Many suffer in silence with their addiction to various foods, one in particular; sugar. Indeed, there continues to be a lack of awareness of sugar as a form of addiction, despite the scientific research that exists. Several studies for instance, have shown that sugar can cause an opiate-like response in the brain, crossing the blood brain barrier and hitting our reward pleasure centre. This is perpetuated by a diet high in sugar, which can cause blood sugar fluctuations and thus increased sugar cravings. Imagine for a minute you've just eaten your morning breakfast bagel. At the beginning you may feel an energy boost. Yet, internally this high amount of sugar in the blood, causes the body to release insulin resulting in an energy "crash", or state of "hyperglycemia". This is when cravings tend to set in, as the body calls on us to search for the quickest form of energy, which typically includes sugary, carbohydrate dense foods: cookies, bread, candies and cakes! Although there may be more going on unique to your physiology that can contribute to sugar cravings, the take home message here, is that it isn't all in your head. That it is not all about "will power" and that you are not alone.
Important to note are the emotional effects that our body's response to sugar can cause as well which can perpetuate feelings of shame, increased cravings and addiction to sugar. For instance, when in a state of hypoglycemia, associated symptoms also include;
Next time you are feeling anxious or low, ask yourself what have I eaten today? Have I skipped a meal? Is there a blood sugar imbalance at play? Supporting your body with nutrient dense, whole foods while reducing sugar intake, can help make choice more manageable as your cravings decrease and your mood elevates. The following healthy foods help make this happen:
Making the change to reduce sugar can often bring up emotions. Some have noted actually going through a "grieving" process when cutting out sugary foods that were no longer serve them. Having support as you journey through this is essential and receiving guidance from a counselor that understands the food-mood connection can assist in working through the patterns and stories that often go hand in hand with our physical attachment to the foods that we eat.
A good friend of mine sent me this cartoon and its just so powerful that I have to share. The message in this cartoon reinforces the innate inner strength that we all possess and can tap into at any point in time. Just love this!
Have you ever experienced butterflies in your stomach?
An undeniable "gut instinct" or "gut feeling"?
There's a reason these sayings have come to be and that is the rising scientific recognition that there lies a connection and interplay between our brain, our thoughts our feelings and our gut physiology - the "Gut-Brain Axis". The idea that the gut, can not only affect us physiologically, but can affect the mind, as neuroimmunologist John Bienenstock (MD of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario) states, "has just catapulted onto the scene". OR has it? Just over 200 years ago, Hippocrates stated the all famous quote...
"All disease begins in the gut".
Recent studies have now proven that the human gut contains what they've coined as our "second brain", which is housed under the mucosal lining and between the muscular layers of the esophagus, the stomach and the small and large intestines. Our second brain or the Enteric Nervous System (ENS) within our gut, contains a complex network of neurons and neurochemicals that are able to sense and control events in other parts of the body, including our brains. In fact the number of nerve cells in the second "gut" brain, is significantly greater than the number of nerve cells in the spinal cord! What connects these responses is a communication from the brain to the gut and vice versa, through what is known as the Vagus Nerve, which within our gut is surrounded by a host of over 100 trillion microorganisms and bacteria, collectively referred to as the microbiome. This microbiome of flourishing bacteria, influence neural development, brain chemistry and wide range of behavioral responses, such as emotional behavior, pain perception and how our stress response system functions. So sophisticated is this neural network of bacteria, that it can continue to perform its functions even if the Vagus Nerve is severed!
More reasons why our gut bacteria so essential to how we are thinking and feeling emotionally and physiologically:
Briefly stated, if we are stressed, our body's go into what is known as "fight or flight", which draws our blood flow away from our digestive system to our extremities, our muscles, our heart etc., in order to survive a state to which the body is identifying as a threat. Consequently, this impairs the breakdown of our food, causing digestive distress which results in undigested food entering the intestinal system and thus compromising our healthy microbiome of bacteria. Poorly digested sugars from carbohydrates for instance (the dissacharides) will eventually cause bad bacteria and pathogens to begin to produce and flourish taking over good bacteria and causing a host of symptoms, which I'll save for another post! Ultimately, we must consider how we can make stress management a priority in our lives as it directly affects our gut health, which we now know has a direct effect on our brain and mental health!
Do you or someone you know suffer from a high stress lifestyle, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Crohn's Disease, Anxiety, Depression, Schizophrenia, Bi Polar, Eating Disorders, Addictions, ADD/ADHD or Autism Spectrum Disorder? They may be experiencing an underlying compromised microbiome and gut health that can be supported and rebalanced.
Although seeking a holistic nutritionist for a diet plan tailored to your individual and unique biochemical makeup can be greatly beneficial for supporting your journey to improved physical and mental health, here are some important steps you can take to protect and flourish your good bacteria and support gut health for improved mental health:
The important take home message here, is that we can no longer compartmentalize and disconnect the body from the mind (or the spirit for that matter - but that's a later topic ;)...). If we hope to begin to adopt lasting lifestyle changes and improve our state of physical and emotional wellbeing, we must first understand, the full picture and the underlying imbalances at play that may require addressing. Remember knowledge is power. The more you become in tune with your body, your mind and their interplay, the greater your potential to reaching your balance, your vitality and all that you dream to aspire or acquire in this journey of life. Never stop learning!