Mental Health and Nutrition (Part 2)

Part one summarized briefly how our digestive tract and brain work together to alter our thoughts and emotions.  The GI tract is referred to as the second brain, because of the neurotransmitter receptors for serotonin which are mainly located there.  What we eat affects our thoughts, our thoughts affect our emotions, and our emotions affect our actions in a big way.

Here we're going to get into the juicy stuff.  What exactly is going on down there?  


As if two brains aren't enough, some specialists have referred to the microbiome as the third brain, because of the way that these 100 trillion or so bacterial cells communicate seemingly as one entity, much like a school of fish.

The microbiome is, in my opinion, the most important part of optimizing health, physically and mentally.  Even mainstream science recognizes this importance:

Those are just a couple references to get caught up to speed on how important these bacteria are for our health.  

It is estimated that up to 90% of our bodies are bacteria.  That means 9/10 cells in the body are actually bacteria, not human.  This means they have their own DNA, which interacts with our own to create changes.  

These bacteria perform so many tasks that we would be useless blobs of tissue without them.  They synthesize vitamins and minerals, break down food for transportation into the bloodstream, and act as an immune system of there own.  They destroy unhealthy bacteria and break down crucial proteins and fats for transport.  Without a properly acting microbiome, disease isn't just a possibility, it is inevitable.  

Bacteria also cover our skin from head to toe.  This will be crucial in a minute when we go into what we're doing wrongly to our microbiome.  They literally coat our entire bodies...

Poor lifestyle choices affect our microbiome in a myriad of ways.  So what are we doing wrong?  Well, it turns out, almost everything.  Here are my top culprits for destruction of the microbiome and the subsequent health issues caused.

1) Antibiotics - These are incredibly useful to fight infections.  Unfortunately, antibiotics are thrown around like candy these days.  Sometimes they are actually used in the wrong circumstances, like when someone has a fungal / parasite problem, where administering antibiotics is not only completely useless, but very harmful.  Antibiotics do exactly as they advertise: they kill bacteria.  And many times, indiscriminately.  As in, they literally carpet bomb the digestive tract, killing good and bad bacteria.  What ends up happening is the "good" bacteria are destroyed, leaving a haven for bad bacteria to thrive.  We end up with candida overgrowth, a common digestive problem.  Candida is not necessarily bad, but it is not supposed to overrun the GI tract.  Other bacteria stake a claim as well, disrupting the bacterial ratios we need to be healthy.  If you have antibiotics, you must, absolutely must, perform a "reboot" by ingesting pre-biotics, and eventually probiotics to return the gut to normal function.

2) Excess Sugar - We all know its a problem, but just how bad is it?  Well, sugar is a fantastic food for certain bacteria, ones that we don't want overpopulating the gut.  Eating all this processed junk is feeding the wrong cells and throwing off the symbiosis we need with our gut microbiome.  Sugar is like crack to the bad bacteria in our digestive tract.  Cutting down on this won't only help you lose weight, it will at least impact the reinforcement of an optimal gut bacteria ratio.

3) Malnutrition - Americans aren't just overweight, we are also very malnourished.  It seems like a contradiction; how are we getting all these calories and still not getting nutrition?  Its because the food choices here are largely devoid of nutrients; they have been processed out of the food.  Without vitamins, minerals, proteins, enzymes, fats and other nutrients, our gut bacteria can't function normally.  This is one of the reasons grandma told you to eat your broccoli.  To get the vitamins and minerals.  These are the building blocks of the human body.  You need thousands of different nutrients to survive as well as the nine essential amino acids.  If we just eat the same junk day after day we become malnourished and sick.  Try to get different colors of fruits and vegetables, and even quality supplements to help fill in the gaps.  You don't have to memorize every nutrient, just get as much diversity as you can.  Try new vegetables at the supermarket, and different spices and herbs, to shore up the loose ends.

4) Lack of essential fatty acids - Despite the medical guidelines, the truth is clear: we need healthy fats to survive.  Every cell in our bodies, including bacterial, are lined with a membrane of fat.  Most people are deficient in things like DHA and EPA, better known as fish oils.  There is also olive oil, avocado oil, flaxseed and others.  These not only help your brain, they help those little critters in your digestive tract that do so much hard labor for us daily; the microbiome.

5) Dehydration - 70% of people are dehydrated, as we speak, at least according to the latest health statistics.  And in Colorado, where we are at altitude, in the heat and very dry, it is probably closer to 90%.  This is the simplest problem to solve.  If you are dehydrated, you can bet your bottom dollar that you're going to get sick.  Lack of water also dehydrates the microbiome, causing more of the problems stated above.

6) Negative Thinking - I know, it sounds weird.  But hey, we already know that the brain and the gut communicate, constantly.  So its not just what you eat that affects your thinking, it works both ways.  When we are in a state of anxiety, depression or fear, for prolonged periods, it elevates cortisol levels, affecting the gut.  The muscles of the intestines seize up, and we get constipation, just like the rest of our muscles tighten up in fight or flight mode.  This does not help the microbiome, and science is only now recognizing the impact of thinking on the gut.  Positive thinking improves gut function, helping the microbiome.

So there we conclude part 2.  Those are the culprits, now get to work fixing the problems.  Less processed sugar, less negative thinking.  More water, more nutrients and food diversity.  If you had antibiotics, work to restore the microbiome through pre and probiotics.  Get more healthy fats into your diet.  

The recipe for health doesn't need to be complicated.  Its just repeating these things, over and over, to restore gut optimal function, and therefore optimizing mental clarity.

Ben Hetzel

Benjamin Hetzel