For her entire scholastic life Lois has been working hard to keep her grade point average up. Through grade school and high school she was an A student, which came to her through diligence and discipline. She graduated in the top 5% of her class, National Honor Society and scholarships coming out of her ears.
Now Lois is in college and her anxiety level has increased along with her work load. Her GPA has plummeted (to straight Bs), she’s gained more weight than the Freshman Forty and she is having a hard time sleeping.
There’s nothing unique about her situation; students have been dealing with academic pressure ever since the Greeks took their concept of education wide. But the anxiety that we are seeing on- and off- college campuses in the first decades of the twentieth century is overwhelming, and even dangerous. How many illnesses result from it? Clinical depression is epidemic. According to the National Center for Disease Control over 41 thousand people committed suicide in 2015. Alcoholism and drug abuse are problems that are not going away anytime soon.
Are we losing hope or are darker agents at work?
Well, there certainly are people who have given up hope but we can also say that there are darker agents at work.
How many times have you heard, or even said to somebody else, “It’s all in your head?” Whatever the problem is: “It’s all in your head.” There’s something under the bed? “It’s just in your head.” I don’t want to fly, it’s scary. “It’s all in your head.”
While there are issues that could be “all in your head,” there are many more that start someplace a little lower. Namely, your gut.
What does your gut have to do with nervous disorders? Quite a bit actually.
Did you know that your nervous systems has multiple parts? First there’s the central nervous system (CNS), which includes you brain and the spinal cord. A lesser known, but equally important part is the peripheral nervous system, which includes the enteric nervous system (ENS) of your gastrointestinal tract. The ENS was written about by the Greek physician Galen almost 2000 years ago.
These two systems separate during fetal development but are connected through the vagus nerve, which runs from your brain stem to your abdomen.
You thought the way to a man’s heart was through his stomach? It’s not- it’s actually the way to his brain. The two are connected in such a powerful way that they are inseparable. That’s why you get butterflies in the stomach when you’re nervous and why gut problems can lead to anxiety, depression and even autism.
Let’s go back to Lois, our college Freshman. She’s still feeling stressed and her overall health is about to take a dive into shallow water. She is a classic setup for a spectacular fall.
• She is living away from home for the first time and living, eating and playing with little supervision.
• The sodium infused noodles she lives on because they’re cheap are just plain, not-healthy.
• She stays up late, getting a solid six hours of lousy sleep each night.
• Exercise? Who has time… or energy.
• Coffee and sweet rolls do not a good breakfast make.
So what is going into the gut is no good. What’s happening in her brain?
• She feels stress about her grades.
• She’s unhappy about her weight gain.
• She is worried about how she will pay her share of tuition for next year (especially if her grades slip so far that she loses her scholarship).
• Her friends seem to be fickle and unreliable.
• She’s less popular with the guys than she would like, especially one specific guy.
Her head and her gut are in a perpetual battle, and both sides are losing.
Now think about this: even though you may not be a college Freshman, are you really any different? Does your diet work for you or does it work on you? Do you get the sleep you need? Are you stuck in a cycle of anxiety about everything?
This describes most people. And that’s a problem.
Thoughts, toxins and traumas have been enemies of the human body for as long as anyone can remember. And nobody has a natural propensity to avoid them. It takes effort and sometimes you need to go out of your way.
A little negativity goes a long way. And two negative thoughts will never equal a positive. Nobody’s life is perfect, but how we deal with life’s curve balls will make a huge difference in your health. For every story of a person who treats their cancer by watching Marx Brothers movies and laughs their way to remission there are a hundred stories of people who take the advice of Job’s friends and “Curse God and die.”
We need more people shouting, “Serenity now!” and less people shouting out the window, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.” Okay, try speaking “Serenity now,” gently instead of shouting; it’ll be better for you.
Don’t let drama stress you out.
Don’t let friends drag you into their drama, and tell them they need to relax a bit too.
We could all stand to chillax a bit more. Whatever is your method, be it prayer, meditation or just settling down with an improving book, go for it. Be responsible and resolve the things that are on your plate without letting them make you sicker.
Easy to say, hard to do- but you don’t have any choice if you want to stay healthy.
Toxins come in many forms, some of which you can’t avoid completely (one of the reason we at The Wellness Way will never promise you we can cure you). Focus on what you can avoid.
Pay attention to your diet. Watch your sugar intake. You probably understand that the can of soda isn’t good for you but even something like fruit juice has a lot of sugar as well. Store-bought bakery items, especially those made in a factory instead of a kitchen, are worth staying away from.
Food allergies are no joke these days. Most people have them and don’t even know it. We need to be careful what we put in our bodies; and what goes in your mouth goes straight to your gut- which we’ll get back to in a moment.
Toxins in the air can cause problems, toxins in our water supply, toxins in medications, toxins in flora via pesticides and/or allergies, and “health” and beauty aids can be just as bad.
Here’s another tidbit for free: Fabric softeners? Just say no.
Trauma can take different forms. Mental traumas like grief can be as acute as physical trauma. And physical trauma will range from stubbing a toe to dismemberment or worse.
But trauma is trauma, and you don’t want any of it.
So what does this have to do with your gut?
Remember that your Enteric Nervous System (ENS) is directly linked to your Central Nervous System (CNS), and the ENS sends far more information to your brain than your CNS send to your gut. In fact, 90% of that info transferred starts in the gut!
So clearly healthy intestines and gut flora are important to keeping overall mental health.
Let’s take it a step further: the symptoms of a sick gut can even fit the diagnosis of autism, ADHD, ADD, dyslexia, dyspraxia or OCD.
Are we saying that autism, ADHD, ADD, dyslexia, dyspraxia and OCD can be the result of gut problems?
Yes, that’s exactly what we’re saying.
So what is Lois to do? She may not have autism, ADHD, ADD, dyslexia, dyspraxia or OCD, but she’s setting herself up for other potential neurological issues. How can she- and we avoid the deeper problems an unhealthy gut might bring?
The first step is to limit the things that your bacteria is sensitive to:
• Antibacterial soap.
• Agricultural chemicals
• Chlorinated and fluoridated water.
We also recommend taking probiotic supplements and eating fermented foods. A good, organic yogurt is a good start but doesn’t touch the level of bacteria that you need to maintain a healthy gut. And if the yogurt is pasteurized all the natural probiotics have been killed. Consider eating pickled fermentations of onions, cucumber, eggplant and cabbage.
Lois doesn’t need to worry about this yet, but pregnant women, or women planning to get pregnant soon absolutely need to keep a healthy balance of gut bacteria. The flora that is in her gut will be in her birth canal. The baby will acquire their mother’s flora as he/she passes through the birth canal.
And while we’re talking about the wee ones, breastfeeding is a much better option than bottle feeding. Formula will never be better than breast milk for a child’s development.
A huge step in being proactive in treating gut issues is finding out what problems you might have. Don’t guess. Get tested. Because of the nature of the way food digests you can’t assume the last thing you ate is giving you a sour stomach, gas or irritable bowels. Learn what the root problem is so you can effectively treat it.
The Wellness Way clinics stand ready to get you started on your journey to better health. Call the office nearest you and find out when the next inflammation talk is. Make an appointment today.