Friday, April 8, 2016

Digestive Health: Critical for Mental Health

Healthy digestion allows us to absorb nutrients from food properly, nourishing our bodies and our brains. When digestive function is compromised mental health symptoms can be exacerbated.  Your gastrointestinal tract (GI) includes the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine and colon.  Let’s talk about some basic nutrients that you can get from food and supplements that will support a healthy digestive tract.  

GI and immune support should include healthy bacteria, or probiotics, because 70% of your immune cells are in your gut.  When your GI tract is healthier seasonal allergies are often less severe because this system acts as a protective barrier from irritants.  Eating a whole foods diet including fermented foods (like yogurt, kefir, and refrigerated sauerkraut) with lots of vegetables and fiber, rather than packaged and a highly processed diet, contributes to bacterial diversity which is important for good health.  When purchasing a probiotic supplement note the potency (the number of live bacteria per pill). Retail products can range from a half billion to 100 billion in potency.  That seems like a lot, but we have 10x more bacteria than we do cells in our entire body.  Rotate probiotics when purchasing new bottles so you get a variety of healthy bacteria to repopulate your GI tract.  

Different types of bacteria live in the mouth, small intestine and colon.  There are two main families of healthy bacteria that live in your intestines.  This is a complex field, but basically supplements contain Lactobacillus strains, which are needed in the small intestine, and Bifido strains, which are needed in the colon.  

If someone has diarrhea, try a probiotic with more Lactobacillus strains.  Be cognizant of the risk of dehydration and losing electrolytes, especially in young children, the frail, and senior citizens.  See a doctor if necessary.  To stay hydrated drink more water, electrolyte mixes, use Himalayan or sea salt, coconut water or herbal teas including nettle, alfalfa, horsetail, red raspberry leaf and rosehips.  Ginger, chamomile, fennel, fresh basil and peppermint can reduce cramping.  Suggestions to slow GI transit time include Kudzu root dissolved in water or broth, unsweetened Carob powder or chips, or a homeopathic formula for diarrhea relief

For those prone to constipation, try a product with a higher ratio of Bifidobacterium. Feed colon cells with butyric acid from grass-fed butter or ghee.  Add fiber to your diet by eating more vegetables or using a fiber supplement.  Plenty of water is necessary in these circumstances.  A general rule for water intake is to consume half your body weight in ounces of water per day.  Drink most of your water between meals and keep a water bottle with you wherever you go. Always increase your water intake when adding fiber supplements.  Caffeine and alcohol are dehydrating so additional water is necessary if you drink those. 

An irritated digestive tract can be soothed with bone broth, unsweetened dissolved gelatin, the inner filet of aloe vera juice, slippery elm, marshmallow root, DGL (deglycyrrihized licorice), L-glutamine, and zinc carnosine. Saccharomyces Boulardii is beneficial yeast that aids in gut repair and is available as a supplement.  

We secrete digestive enzymes to break down our food making the nutrients contained therein available for use by the body and brain.  There’s the possibility that your own enzymes have been knocked out during illness so supplementing these before meals can help you digest food more thoroughly.   Beware, however, of the possibility that digestive enzymes can speed the food through too fast when one is already experiencing rapid gut motility.  

These suggestions are the building blocks to improve your digestive health.  When beginning supplementation start slowly, begin only one new supplement at a time, and listen to your body and brain.  If the reaction is unfavorable, discontinue use.  Look for a practitioner who can individualize a plan for you such as an integrative medical doctor or a functional nutritionist. Always keep your doctor informed of supplement changes, especially if you are taking prescription or over the counter medications.  

Friday, January 22, 2016

Inflammation’s Impact on Brain Function

It’s easy to recognize when your body is stiff and achy.  This usually means that inflammation has gotten out of control leading to pain.  Inflammation, in moderation, is normal.  It’s part of the healing process, for example, after an injury.  However, long-term chronic inflammation puts a huge strain on us and is far from ideal.  What you may not have considered is that the brain also experiences inflammation!  Brain inflammation impacts a number of crucial processes such as brain communication and circulation in the brain.  Healthy circulation carries nutrients throughout the body and brain. Poor brain circulation feels like your brain is in a fog, which makes it difficult to think clearly or make decisions because mental speed is slow.  It can be difficult to concentrate for very long because the brain is fatigued. 

Let’s take a look at healthy eating strategies to calm down, or modulate, a brain with inflammation. 
  • Grass-fed beef contains a healthier fat profile than grain-fed beef.  When cows eat grass they make omega-3 fat. Omega-3 fats modulate, while omega-6 fats increase, inflammation.  Grass-fed animals contain a 3:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats.  Grain-fed animals can contain as high as 27:1 omega-6 to omega-3 fats. 
  • Salmon is a wonderful source of omega-3 fats.  Purchase wild caught rather than farm raised fish. 
  • Curry seasoning.  Curries contain a variety of spices and turmeric is common in these blends.  Spices are very nutrient dense and they make food so much more palatable!  The curry blends are known to support healthy inflammatory levels. 
  • Flavonoids are phytonutrients found in fruits and vegetables and they have antioxidant effects.  Berries contain high amounts of flavonoids and are considered one of the top foods to support brain health.  Also consider green and red vegetables such as peppers, broccoli, artichoke and celery for lutein.  Fresh spices such as parsley with apigenin, and thyme with luteolin, are flavonoids that dampen brain inflammation.  Chamomile also contains apigenin and is relaxing when steeped as a tea. 
  • Green tea contains high levels of catechins which support healthy blood flow in the brain.  Theanine in green tea is calming on the brain while still allowing the ability to concentrate and learn.  Green tea contains considerably less caffeine than coffee. 
  • Leafy green vegetables contain the flavonoids lutein and zeaxanthin.  Some options are kale, spinach, and collard greens.  To maximize nutrient absorption gently boil greens for three minutes until they are bright green, but not mushy.  Throw away the water.   
Incorporating these foods and spices into your weekly diet offers more than just brain support.  Some other reasons to eat them are for healthy detoxification, immune health and eye health.  Since it is difficult to get the necessary 8-10 servings of vegetables and fruit daily, you may want to consider one of the many greens drinks on the market.  They can be purchased in powdered form, so they don’t spoil like fresh food does, and they can be added to water, smoothies, or even food.

Many of the nutrients mentioned here are also available as supplements. 
  • Fish oil supplements with a high ratio of DHA to EPA. Brain cells need DHA. 
  • Curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric.  The turmeric root contains about 5% curcumin. Supplements are typically standardized to contain 95% curcumin so they will be more effective than food sources at taming the fires of inflammation.  Take curcumin supplements on an empty stomach, or at the beginning of a meal, with a healthy fat (such as fish oil) to maximize absorption.  
  • Lutein and Zeaxanthin supplements are typically used for eye health, they are often together in blends, and they are needed in high concentration in the brain.  Take them with a meal containing healthy fat.
  • EGCG is a key property in green tea.  It plays a role in neuron formation, especially in the hippocampus which is involved in learning and memory.

Supplements contain higher amounts of these nutrients than food can.  Today’s environment, the quality of our food, and chronic illness are reasons to consider supplementing.  It may take more of a nutrient than what is available from food alone to correct long-term imbalances, and this includes mental illness.  Always follow the dosing instructions on supplement bottles or work with an integrative medical doctor, naturopathic doctor, nutrition therapist or functional chiropractor for individual recommendations.   If you are using prescription medicines, research whether diet or supplement changes will interfere with the medicine’s efficacy or your safety. 

Curry Stir Fry

§         1 pound ground meat.   Or use beef, chicken or fish cut into bite sized pieces.
§         Brown protein in a large skillet till almost done.  Drain excess fat. 
§         Next add 1 small chopped onion and cook slightly.
§         Stir in chopped vegetables of choice:  broccoli, carrots, celery, leafy greens, peppers and zucchini. 
§         Add 1 can of coconut milk, 1 tablespoon sweet potato puree, curry spices to taste, and blend thoroughly.
§         Stir in 1 cup cooked rice (rice blends, wild rice, or brown rice).
§         Simmer until vegetables are tender.  Stir frequently to prevent food sticking to skillet. 
Top with chopped fresh cilantro or parsley.