What naturopaths have known for years is now making its way into mainstream medicine. What you eat does actually matter in relation to your health, but more specifically the significant impact on the health of your gastrointestinal and cognitive (brain) systems. As the prevalence of cognitive disorders ranging from depression to anxiety to dementia to Alzheimer’s increases, there is dire need to understand the cause behind these diseases.
When you fuel your body with the appropriate nutrition, your supporting optimal gut and brain physiology in two primary ways. One is through the reduction of inflammation. Inflammation within the gastrointestinal system which occurs from eating/drinking foods such as tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, peppers, beans, coffee, grains, dairy, food additives, food coloring, Gatorade, etc.. (I could literally sit here all day writing the list) will translate over to inflammation within the brain and for that matter the rest of the body. Health starts in the gastrointestinal system, which means disease starts in the gastrointestinal system. As inflammation starts increasing in the gut, the permeability of the gastrointestinal (GI) lining opens up. This is termed “leaky gut.” The inflammatory molecules that are created in the GI tract now move into the bloodstream and have a direct impact on the brain and central nervous system. This added burden within an individual’s physiology can be a tipping point where cognitive concerns start showing up.
The other primary way you support your gut and brain physiology with optimal nutrition is through balancing blood sugar. Blood sugar impacts both mood and what is termed dysbiosis (the imbalance of the bacteria/fungus/parasite within the GI system). You do not have to be diabetic to have a blood sugar issue. What and how often you eat will impact the stability of your blood sugar response, which ties into mood, energy and sleep. A primary driver of the anxiety response in individuals is a fluctuating blood sugar level. There is a stress reaction in the body that is created when the blood sugar levels rise and fall which mimics states of “fight or flight.” This in essence is anxiety. The other part of the blood sugar story is simple: sugar feeds bacteria and fast-growing organisms such as candida (which is part of you) and other parasites (which are not part of you). Your GI system has its own ecosystem and there is a delicate balance of what should and what should not be growing in it. The food choices you make on a day-to-day basis will have an impact on this system, which in turn affects the health of your brain and cognitive function.
It is often a tough sell when I tell patients that if they work to change their nutrition and the health of their gastrointestinal system, it will create positives changes in their mood and brain health. I believe the biggest reason behind the hesitancy for people to fully understand the power of their food choice is the concept of addiction. The majority of people who make improper food choices have a improper bond with those food choices. We have to ask ourselves every time we make a decision, “is this moving me closer to where I want to be, or further from where I want to be?” Change your relationship with your food choices and associate the positive and preventative outcomes that will happen as you nourish yourself correctly.