How does what’s going on in the digestive system affect the brain? Now that I understand more about how the body works, I realize if your digestive system isn’t working, the rest of your body can’t possibly work! But I have to say that for most of my life I just thought of food and digestion as calories and fat. I wanted to be sure I didn’t eat too many calories, because that’s the important thing, right? Being overweight makes you unhealthy, right?
I didn’t pay attention to the fact that:
“Every cell that makes up every tissue that makes up every organ DEPENDS on the body’s digestive system to provide nutrients it needs to keep functioning.”
That’s a quote from the Nutritional Therapy program I’m taking. It makes sense that all of the materials that make up your body have to come from somewhere. And that “somewhere” is from the real food you eat. And after you eat it, your digestive system has to turn it into something you can use. The food starts as proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. It must be broken down into tiny pieces that the body can recognize: amino acids, fatty acids, and glucose.
If your digestive system isn’t working, it’s not so pretty. Your protein will putrefy, your fats will turn rancid, and your carbs will ferment. If your digestive system IS working, your body and brain are able to work.
Here’s the quick version of good digestion:
1. You see and smell the food and your brain starts telling your digestive system to get ready.
2. You start to salivate, and the saliva contains enzymes that start breaking down the food as you chew.
3. You swallow and the food goes down your esophagus.
4. Your food reaches your stomach and stomach acid is released, stomach acid activates pepsin in order to break down protein. (Cool fact: the pepsin must be activated by the stomach acid, if it were active all the time it could digest your stomach because your stomach is made of protein!) A layer of mucus protects the stomach lining from the strong acid.
5. When the food in your stomach is properly “acidified” and broken down, your pyloric sphincter opens up to let those stomach contents into your duodenum (the upper part of your small intestine). Once the food is in the duodenum, hormones are released to signal your gallbladder to release bile (to emulsify fat) and to trigger digestive enzymes to be released from your pancreas (hormones: cholecystokinin, secretin).
6. The amino acids, fatty acids, and sugars are absorbed into your small intestine and distributed throughout your body.
7. Your large intestine is filled with indigestible fiber, bile, water, bacteria and sloughed cells, which is then eliminated.
So what can go wrong?
There are some digestive problems that seem to happen a lot in our culture.
1. Not relaxing and paying attention to our food. This prevents the body from entering “rest and digest” mode, or the parasympathetic state.
2. Not chewing well. This makes the rest of the system have to try to compensate.
3. Low stomach acid production.
4. Poor gallbladder function. This is HUGE, almost everyone I’ve met needs support in this area! Maybe we’ve had too many years on low-fat diets? Or eating bad fats? You actually need cholesterol to produce bile.
5. Liver stress=no bile
6. Poor quality food (fake food made in a lab)!
7. Undigested proteins= food intolerance or allergy
8. Undigested proteins, fats, carbs= an irritated gut, bad gut microbes (yeast, bacteria), leaky gut
What does this have to do with my brain? Shouldn’t I have a stomach ache?
This is what I thought, and I actually did not seem to have digestive symptoms until I started healing my body. My symptoms were depression and anxiety, and I was really exhausted. Some people do have digestive symptoms with their mental symptoms.
There are 2 main reasons why digestive problems would affect the brain (and everything else):
1. Poor digestion= not enough raw materials for neurotransmitters and hormones.
2. Bad bacteria and yeasts feed on undigested or poor quality food. Bad bacteria and yeasts chemically alter your brain, and not in a good way! Depression, anxiety, Bipolar disorder, autism, and schizophrenia are correlated with poor gut microbes. Read more:
What to do with this information?
That’s a really good question. I think that some people can benefit from probiotic supplements and probiotic foods (like kombucha or live sauerkraut). I needed to correct my digestion and eliminate some foods that were aggravating me. I did the GAPS diet and I love paleo/primal recipes, too. I had to eliminate starches and most sugars (I can eat honey).
Do I think everyone needs to do the GAPS diet? I’ve been thinking about that, and I think there might be something that can be done that might be a bit less restrictive. Any plan for a healthy brain would DEFINITELY involve healing digestion and detoxification. The plan would also involve getting rid of foods that you are intolerant to. And of course my favorite thing, good microbes! I am a big fan of bacteria :).
If you decide to take the plunge and start GAPS or paleo/primal, I have to say that the food is delicious!!! I never feel deprived because I eat delicious food. I’ve talked to other people who have started eating a more ancestral diet and they say the same thing. It doesn’t feel like punishment.
The only drawback is that we do live in the real world, and there are people who don’t eat that way, so other food is always around unless you stay home. A big plus is that I have become a really good cook and my family loves what I cook.
Congratulations, you made it to the end. Thanks for reading!
This post was shared on Healing with Foods Friday.