Thu, Oct-11-18, 03:15
Food for thought: is mental health linked to your gut?
From the Daily Telegraph
10 October, 2018
Food for thought: is mental health linked to your gut?
Phrases like ‘gut feeling’ may be more than just a figure of speech. With rates of anxiety and depression soaring, and one in four people in the UK affected by mental illness, could the key to better mental health be found in our gut?
Madeleine Karlsson seems to think so. The nutrition and health coach, who is also a Pilates teacher and founder of Nutrition for Naughty People, is due to speak at the TEDxLakeForrest in November on why trusting your gut is the best diet because she’s a firm believer in the correlation between your gut and mental health.
But she hasn’t always been the epitome of health. Diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome and Candida in 2008, she also suffered from depression, bloating, hair loss and acne, after becoming “obsessed” with calorie counting.
“I self-diagnosed myself as Orthorexic,” she says, referring to the condition where users obsess over healthy foods and avoid those they see as unhealthy and harmful. “I was going to the gym at 5.30am every morning, sometimes several times a day. I was eating low-fat breakfast cereals, low-fat yoghurt and calorie-free processed food. I thought that foods labelled ‘low calories’ and ‘low fat’, were healthy. How could I have got it so wrong?
“I remember running on the treadmill one day, looking at how many calories I was burning, and just thinking I can’t live like this anymore, it’s exhausting. Eventually, I ended up at the doctors and they told me I needed to stop going to the gym. I was losing my hair and my skin got really bad. I was constantly hungry, which led to these cheat days where I would just binge all day.”
Luckily for Karlsson, her doctor advised her to see a nutritionist: “They told me a lot of the problems I was experiencing were probably caused by my diet. I remember thinking that my depression couldn’t possibly come from my food because I ate super healthy (low-fat this and low-fat that), so when she told me that what I was eating was actually having the reverse effect, I was shocked.”
The fact our digestive systems are closely connected to what goes on in the brain isn’t a new revelation. Hippocrates, the Greek physician and father of modern medicine, claimed back in the third century that "all disease begins in the gut" and in the 19th century, Russian zoologist Élie Mechnikov made a direct link between longevity and the gut. As David Perlmutter’s writes in his latest book, Brain Maker, “What’s taking place in your intestines today is determining your risk for any number of neurological conditions."
So can simple dietary tweaks really change your mental wellbeing? Karlsson thinks so.
“After three weeks of altering my diet, and cutting out all processed foods like low fat cereals and yogurts, everything changed. The Candida went away, the bloating decreased, my energy levels went up and my acne cleared. I stopped obsessing about needing to burn off whatever I ate, and punishing myself with gruelling workouts every time I ate something ‘unhealthy’.
“By healing my gut, I also healed from my depression,” she continues. “All the clients I work with report an improvement in their mood when we improve their gut health and cut out sugary, processed foods. One of my clients is on her way to come off mood stabilizing drugs with the assistance of her psychiatrist, after being on them for over 10 years.
“I recommend eating whole, real foods close to their natural state. Nuts, seeds and avocado for example and pretty much anything that comes from Mother Nature like fruits, vegetables, fish and meat. I also suggest pulses and, in some cases, whole grains. Some people do well on them, others don’t, so it’s a matter of finding what works for each individual.”
Karlsson trained at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in the US in 2016 and one of her lecturers, Dr Mark Hyman, a leading functional medicine doctor, has since produced the documentary called Broken Brain. It deals with how a dysfunctional digestive system could be the root cause of anxiety, depression and an inability to focus.
In the docu-series, Dr Hyman introduces some of the world’s leading brain and health experts to talk about the issue of escalating mental health – or, suffering from a “broken brain”.
Max Lugavere, author of Genius Foods explains in the documentary how the foods we eat directly affect our ability to focus, learn, remember, create and maintain a healthy, balanced mood. “The brain,” he says “rather than being this static thing carved out of stone that we inherited and can’t do much to change, is actually more like plastic – it’s malleable. And the way that we can change the way it functions, and manipulated, is through our diets and our lifestyles. Eating a brain-healthy diet really promotes neuroplasticity of the brain.”
Brain boosting foods, says Lugavere, include extra virgin olive oil, dark leafy greens and eggs. “When it comes to gut health there is a very interesting study that was published recently from Rush University that found people who consumed a large bowl of dark leafy greens every single day had brains that looked 11 years younger on scans,” he says.
“What we eat doesn't just affect our weight,” adds Karlsson. “It also affects our emotions, our brain and our overall health too. I know what food is going to make me feel good and what’s not. I don’t eat bread or pasta – and some people think that’s really sad. Of course, some people are fine to eat those foods – and I was, up until a certain point where I was diagnosed.
“When people tell me I’m missing out by cutting out gluten, I say, well imagine waking up every morning and hitting your head on a pole and then complaining because you have a headache. One day you’ll realise the headache is because you’re hitting your head on that same pole - you’re going to stop doing it.”