Part 3: Just Plain Stressed Out
What if we could treat an eating disorder (ED) by healing one’s gut? This thought blows me away. Researchers recently started doing fecal transplants to treat different medical concerns and now psychiatric disorders such as anxiety and depression, Arthi Chinna Meyyappan et al. BMC Psychiatry. 2020. This entails taking microorganisms from someone who has a healthy microbiota and balanced psychiatric well-being and placing them into someone’s gut who is struggling with anxiety and/or depression. All studies showed that as the microorganisms grew and flourished, there were decreased symptoms of anxiety and depressive-like symptoms and behaviors.
Did you know that researchers say our gut has as many neurons as a cat’s brain? The gut is part of a bidirectional pathway where the brain sends signals to our “brain” in our gut and vice versa. The gut and brain are constantly communicating to control digestion, control swallowing, increase blood flow and release enzymes. Our gut and brain also produce neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. Neurotransmitters are what keep us happy, motivated and have a mental feeling of well-being. This means that stomach problems are linked to anxiety and depression.
Have you ever felt nauseous when you’re feeling the blues, or felt gut wrenching pain when you’re anxious? This is your gut and brain communicating. This makes treating gut complaints that much more complicated but also means we need to focus on the mind and body when healing the gut. It often takes a lot of patience to get to the core of what is leading to your discomfort, whether food, mental health, or refeeding. Therefore, it’s recommended you work with a team who are specialized in eating disorders – a dietitian, doctor, and psychiatrist.
Here are a few ways to build a healthier microbiota by focusing more on mental health.
1. Sleep – it is important to practice good sleep hygiene so you can get adequate sleep each night. Our microbiota is on a schedule, just like our body is. You may have had experience before with going on a trip which results in your bowel movements getting completely off track. This is due to having a different schedule which throws the microbiota off.
2. Movement – I’m not talking about excessive or aggressive exercise as that has been shown to decrease blood flow to the gut which can cause its own source of problems. I’m talking about just moving the body in a gentle calming way. Research shows yoga is one of the best forms of movement.
3. Gut hypnotherapy – This is a new area of the field but is showing very promising results. It’s along the same lines as meditation as it’s mentally working on connecting and calming our mind and body. There are many meditation apps as well as an online gut hypnotherapy course you can take. https://www.mindsethealth.com/
4. Get outdoors – Time outdoors has been shown to destress the body. We’re also exposed to more bacteria outdoors which helps our immune system by diversifying our gut microbiome.