As someone who has worked as a psychotherapist and as someone who has personally experienced how the food we eat can either be our biggest poison or our greatest medicine, I find the relationship between our gut health and our mental health absolutely fascinating. First of all, I have seen the way many people suffering from mental illness eat, and generally it’s far from ideal. Ideal, for me, being unprocessed vegetables, meat, nuts and healthy fats – a.k.a. paleo foods. To explain this I have to diverge a little from the topic of the book.
When I was in my mid twenties I lived in Nicaragua for a few months. I don’t know why or how, if I got a virus, a parasite or if it was that tick bite I got during a particularly primitive camping trip but I believe perhaps my gut health somehow went sour. My health has never been the same after this time.
It started with what a sudden onset of asthma. I had no idea what was happening to me so I went to the hospital and there they brushed it off as simply being asthma. But why the sudden onset? Well, full disclosure, I had begun smoking weed. A lot of it. I had never done that before and never did after this time. But perhaps this triggered an epigenetic switch in one of my genes. Then there was a sudden allergy to different foods. I had never before that had any problems with digesting anything. Not even after eating buckets of candy or cake as a child. I never even got an upset stomach. But after this time in Nicaragua, I had constant respiratory problems. My nose was blocked, Every. Single. Day. And I sneezed like 375 times a day and I think Kleenex still misses me as a customer as I probably used a box a day. My asthma was a constant companion and I was always bloated.
After years of going from doctor to doctor – countless antibiotic rounds and even having surgery (all to no avail) it wasn’t until I read a random facebook post from a friend that I had the idea that perhaps all my problems were caused by dairy. So I cut it out and lo and behold – I could breathe again. In fact, I still sometimes marvel at being able to smell things again. Life just isn’t the same without it. But the discovery of the huge impact a tiny bit of dairy can have prompted me to try what the man I was then dating did, eat according to the paleo diet.
My health turned around. My bloating, sneezing, tiredness and excess weight just evaporated. Ok well, some of the weight stuck around – but that’s what happens when you learn to create paleo treats. But this turn around in my health caused me to became obsessed. But in a good way. I wanted to learn everything I possibly could from the pioneers in the field. So Mark’s daily apple became a daily read for me. I wanted to understand what had gone wrong and I wanted to optimize my health. I learned what leaky gut is and how chronic inflammation of your body can cause all kinds of damage.
It wasn’t only about illness. It was also an invitation to learn to eat and cook a completely different world of foods. Read: Not only pizza and smoothies.
I embarked on a long and wonderful journey of discovering food in a new way. Frying bacon with dates. SO GOOD. Frying leeks with tomato. AMazing. Slow cooking lamb. Droooool. Sweet potato fries.. wow. I could live off them.
I would challenge myself to try new foods and to learn to cook things I had no idea about – hello star fruit and pomegranate! Vegetables, which had always been super boring to me became tickets to health, each one offering a different subset of nutrients. How could I possibly make not so pleasant veggies taste amazing? I learned about nutritional yeast, Kefir and Kombucha. I started to regularly eat maca powder and learn to make my favorite old foods in a new paleo ways. Cashew cheese anyone? Now a decade later, I still haven’t tried nearly all the things I want to try. For example Kimchi. Never tried it.
So, back to the topic at hand, gut health and mental health. First of all, our guts hold so many nerves, they are equal to a cat brain. Think about that next time you go with that gut feeling. Perhaps you are just deciding with your other brain.. and when this other brain of ours becomes sick? Well, your gut may be the reason you developed anxiety that summer back when you were 19. Or the reason your friend became depressed.
Am I going to fast?
Well, this is where the Psychobiotic revolution comes in. It’s written by a health journalist who writes down the findings from the leading researchers on this topic. Findings that are connecting the dots between all kinds of effects that stem from the gut. Scientists are still working on understanding the effects of the guts on our health but it’s clear that there is much promise in the field. When faeces from obese mice are put into the gut of normal mice – you guessed it – the normal mice become obese.
Working with people’s gut health could be an important key to unlocking wellness for people with serious illnesses.