INFLAMMATION: Inflammation, the Gut, and Mental Health
Updated: Mar 16
This month we have been talking about inflammation. Inflammation is commonly associated with things like allergies, asthma, autoimmune diseases, and rheumatoid arthritis, but did you know that hidden, chronic inflammation is actually the root cause of most all chronic illnesses: heart disease, obesity, diabetes, dementia, cancer, autism, depression, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, the list goes on.
In fact, your brain can become inflamed too. Called “Neuroinflammation”, it is often the underlying cause of many psychiatric conditions, such as treatment-resistant depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, mood disorders, schizophrenia, ADD, and sleep disorders. So why does the brain become inflamed?? Many things can contribute to inflammation, in the brain and entire body, such as stress; hidden or chronic infections from bacteria, viruses, yeast, and parasites; environmental toxins such as mercury, pesticides, and mold; chemicals in the products we use; hidden allergens in food and the environment; lack of exercise; and most commonly—DIET.
The food we eat literally serves as information and instructions that control almost every function of the body, including hormones, appetite, brain chemistry, immune system, gene expression, and the function of our microbiome. Our gut is so complex that it is referred to as the “second brain” and even has its own nervous system, the Enteric Nervous System (ENS), and it operates both independent of and in conjunction with the Central Nervous System (CNS). They communicate through the VAGUS nerve, which acts as a two-directional information highway between the brain and the gut. And much of this communication is dependent on the variety of nutrients we consume to serve as the building blocks of more complex processes.
Did you know that over 90% of serotonin—the “feel-good” hormone and neurotransmitter—is actually produced in the gut?!
In fact, 85% of our immune system is in the gastrointestinal tract. But without adequate nutrition, many of these natural processes of the body are overtaken by inflammation and fail to function properly. This is called gut dysbiosis, meaning an imbalance between the types of organisms present in the gut contributing to a range of negative conditions of health.
So, what are the biggest culprits of inflammation in our diet?
Any highly processed foods
Most animal products
Too many Omega 6 fats
Food additives, preservatives, and pesticides
High heat cooking—such as grilling over an open flame, roasting, baking, and broiling
Did you know that the World Health Organization classified the following meat products— processed meat such as bacon, ham, hot dogs, sausage, corned beef, beef jerky, canned meats, and all luncheon meats— as a Group 1 carcinogen? This means they are scientifically proven to cause cancer in humans, in the same classification as smoking tobacco and asbestos! Red meat was found to be a Group 2 carcinogen, meaning it is probably carcinogenic, but the data is less definitive. (https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/cancer-carcinogenicity-of-the-consumption-of-red-meat-and-processed-meat). The most common cancers linked to meat consumption were colorectal, breast, prostate, stomach, pancreatic, and lung. Meat consumption is also directly linked to causing coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and other chronic diseases.
But there is good news! Just as our diets are the main driver of the chronic disease epidemic we face today, so too can our diets be the most powerful medicine to health.
The best nutrition for treating, preventing, and even reversing many chronic diseases include:
Mostly whole foods, plant-based, high fiber diet
Omega-3 fatty acids
Meals rich with probiotics and prebiotics
Daily intake of herbs and spices, such as turmeric, garlic, ginger, and cinnamon
There are also many lifestyle changes we can incorporate into our daily routines to promote immune health and flight inflammation:
Active relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga, and deep breathing
Avoiding excessive EMF exposure and eliminating toxins from environment
Cold therapy such as cold showers and ice baths; and heat therapy such as the sauna
Eliminating or lowering stress
Getting quality, deep sleep
Time in nature at least three days per week
Vagus nerve stimulation techniques such as: singing loudly, laughing, gargling, low-vibrational chanting
To work on your mental health holistically, book with Karen McKinney today!
At IVY Integrative, you can work with one practitioner or build your own team of holistic practitioners! Reach your optimum health in-person or online. Check out our Get Started page to learn how to work with us!
Author: Karen McKinney, LCMHCA
Article: Vagus nerve as modulator of the brain-gut axis in psychiatric and inflammatory disorders. Frontiers in Psychiatry. March 13, 2018
Article: The gut-brain axis: interactions between enteric microbiota, central and enteric nervous systems. Annals of Gastroenterology. 2015
Article: The gut-brain axis: Influence of microbiota on mood and mental health. Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal. August, 2018
Word Health Organization: Cancer: Carcinogenicity of the consumption of red meat and processed meat. October, 2015. https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/cancer-carcinogenicity-of-the-consumption-of-red-meat-and-processed-meat
Article: What is the gut-brain axis? An exploration of the communication pathways between the brain, the gut, and the microbiota. Neruohacker Collective. September, 2019.
Article: Stress and the gut-brain axis: Regulation by the microbiome. Neurobiology of Stress. December, 2017.
Podcast: Doctor’s Farmacy with Dr. Mark Hyman
-Episode: How food can cause and heal disease
-Episode: What causes brain inflammation and how can we fix it?
This information is generalized and intended for educational purposes only. Due to potential individual contraindications, please see your primary care provider before implementing any strategies in these posts.