By Janelle Maurin
Currently we are hearing more and more about the gut, the microbiome and the colon. It is inspiring to see such interest in the latest research, as it helps us better understand our health and make better choices. We are still learning about the gut-brain connection, and as the details emerge, we are realizing how significant this connection truly is.
When the gut is irritated, its relationship to the brain becomes more disconnected; research has show this on the brain scans of IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) patients. Studies have also indicated that IBS sufferers have an above-average level of anxiety and depression disorders. We are just starting to see the correlation between feeling unwell and negative emotions via the gut-brain axis. Conditions such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, C-diff (Clostridium difficile, a bacteria that causes life-threatening diarrhea) and dysbiosis (an excess of bad gut flora) can cause emotional changes due to the diseased mucous membrane of the gut sending constant signals of distress to the brain.
When the brain senses a major challenge, such as frustration or an impending deadline, it naturally wants to solve the problem. Anytime the fight-or-flight response kicks in, the brain borrows energy from the gut, which the gut relinquishes willingly, shutting down major necessary functions and allowing the urgent circumstance to take precedence over digestion, blood supply, and mucous production for the immune system. In turn, those healthy salads and smoothies we consume are not being absorbed efficiently.
The fight-or-flight reaction was not designed for long-term, extended use. With our ever-increasing stress levels, it seems to never turn off; so our bodies do not get the much-needed break they require. Stress is one of the biggest components to gut-brain related illnesses. At first, symptoms of fatigue, loss of appetite, general malaise or diarrhea may appear. The gut will either rid itself of food in order to save the energy digestion requires, or hold on to it, freezing the intestines. The longer this continues, the more chronic problems will start to arise. Reduced blood supply and a thinner layer of mucous weakens the gut walls. The immune cells that live in the gut lining start to secrete substances that make the gut increasingly sensitive; from here it is a long road back to recovery and balance.
What happens to the rest of the body when the gut is distressed? Conditions may arise as varied as acne, rosacea, eczema, mood swings, exhaustion, sugar/carbohydrate cravings, weight gain, pain and inflammation throughout the body, migraines, brain fog, premature aging and more. When we remain in a constant state of stress-induced survival, the body has no time to strengthen itself as it continues to breakdown.
Our bodies are constantly working for us, not against us; finding balance and repair can be easier or harder, depending on what we give them. Maybe you have noticed Individuals who go on health retreats and come back looking younger. Or perhaps you have friends that are super picky and eat healthy all the time; their skin is always glowing, they enjoy their life and look younger than they are. They know that relaxation and eating the nutritious foods that were originally designed to fuel our bodies make it easier to find that balance and repair.
Two of the biggest challenges in our world right now are consuming the right food and finding the right time; and by right time, I mean down time. We have so many appliances, contraptions and devises designed to make our lives easier, and yet we have no down time: time to sit on the porch at the end of the day rocking away with a glass of lemonade. Time to take a bath after a long day on our feet. Time to put the phones and video games away and have a movie day with the family. Time to sit in silence with the one you love watching the sunset. Or even time in silence with just yourself.
Long-term stress can be traumatic on the body; stress changes the weather in your gut. The more you push through things they more exhausted you will be. Remember mom’s advice when you had the flu? More rest and more fluids. The body needs compassion, nourishment and time to heal. Drink plenty of water. Walk in nature to uplift and recharge yourself. Be kind to yourself; give yourself permission to take more down time. Take a gentle, restorative yoga class while you allow yourself to balance and repair. As you gain more energy and joy you can move into more advance and active classes as you feel up to it.
As for supportive foods, fruits and vegetables are packed full of the nutrients you need. If you are concerned about cost, eating simple, whole foods can save money by reducing the need for expensive supplementation. Apples hydrate the body and taste great with some almond butter. Bananas help clear brain fog. Celery juice is proving to be a great energy booster and gut restorer. Watching clients shift gently and quickly with just celery juice has made me an advocate of the natural healing power of vegetables. The body strengthens and recovers best when given natural fuel sources, rather than processed supplements, meal replacements and other products. The further away we get from whole foods, the more our bodies struggle to identify, use or get rid of those substances. But when we change the ecosystem and help it cleanse and flourish with the right combination of probiotics, we can rebuild. You see, once a probiotic has an efficient environment to thrive in, it colonizes. Meaning it moves in and makes generations, growing a healthy gut population.
Ninety percent of the immune system is in the gut. Yup, all those little love bugs are in our guts, helping us to digest and fight off the bad guys. When we relax, enjoy healthy, whole foods and take a good combination of probiotics, our bodies start to feel the sigh of relief, and it can be so amazing! Happiness naturally sprouts back up. Smiling is no longer a struggle as pain dissolves and all forms of movement are craved and it feels good. And my favorite, that monkey mind that won’t calm down seems to have been caged. I hope this information empowers you to health. Happy healing to you all!