Waking up every day with no energy, no drive, and an underlying feeling of discomfort is the norm for millions of people in Canada. Depression, anxiety and other mood disorders have quickly become the leading reason for prescription drug use over the last 20 years.

With over 9% of Canadians (approximately 9 million people) taking anti-depressants it has never been more important to understand the underlying cause of brain and mood disorders and medical science is starting to connect the dots….

The stomach has been coined the “second brain” because the tissue in the gastrointestinal tract is largely nerve tissue. In fact the gastrointestinal tract contains over 100 million neurons more than in either the spinal cord or the peripheral nervous system. Not only do these nerves in the gut travel to the brain and communicate with one another but there is a growing amount of research that bacteria in the gut can have a impact on brain health and that gut bacteria can significantly influence the communication between the brain and the gut.

Scientists have also discovered that certain bacteria have the special ability to generate that “feel good” mood.

Some beneficial bacteria that have taken up residence in the gut will actually increase GABA receptors in the brain. When there are more GABA receptors in the brain, more GABA is being put to good use. This is a good thing, especially since a decrease in GABA receptors has been associated with mood disorders, like chronic depression.

When it comes to supporting gut health it is important to avoid foods that feed the “bad” bacteria, the food they love is sugar! Candida will actually send signals to your brain and cause you to crave sugar and the myotoxins that these yeast organisms release are toxic such as alcohol and formaldehyde. These substances travel up in the brain and can affect our brain chemistry.

We need to support healthy gut bacteria by ensuring healthy digestion and eating foods high in probiotics such as kefir, plain yogurt, pickles, miso, sauerkraut, kombucha and kimchi.

Here are some more tips to proper digestive function

  • Chew food well – The mouth is the first stage of digestion. If whole pieces of food are passed down into the system it leads to stress on the pancreas and can cause an overgrowth of unwanted bacteria.
  • Limit sugar in the diet – Sugar is a metabolic nightmare. When ingested is causes stress on the liver, pancreas, and encourages the growth of unwanted bacteria. Sugar also triggers insulin production. Insulin is the backbone of the endocrine system. When insulin levels become imbalanced it causes a chain reaction and will throw off the rest of the body’s hormone levels.
  • Limit stimulants in the diet – Stimulants like caffeine, alcohol and salt cause the stomach to go into shock and reduces its function. When the stomach is not functioning properly it will allow whole proteins to enter the small intestine causing strain on the pancreas and encouraging growth of unwanted bacteria.
  • Increase fibre from whole foods – Fibre works to gently cleanse the digestive tract of unwanted bacteria, balances blood sugar and provides good bacteria a source of food.
  • Exercise – The digestive system is dependent upon smooth muscle movement and gravity to help the food move through the gut. Exercise helps to tone the smooth muscle and aids in allowing the food to pass through the system.
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