet — is going to have a beneficial impact on both your physical and mental health
By Dr. Mercola
Depression and anxiety are two leading mental health problems that have seen a dramatic rise in incidence in recent years. Worldwide, depression is now the leading cause of ill health and disability,1,2 with rates rising 18 percent in the decade between 2005 and 2015.3
In the U.S., more than 16 million people struggle with the condition, and 1 in 4 women in their 40s and 50s are on antidepressant drugs.4 This, despite the fact that antidepressants have been proven to work no better than placebo.5,6,7,8 Eight9 to 14 percent10 of pregnant women are also on antidepressants, even though studies have linked their use during pregnancy to birth defects.11
Meanwhile, data from the National Institute of Mental Health suggests the prevalence of anxiety disorders — which include generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety and panic disorder — may be as high as 40 million in the U.S. — about 18 percent of the population over the age of 18 — making it the most common mental illness in the nation,12,13 and 800 percent more prevalent than all forms of cancer.14
As described by Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love, panic attacks — which are on the more severe end of the anxiety spectrum — can occur “out of nowhere” without warning.15 Love had his first panic attack during a game against the Atlanta Hawks, and has since spoken out about this particular mental health challenge to break the stigma and encourage others to seek treatment.
Abdominal Obesity Linked to Depression
Just what might account for this remarkable rise in anxiety and depression? I’ve previously written about the compelling links between a high-sugar, processed food diet and poor mental health outcomes, and studies investigating the connection between obesity and mental health add further support to the diet-depression link. As noted in Prevent Disease:16
“Abdominal fat distribution (as measured by waist-hip ratio) appears to be a key mediator in the relationship between obesity and depression … Several studies have found that a disproportionate number of patients with mental illness are obese compared to the general population. A study17 comprising randomly selected outpatients receiving psychiatric care in Maryland found that their body mass index was almost twice that of the comparison group.”
Another more recent study18 looking at body fat distribution and depression found very similar results. Postmenopausal women who had abdominal obesity were significantly more likely to struggle with depression than not (37.6 percent versus 27.5 percent respectively), leading the researchers to conclude that “visceral fat accumulation was an independent and positive factor significantly associated with the presence of depressive symptoms.”
How Your Waist Size Influences Your Anxiety Risk
A third paper,19,20 published earlier this month, found a woman’s waist-to-height ratio was associated with anxiety. This was the first time this body measurement has been linked to anxiety specifically. As a general rule, a woman is considered obese if her waist measurement is more than half of her height measurement.
Data from 5,580 Latin American women between the ages of 40 and 59 were evaluated. Overall, those with waist-to-height ratios in the middle and upper thirds were at significantly higher risk for anxiety than those with less abdominal obesity. Those with the greatest abdominal obesity were also the most likely to actually exhibit outward signs of anxiety. As reported in the featured article:21
“Anxiety is a concern because it is linked to heart disease, diabetes, thyroid problems, respiratory disorders and drug abuse, among other documented medical problems. Research has shown an increase in the frequency of anxiety in women during midlife, likely as a result of decreased levels of estrogen, which has a neuroprotective role.
‘Hormone changes may be involved in the development of both anxiety and abdominal obesity because of their roles in the brain as well as in fat distribution. This study provides valuable insights for health care providers treating middle-aged women, because it implies that waist-to-height ratio could be a good marker for evaluating patients for anxiety,’ says Dr. JoAnn Pinkerton, [North American Menopause Society] executive director.”
Insulin Resistance Is a Major Factor in Mental Health
Insulin resistance is a driving factor not only in obesity but also in most chronic diseases, and based on the evidence, it’s clear it plays a significant role in your mental health as well. After all, your physical and psychological health are closely linked. For example, your vagus nerve connects your gut to your brain, which is why gut dysfunction can wreak such havoc on your psychological states.
On the whole, any diet that nourishes your gut microbiome, reduces insulin resistance and optimizes mitochondrial function — such as a cyclical ketogenic diet — is going to have a beneficial impact on both your physical and mental health. A key dietary culprit that does none of those beneficial things is sugar, and research has repeatedly found that high-sugar diets encourage depression and anxiety. Among them:
Research22 published in 2002, which correlated per capita consumption of sugar with prevalence of major depression in six countries, found “a highly significant correlation between sugar consumption and the annual rate of depression.”
In 2011, Spanish researchers linked depression specifically to consumption of baked goods. Those who ate the most baked goods had a 38 percent higher risk of depression than those who ate the least.23
A 2016 study24 found a strong link between diets high in processed foods, sweetened beverages and refined grains and depression in post-menopausal women. The higher a woman’s dietary glycemic index, the higher her risk of depression. Meanwhile, diets high in whole fruit, fiber, vegetables and lactose were associated with lowered odds of depression.
A 2017 study found that men who consumed more than 67 grams of sugar per day were 23 percent more likely to develop anxiety or depression over the course of five years compared to those who ate less than 40 grams of sugar per day.25
The Importance of Healthy Dietary Fats for Brain Health
Most notably, high-sugar, processed food diets promote insulin resistance, which in turn encourages fat accumulation and Type 2 diabetes. According to work by the late Dr. Joseph Kraft, author of “Diabetes Epidemic and You: Should Everyone Be Tested?” 80 percent — 8 out of 10 — Americans are in fact insulin resistant.26,27 It’s no wonder then that conditions rooted in insulin resistance — including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, depression and anxiety — are all skyrocketing.
Sugar is also incredibly inflammatory, and chronic inflammation has also been identified as a major factor in depression. Some believe it’s causative.28,29,30 The inflammatory cascade triggered by excessive amounts of sugar also damage your mitochondria. Your mitochondria generate the vast majority of the energy (adenosine triphosphate or ATP) in your body.
When your body uses sugar as its primary fuel, excessive reactive oxygen species (ROS) and secondary free radicals are created, which damage cellular mitochondrial membranes and DNA. Needless to say, as your mitochondria become dysfunctional, the cellular energy your body can produce goes down, which means your entire body will struggle to work properly, including your brain. Since your brain is a heavy energy feeder, even a small dip will result in impaired function that can translate into depressed mood.
Healthy dietary fats, on the other hand, create far fewer ROS and free radicals when burned for fuel. Fats are also critical for the health of cellular membranes and many other biological functions, especially the functioning of your brain. This is one of several reasons why a cyclical ketogenic diet is so beneficial for your mental health. In fact, mental clarity is often one of the first “side effects” people notice when going ketogenic.
Nutrition to the Rescue
While anxiety and depression can be triggered by any number of factors, there’s ample evidence to support the idea that your diet can have a tremendous impact, as it lays the groundwork for your physical and mental functioning. For this reason, it would be foolish to ignore it.
Again, one of the root contributors to depression is insulin resistance, which brings inflammation in its wake. The good news is that insulin resistance is an easily corrected health problem, and I detail the dietary protocol for this in my book “Fat for Fuel.” Here are a few key points to remember:
• Dramatically reduce your sugar intake by replacing processed foods with real whole foods. Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables is associated with lower odds of depression and anxiety,31 an effect ascribed to antioxidants that help combat inflammation.
Certain nutrients are also known to cause symptoms of depression when lacking, so it’s important to eat a varied whole food diet. As a general rule, if you’re insulin resistant, limit your added sugar intake to 15 grams per day until your insulin resistance has resolved. At that point, you can go up to 25 grams.
• Replace sugar and grain carbs with healthy fats. Examples include avocados, grass fed meats, pastured butter, organic pastured eggs, coconut oil, MCT oil, raw cacao butter and raw nuts. To learn more, see the beginner’s section of my nutritional plan.
Most people need anywhere from 60 to 80 percent of their daily calories in the form of healthy fats. Just be sure to avoid vegetable oils, such as soy, canola and corn oil, which are toxic to the human body. Dr. Cate Shanahan’s book “Deep Nutrition” provides an in-depth review of dietary fats and how processed vegetable oils harm your health.
• Limit protein to 0.5 grams per pound of lean body mass (or for the Europeans: 1 gram per kilo of lean body mass). In addition to stimulating mTOR, protein also affects your insulin and leptin. Dietary fats do not affect either. As a result, a low-carb, high-protein diet may still be troublesome if you’re struggling with obesity, insulin resistance or diabetes. To learn more about the importance of protein restriction, see “Precision Matters When It Comes to Protein.”
• Consider intermittent fasting and/or multiday water-only fasts, which will jump-start your body’s ability to burn fat for fuel and dramatically improve your insulin sensitivity. Water fasting can be particularly powerful if you’re obese. However, it’s significantly easier to transition into water fasting if you start with intermittent fasting.
Once you’ve worked your way up to the point where you’ve been intermittently fasting for 20 hours a day for a month, then doing a four or five-day water fast will not be particularly difficult.
Nondrug Solutions for Depression and Anxiety Disorders
Remember, to suggest that depression is rooted in poor diet and other lifestyle factors does not detract from the fact that it’s a serious problem that needs to be addressed with compassion and nonjudgment. It simply shifts the conversation about what the most appropriate answers and remedies are. Considering the many hazards associated with antidepressants, it would be wise to address the known root causes of depression, which are primarily lifestyle-based.
Drugs, even when they do work, do not actually fix the problem. They only mask it. Antidepressants may also worsen the situation, as many are associated with an increased risk of suicide, violence and worsened mental health in the long term. So, before you resort to medication, please consider addressing your diet (above) and try out several of the lifestyle strategies listed below until you find a combination that works for you.
Limit microwave exposure from wireless technologies
Studies have linked excessive exposure to electromagnetic fields to an increased risk of both depression and suicide.32 Addiction to or “high engagement” with mobile devices can also trigger depression and anxiety.33 Research34 by Martin Pall, Ph.D., helps explain why these technologies can have such a potent impact on your mental health.
Embedded in your cell membranes are voltage gated calcium channels (VGCCs), which are activated by microwaves. When that happens, about 1 million calcium ions per second are released, which triggers a biochemical cascade that results in mitochondrial dysfunction.
Your brain, along with the pacemaker in your heart, has the highest density of VGCCs of the organs in your body, which is why Alzheimer’s, autism, anxiety, depression appears to be strongly linked to excessive microwave exposure.
So, if you struggle with anxiety or depression, be sure to limit your exposure to wireless technology. Simple measures include turning your Wi-Fi off at night and, carrying your cellphone on your body, and not keeping portable phones, cellphones and other electric devices in your bedroom.
Get regular exercise
Studies have shown there is a strong correlation between improved mood and aerobic capacity. Exercising creates new GABA-producing neurons that help induce a natural state of calm. It also boosts your levels of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, which help buffer the effects of stress.
Animal research also suggests exercise can benefit your mental health by allowing your body to eliminate kynurenine, a harmful protein associated with depression.35
Spend more time outdoors
Spending time in nature has been shown to lower stress, improve mood and significantly reduce symptoms of depression.36 Outdoor activities could be just about anything, from walking a nature trail to gardening, or simply taking your exercise outdoors.
Listen to nature sounds
Nature sounds have a distinct and powerful effect on your brain, lowering fight-or-flight instincts, activating your rest-and-digest autonomic nervous system,37,38,39 and produce brain activity associated with outward-directed focus, a trait associated with a lower risk for depression and anxiety.
Previous research has also demonstrated that listening to nature sounds help you recover faster after a stressful event. So, seek out parks, or create a natural sanctuary on your balcony, or indoors using plants and an environmental sound machine. YouTube also has a number of very long videos of natural sounds. You could simply turn it on and leave it on while you’re indoors.
Practice proper breathing
The way you breathe is intricately connected to your mental state. I’ve previously published interviews with Patrick McKeown, a leading expert on the Buteyko Breathing Method, where he explains how breathing affects your mind, body and health.
According to Buteyko, the founder of the method, anxiety is triggered by an imbalance between gases in your body, specifically the ratio between carbon dioxide (CO2) and oxygen. Your breathing affects the ratio of these gases, and by learning proper breathing techniques, you can quite literally breathe your way into a calmer state of mind.
Here’s a Buteyko breathing exercise that can help quell anxiety. This sequence helps retain and gently accumulate CO2, leading to calmer breathing and reduced anxiety. In other words, the urge to breathe will decline as you go into a more relaxed state.
Take a small breath into your nose, a small breath out; hold your nose for five seconds in order to hold your breath, and then release to resume breathing.
Breathe normally for 10 seconds.
Repeat the sequence several more times: small breath in through your nose, small breath out; hold your breath for five seconds, then let go and breathe normally for 10 seconds.
Get plenty of restorative sleep
Sleep and depression are so intimately linked that a sleep disorder is actually part of the definition of the symptom complex that gives the label depression. Ideally, get eight hours of sleep each night, and address factors that impede good sleep.
Address negative emotions
I believe it’s helpful to view depression as a sign that your body and life are out of balance, rather than as a disease. It’s a message telling you you’ve veered too far off course, and you need to regain your balance. One of the ways to do this involves addressing negative emotions that may be trapped beneath your level of awareness. My favorite method of emotional cleansing is Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), a form of psychological acupressure.
Research shows EFT significantly increases positive emotions and decreases negative emotional states.40,41,42 It’s particularly powerful for treating anxiety because it specifically targets your amygdala and hippocampus, parts of your brain that help you decide whether or not something is a threat.43
For serious or complex issues, seek out a qualified health care professional that is trained in EFT44 to help guide you through the process. That said, for most of you with depression symptoms, this is a technique you can learn to do effectively on your own. In the video below, EFT practitioner Julie Schiffman shows how you can use EFT to relieve symptoms of depression.
Optimize your gut health
Your mental health is closely linked to your gut health. A number of studies have confirmed gastrointestinal inflammation can play a critical role in the development of depression.45 Optimizing your gut flora will also help regulate a number of neurotransmitters and mood-related hormones, including GABA and corticosterone, resulting in reduced anxiety and depression-related behavior.46
To nourish your gut microbiome, be sure to eat plenty of fresh vegetables and traditionally fermented foods. Healthy choices include fermented vegetables, lassi, kefir and natto. If you do not eat fermented foods on a regular basis, taking a high-quality probiotic supplement is recommended.
Optimize your vitamin D with sensible sun exposure
Studies have shown vitamin D deficiency can predispose you to depression, and that depression can respond favorably to optimizing your vitamin D stores, ideally by getting sensible sun exposure.47,48,49
In one such study, people with a vitamin D level below 20 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL) had an 85 percent increased risk of depression compared to those with a level greater than 30 ng/mL.50 For optimal health, you’ll want to make sure your vitamin D level is between 60 and 80 ng/mL year-round, so be sure to get a vitamin D test at least twice a year.
Optimize your omega-3
The animal-based omega-3 fat DHA is perhaps the single most important nutrient for optimal brain function and prevention of depression. While you can obtain DHA from krill or fish oil, it is far better to obtain it from clean, low-mercury fish such as wild Alaskan salmon, sardines, herring, anchovies and fish roe.
In addition to getting your vitamin D checked, I recommend getting an omega-3 index test to make sure you’re getting enough. Ideally, you want your omega-3 index to be 8 percent or higher.
Make sure your cholesterol levels aren’t too low for optimal mental health
Low cholesterol is linked to dramatically increased rates of suicide, as well as aggression toward others.51 This increased expression of violence toward self and others may be due to the fact that low membrane cholesterol decreases the number of serotonin receptors in the brain, which are approximately 30 percent cholesterol by weight.
Lower serum cholesterol concentrations therefore may contribute to decreasing brain serotonin, which not only contributes to suicidal-associated depression, but prevents the suppression of aggressive behavior and violence toward self and others.
Increase your vitamin B intake
Low dietary folate is a risk factor for severe depression, raising your risk by as much as 300 percent.52,53 If using a supplement, I suggest methylfolate, as this form of folic acid is the most effective. Other B vitamin deficiencies, including B1, B2, B3, B6, B8 and B12 also have the ability to produce symptoms of neuropsychiatric disorders. Vitamin B12 deficiency, in particular, can contribute to depression and affects 1 in 4 people.
A number of herbs and supplements can be used in lieu of drugs to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. These include:
St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum). This medicinal plant has a long historical use for depression, and is thought to work similarly to antidepressants, raising brain chemicals associated with mood such as serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline.54
S-Adenosyl methionine (SAMe). SAMe is an amino acid derivative that occurs naturally in all cells. It plays a role in many biological reactions by transferring its methyl group to DNA, proteins, phospholipids and biogenic amines. Several scientific studies indicate that SAMe may be useful in the treatment of depression.
5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP). 5-HTP is another natural alternative to traditional antidepressants. When your body sets about manufacturing serotonin, it first makes 5-HTP. Taking 5-HTP as a supplement may raise serotonin levels. Evidence suggests 5-HTP outperforms a placebo when it comes to alleviating depression,55 which is more than can be said about antidepressants.
XingPiJieYu. This Chinese herb, available from doctors of traditional Chinese medicine, has been found to reduce the effects of “chronic and unpredictable stress,” thereby lowering your risk of depression.56
“The gut is the epicenter of our health, and its functioning affects most, if not all, other aspects in the body,” explains Frank Lipman, MD, author of How to Be Well and founder of Be Well. A greater understanding of both mental illness and microbiome interactions has lead scientists to study the relationship between the two systems, and there’s mounting evidence that supports a link between gut health and anxiety. With this continually growing and evolving information, you may soon be on your way to treating mental illness with proper nutrition. Ahead, Lipman explains how gut health and anxiety may be linked and what foods you should eat to take advantage of this connection.
Gut Health and Anxiety
“More and more, we are seeing the direct correlation between gut health and mood,” says Lipman. This is because the gut produces neurotransmitters and hormones that can affect a person’s mood. “If these bugs are compromised in any way, the production of these neurotransmitters and hormones will also be compromised and will affect how we function and how we feel,” he says.
There are multiple scientific studies that back up these statements. A 2016 study conducted by Emily Deans, MD, at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital at Harvard Medical School looked into the role of microbiota in mental health. According to the study, the modern microbiome is drastically different than that of human ancestors due to diet, antibiotic exposure, and differences in the environment. All of this may contribute to changes in brain health.
In 2015, researchers tested theories about gut health and mood on people. They gave healthy participants without mood disorders a four-week probiotic food supplement. Compared to those who received a placebo, participants who took the probiotic had a significantly reduced reactivity to sad moods. Researchers concluded that these results were evidence that probiotics could reduce negative thoughts associated with sad mood.
Additionally, a 2017 study performed on mice concluded that the microbiome is necessary for balancing gene regulators in the brain known as miRNAs. Its findings were based on observations of mice living in germ-free environments that ended up with unusual amounts of anxiety. After researchers reintroduced gut bacteria to the mice, the gene regulators normalized, proving that probiotics could be necessary for maintaining mental health.
Maintaining a Healthy Gut
So how do you keep your gut health in check? “Generally speaking, a diet filled with a variety of real, whole foods is ideal for supporting gut function,” says Lipman. That means green, leafy vegetables, healthy fats, and quality protein like well-sourced animal proteins, wild-caught fish, beans, and lentils.
“Sadly, the Standard America Diet is the epitome of foods that should be avoided for gut health, brain health, energy, and everything in between,” Lipman explains. In order to keep your gut in top condition, you’ll want to avoid processed and packaged foods that contain preservatives, coloring, and sweeteners. Lipman also advises steering clear of sugar, gluten, nonorganic soy, factory-farmed meats and dairy, processed vegetable oils, and even some gluten-free grains.
Gut Health Red Flags
“The most common signs of gut problems present as digestive issues,” shares Lipman. If you think you may have an imbalance in your gut that could be impacting your mental health, look out for symptoms like bloating, gas, constipation, loose stool, digestive discomfort, and heartburn. There are also less obvious symptoms like skin irritations, joint pain, foggy thinking, imbalanced mood, and fatigue. “If someone is feeling like that they are not functioning optimally and that they should be feeling better, they probably could be, and the gut is often a great place to start,” Lipman says.
“Although diet can be extremely helpful for some, it is not the answer for everyone,” Lipman says. When a change in diet just isn’t enough, there are supplements that can be used to improve the balance of bacteria in your gut. “Probiotics can also be extremely beneficial, as they constantly inoculate our gut with the beneficial bacteria that support proper gut function.”
While there’s not yet evidence that proves a healthy diet can cure all mental health issues or that food alone is an effective form of treatment for anxiety or depression, focusing on nurturing your gut health isn’t a bad place to start. Turn to natural, whole foods packed with powerful nutrients to keep your gut healthy so your mind can heal, too.
The relatively recent discovery of the microbiome is not only completely redefining what it means to be human, to have a body, to live on this earth, but is overturning belief systems and institutions that have enjoyed global penetrance for centuries.
A paradigm shift has occurred, so immense in implication, that the entire frame of reference for our species’ self-definition, as well as how we relate fundamentally to concepts like “germs,” have been transformed beyond recognition. This shift is underway and yet, despite popular interest in our gut ecology, the true implications remain unacknowledged.
It started with the discovery of the microbiome, a deceptively diminutive term, referring to an unfathomably complex array of microscopic microorganisms together weighing only 3-4 lbs. in the average human, represents a Copernican revolution when it comes to forming the new center, genetically and epigenetically, of what it means in biological terms to be human.
Considering the sheer density of genetic information contained within these commensals, as well as their immense contribution towards sustaining basic functions like digestion, immunity, and brain function, the “microbiome” could just as well be relabeled the “macrobiome”; that is, if we are focusing on the size of its importance rather than physical dimensionality.
For instance, if you take away the trillions of viruses, bacteria and fungi that coexist with our human cells (the so-called holobiont), only 1% of the genetic material that keeps us ticking, and has for hundreds of millions of years, remains. One percent isn’t that much for the ego to work with, especially considering it now has to thank what were formerly believed to be mostly “infectious agents” for the fact that it exists. Even more perplexing, the remaining 1% of our contributed DNA to the collective gene pool of the holobiont is at least 8% retroviral (yes, the same category as HIV) in origin!
Us Against Them?
Once the object of modern medicine’s fundamental responsibility – the human body – is redefined and/or perceived with greater veracity, and “germs” become less other and more self, a challenge for germ theory which seeks to differentiate between the “good” germs we are versus the “bad” ones out there that we must fight with antibiotics and vaccines.
As many readers are already poignantly aware, today’s political climate and agenda is unilaterally pro-vaccination on both sides of the aisle (conveniently funded by the same industry lobbyists), with a tidal wave of bills across the U.S. set to eliminate exemptions against mandatory vaccination. The rationale, of course, is that deadly germs can only be prevented from killing the presumably germ-free host through injecting dead, weakened or genetically modified germ components to “prevent” theoretical future exposures and infection. This concept is of course intellectually infantile, and if you do some investigating you’ll find it was never quite grounded in compelling evidence or science.
But the intellectual implications of the microbiome go even deeper than undermining germ theory, vaccine policy, and the culture of medical monotheism that upholds these constructs…
Maternal Origins of Health and Ultimately our Species Identity
Deep within the substratum of humanity’s largely unquestioned assumptions of what it means to be human, the microbiome has also fundamentally displaced a latent patriarchal prejudice concerning the relative importance and contribution of the man and woman towards the health and ultimately the continuation of our species.
It has been known for some time that only women pass down mitochondrial DNA, already tipping the scales in favor of her dominant position in contributing genetic information (the seat of our humanity or species identity, no?) to offspring. The microbiome, however, changes everything in favor of amplifying this asymmetry of hereditary influence. Since we are all designed to gestate in the womb and come through the birth canal, and since the neonate’s microbiome is therein derived and established thereof, it follows that most of our genetic information as holobionts is maternal in origin. Even when the original colonization eventually changes and is displaced through environmentally-acquired microbial strains as the infant, child, adolescent, and then adult, develops, the original terrain and subsequent trajectory of changes was established through the mother (unless of course we were C-sectioned into the world).
Put in simpler terms: if 99% of what it means to be human is microbiome-based, and if the mother contributes most, if not all, of the original starting material, or at least the baseline and trajectory of future changes in the inner terrain, then her contribution becomes vastly more important than that of the father.
Moreover, the conditions surrounding gestation (important because of maternal-to-fetal microbiome trafficking in utero), her general health, and the way in which she gives birth (home, birth center, or hospital) now take on vastly greater importance than previously imagined. In other words, being born in a hospital via C-section and vaccination, will produce, genetically and epigenetically, a human that is so different – qualitatively – from one born at home, naturally, that they could almost be classified as different species, despite sharing nearly identical eukaryotic DNA (remember, only 1% of the holobiont’s total).
The Scientific Inevitability of Birth Feminism
Given this perspective, obstetric interventions are the archetypal expression of a male-dominated paradigm that seeks to manage a woman’s birth experience with largely unacknowledged consequences for the health of our species. Protecting health and preventing disease has now been traced back to the origins of the microbiome, best expressed through natural birth in the home, which has been estimated to be as much as 1,000 times safer than a hospital birth despite propaganda to the contrary.
In light of the new, microbiome-based view, the male role in protecting the health of women and children will be irrevocably downgraded in importance, not just professionally and medically, but biologically. First, it is interesting to look at the ancient roots of the biology-based psychospiritual disparities that exist between men and women, and which still influence today’s practice of medicine.
It would appear that men have from the beginning of time envied the creative role of women in conception, pregnancy, birth and caretaking. Erich Fromm also described the pyschospiritual implications for men of this biologically-based existential disparity in terms of the phenomena of womb-envy, exemplified by the biblical passage where God takes a rib from Adam to “create” Eve – an obvious reversal of the natural order of things, reflecting the inherent impotence men feel knowing their creative potency is secondary importance. It has been said, rightly, that the most powerful thing in the universe is to create life (is this not why we attribute this to “God”), and the second most powerful thing to take it. It is no coincidence that history, since it’s inception as recorded, is largely a documentation of the history of wars, of men “creating meaning” by killing men, and establishing symbol systems intended to capture by proxy the creative power latent within every woman’s body and experience. And so, 10,000 years later, the world ruled by monotheistic, male-principled religious and cultural systems, both in secular and religious form, it seems that the facts of our biology are now intervening to shake up these largely subconscious belief systems in favor of an ancient truth: women are superior to men, fundamentally. (Though it is not a type of superiority to be used against the “weaker sex”: men, rather but to denote a higher responsibility, and perhaps greater need to be supported by men to get the job done, together, as inscribed in the natural order of things and its inherent design.)
The birth process, also, has been described as the closest thing to death without dying (it is ironic that anesthesiology, which could also be described in the same way, makes obstetrical interventions like C-section and epidural possible, at the same moment that it negates the spiritual experience of natural birth/women’s empowerment we are describing), offering women a window into the ‘in between’ and a direct experience of Source that men, less likely to experience it naturally would later emulate and access through the various technologies of shamanism.
Clearly, protecting the microbiome is of utmost importance if we are making the health of our future generations a priority. Indeed, ensuring the health of our offspring is perhaps the most fundamental evolutionary imperative we have. How do we accomplish this? What is the microbiome but ultimately a selective array of commensal microorganisms that ultimately originated from the environment: in the air we breath, the soil we interact with, and the water and food, of course, we ingest. This means we can’t simply live in a hermetically sealed bubble of shopping for organic, non-GMO certified foods at Whole Foods, while the entire planet continues to go to post-industrial hell in a hand basket. Our responsibility becomes distributed across everything in the world, and every impactful choice then becomes relevant to the fundamental issue and imperative at hand. With the microbial biodiversity in Big Ag, GM-based agricultural zones fire-bombed with biocides, by the very same corporations that either own or distribute the “organic brands” we all love to think will save our bodies, if not the planet, we need to step deeper into our activism by stepping out of the diversions and palliative measures that don’t result in lasting change.
When we work with the natural world, when we honor and acknowledge what is unknown about the complex web that we all share, we will bring back a vital health that now seems so far out of reach. When we engage technologies positioned in the war against germs and organisms, however, we are doomed to fail and to cripple not only our species but our home.
Considering the high rate of wheat consumption, one wouldn’t suspect that the wheat industry has created a massive problem. Yet, looking at the facts surrounding this industry and this food source will give you pause.
The documentary What’s With Wheat examines the dynamics that shaped modern wheat and the business around it. It offers insights from many experts in the field who’ve conducted extensive research to help you understand why wheat has become so problematic for many people. The film gives unprecedented details of why wheat may be one of the key reasons behind many health issues.
The Wheat Dilemma
Wheat has transformed dramatically since the inception of modern industrial agriculture. Almost everything about wheat has changed. The way it’s raised, the hybridization, the way it’s processed, and the amount that we’re eating.
These changes have done little good when it comes to the environment and our health. First of all, through modern chemical farming, the food industry has destroyed the nutritional value of the wheat plant. In addition, the overuse of agrochemicals is slowly destroying our soil.
“Chemical fertilization leaves your foods and your crops deficient in vital minerals trace elements, micronutirents, because the soil is not getting those nutrients. Your soil is becoming desertified.” ~ Dr. Vandana Shiva, activist and author of Who Really Feeds the World
Furthermore, due to our over-consumption of wheat, we are also destroying the body’s ability to digest it. As a result, many people are now faced with insidious health problems. Often, it takes them years to realize that wheat is to blame.
“At a time as our diets are getting more and more nutrient void, and richer and richer in inflammatory compound, we are creating a perfect storm of events for chronic illness.” ~ Sarah Ballantyne, Ph. D., Health Advocate
Role of the Chemical Industry
Modern wheat wouldn’t be what it is today without the chemical industry.
The agrochemical revolution really started after World War II. At that time, corporations that produced chemicals for warfare needed a new market, and the agricultural industry was the perfect fit.
Sadly, instead of focusing their efforts to make plants healthier, the chemical producers focused on the yield of the plant.
With wheat in particular, they were definitely effective. Today, we have a pervasive abundance of wheat. It is heavily subsidized, making it a cheap ingredient available for food products.
In support of the wheat industry, corporations and politicians have effectively sold the public on the idea that wheat needs to be an important part of our diet.
“690 million tons of wheat that are produced every year indicate just how much money is at stake. This is a very difficult time for those who are more concerned about the truth and about what’s best for our health, versus the powers that be, who don’t want people to know the truth about wheat.” ~ Sayer Ji, Founder of GreenMedInfo
This abundance of modern wheat means that the plant and the byproducts of its production are now used to make many products. We are most familiar with wheat in foods such as breads and pastas. But, it is also present in food additives, preservatives, flavorings, cosmetics, personal care products, supplements, medications, and drinks.
One of the most popular chemicals used in wheat production is glyphosate, branded as Roundup. Interestingly, it is also the most contested. Regardless of countless red flags surrounding its safety, glyphosate use has increased multi-fold over the last few decades.
In 1990, wheat crop in the U.S. was sprayed with over 497,000 pounds of glyphosate. In 2014, this increased 35-fold, to over 17.7 million pounds sprayed just in that one year. (source)
Glyphosate is, of course, just one of the chemicals that producers spray on wheat fields. In fact, farmers typically use chemicals as many as ten times during the growing process. This includes sprays they put on seeds to make them sprout. Hormone sprays are used to make the stalks strong and to make the plants seed at the same time. Furthermore, fumigants are used during the warehousing stage. Finally, producers will use even more chemicals during the food processing stage to speed up the production process.
“The same things that protect wheat from insects and disease, are the same things that are the most inflammatory for our bodies.” ~ Cindi O’Meara, Nutritionist and founder of Changing Habits
Effect on the Microbiome
Today’s methods of growing wheat and producing wheat foods are creating a host of health problems for many people.
Many scientists believe that part of the problem stems from modern wheat’s effect on the gut microbiome.
The microbiome is a group of organisms that help us get the nutrition that we need. They help make vital nutrients and enable proper digestion of food. In addition, these beneficial bacteria support immune system function and the production of neurotransmitters.
“Glyphosate wreaks havoc on our microbiome. It inhibits our ability to have access to certain minerals, because it acts as a chelating agent. And it down regulates our ability to utilize Vitamin D.” ~ David Perlmutter, MD, neurologist and author of Grain Brain
As a result of increased wheat consumption, many people’s gastrointestinal track does not function properly. Consequently, the microbiome becomes less effective and more hostile.
Have you ever considered why non-celiac gluten sensitivity is more common now than ever before? Many researchers into the wheat dilemma believe it’s because of modern wheat and its chemicals.
Non-celiac gluten sensitivity can manifest itself into stomach aches, regurgitation, acid reflux, chronic constipation, chronic diarrhea, headaches, joint pain, irritability, attention deficit syndrome, etc. Because of the wide variety of symptoms, doctors have a difficult time diagnosing gluten sensitivity. As well, there is no way to test for it.
The problem of gluten sensitivity is amplified by the approach that the medical system uses to treat it. Instead of addressing the issue, doctors often address the symptoms. Yet, the only way to really treat the symptoms of gluten sensitivity is to stop consuming gluten.
Further details surrounding the wheat dilemma are discussed in the full documentary, What’s With Wheat, available below:
About the author
Anna Hunt is writer, yoga instructor, mother of three, and lover of healthy food. She’s the founder of Awareness Junkie, an online community paving the way for better health and personal transformation. She’s also the co-editor at Waking Times, where she writes about optimal health and wellness. Anna spent 6 years in Costa Rica as a teacher of Hatha and therapeutic yoga. She now teaches at Asheville Yoga Center and is pursuing her Yoga Therapy certification. During her free time, you’ll find her on the mat or in the kitchen, creating new kid-friendly superfood recipes.
Diets can be overwhelming, but one small change can do a lot.
In the spirit of Drynuary, I’d like to propose another health-oriented month of the year. Perhaps called Crunch-uary or Poop-tober, it would be 30 days in which Americans, for once, eat enough dietary fiber.Currently, Americans only eat about 16 grams of fiber —the parts of plants that can’t be digested—per day. That’s way less than the 25 to 30 grams that’s recommended.There are so many reasons why, from fast-food marketing to agriculture subsidies, but one contributing factor is the slow death of cooking, and the rise of the restaurant meal. Americans now spend more on food at restaurants than they do at grocery stores, but restaurant food tends to have even less fiber than the food we would otherwise eat at home.One problem seems to be that restaurant meals aren’t typically loaded with two of the best sources of fiber, unprocessed fruits and vegetables. A revealing study from 2007, in which researchers interviewed 41 restaurant executives, showed that restaurants think fruits and vegetables are too expensive to feature prominently on the menu, and “61 percent said profits drive menu selections.” They also opposed labeling certain menu items as healthier choices, saying that would be “the kiss of death.” So people like to eat out, and when they do, they prefer mushy, fiber-free comfort foods. But that’s a pretty dangerous road to go down.As my colleague Ed Yong has written, low-fiber diets make gut bacteria more homogenous, possibly for generations. Mice that are fed high-fiber diets have less-severe food allergies, potentially because gut bacteria break down fiber into short-chain fatty acids, which support the immune system. A more recent study in mice found that a low-fiber diet can spark inflammation in the intestines. We still need more studies to understand exactly how fiber and the microbiome interact in humans. But we do know that hunter-gatherer communities in Tanzania and elsewhere, who don’t eat Western diets, eat about 100 grams of fiber a day and have much more diverse microbiomes than Westerners.“We’re beginning to realize that people who eat more dietary fiber are actually feeding their gut microbiome,” Justin Sonnenburg, a microbiologist at Stanford University, explained to NPR.There are also already plenty of other studies detailing the many ways fiber boosts health.
Behold, an extremely confusing flow chart, from a 2005 study, showing how fiber leads to greater satiety, less insulin secretion, and more short-chain fatty acids, which all amounts to one thing: Less body weight.
“Our citizens should know the urgent facts…but they don’t because our media serves imperial, not popular interests. They lie, deceive, connive and suppress what everyone needs to know, substituting managed news misinformation and rubbish for hard truths…”—Oliver Stone