Saturday, April 26, 2014

Can What's In Your Head Can Be Related To What's In Your Gut

I was asked to write a post about anxiety by a reader and I'm ashamed to admit that I have been putting it off. This is such a difficult subject for me because it touches on a very personal story and one that I have been struggling with talking about publicly. But I keep thinking that if my story helps one other person, then speaking out loud will have been worth it.

I'd rather learn from one bird how to sing than teach 10,000 stars how not to dance. ee cummings

Personal Story:
This is about to get awkward. Ready for it? {inhale, sloooow exhale} While I was in the military, I was raped and physically assaulted by a friend. Whew! That feels better just getting that out of the way! 

I did what a lot of women do-- I didn't tell anybody at first, took a shower, and locked myself away for a few days. I felt ashamed and embarrassed of what happened and I just wanted it to go away. He told me that it was my fault that it happened and for a while, I even questioned if he was right.. But let me tell you what I've learned: nobody deserves to be assaulted-- verbally, physically or sexually. NOBODY! If you don't believe me-- message me and we'll have a chat!

A couple of months after the rape, I had my first panic attack. I began having dreams where the whole event replayed like a movie in my head over and over. It became so frequent that I began trying not to sleep so I wouldn't dream about him. I would get sick to my stomach if I even saw a man who looked like him, walked like him, talked like him, or smelled like him. The fear was so encompassing that it was impacting all parts of my life.

Military LadiesBy the time I got the courage to admit what happened, it was really too late to prosecute. The physical damage had faded and I was only left with the emotional scars. They call it Post Traumatic Stress Disorder with Military Sexual Trauma (PTSD-MST) which technically falls under the anxiety category.

I don't want to get too far into how bad my anxiety has been (but I'm glad to talk about it if you're interested), but I will say that it has impacted friendships, work, and romantic relationships. Through all the ups and downs, it's been the most difficult thing I've ever had to deal with in my life.

I am grateful for my doctor, who is openminded to my crunchy ways. Together we formulated a detailed plan to switch from synthetic meds to all natural methods. Let me tell you, it's been a tough journey, but I wouldn't have it any other way.

This post is to talk to you about our plan and some of the methods I've tried and found successful. Originally, this post was a mile long, so I decided to break it up into two segments.

  • The Brain-Gut Connection
  • Natural Remedies (will be posted soon)
Anxiety: The Gut-Brain Connection

The Gut-Brain Connection
When I realized that I wanted to come off synthetic medication, I researched natural methods and began trying whatever I could find, but I failed at almost every one that I tried. Eventually, I realized that I wasn't focusing on the right things. What most people don't understand is that science is showing us that there is a very powerful gut-brain connection. In fact, your GI system is basically a "second brain" which communicates with your nervous system. If one is unbalanced, it can directly effect the other.

Don't believe me? Have you ever had butterflies in your stomach? Been so nervous you wanted to puke? This is your gut-brain connection at work. Own it. Like a boss.

This new research is opening up an entirely new way to view the stress response and also new ways to treat it. Did you know that a lot of the neurotransmitters that effect stress are produced incorrectly when the GI system isn't functioning properly? If your GI system in not balance, there is a good chance that your mind may not be balanced either.

Fixing My Gut
A few years ago, I woke up unable to talk correctly or coordinate movement well. The doctors thought I had a stroke, but thankfully I didn't. What I did have was an extremely low B12 level which can cause neurological symptoms like what I was experiencing. After correcting my gut, my B12 level and other deficiencies have stabilized without medication (I have been taking these vitamins).

Did you know that stress and anxiety can make your gut leaky? Crazy idea, right? Well, it's actually a scientific fact! With chronic stress, there is a risk that our GI tract will not perform as it is suppose to as a filter out the particularly nasty things. As a result, it may not properly absorb nutrients which can lead to many more issues with deficiencies. This makes a two-fold problem: system wide inflammation and nutritional deficiencies that can impact almost every bodily system. You can read more about leaky gut here. 

Once I healed my GI system I was able to use natural methods more effectively.

This is what I did to help restore my GI system:

Balance my bacteria
Probiotics: You gut is home to billions of bacteria which play a very important role in your health. I keep my bacteria healthy by eating fermented foods (or taking a high quality probiotic-- I recommend this brand or Young Living's Life 5 Probiotics (more info here). It find that it's best to switch my probiotics every few months so I tend to alternate between these two brands. 

A high quality multivitamin is important, especially since some of my blood levels were already low. I take a B12 supplements, a multi-vitamins and 500mg of vitamin C daily. I really enjoy this brand because it is plant based and often better absorbed by the body than synthetic varieties. Young Living also has supplements which are based on essential oils and are also well tolerated and absorbed.

The bad bacteria feed on sugar and create an unbalanced environment. Most people consume a lot more sugar daily than the average recommendations. It helped me to become familiar with home many grams I consume a day and modify it to fall within the recommended limits.

The average American eats 22 tsp of sugar a day!! The recommended sugar in take is 6 tsp (about 25g) of sugar or less.

You Are What You Eat: There has been some research that suggests that Monstantos' GMO "Round-up Ready crops" may actually attack our GI system. These crops are sprayed with a pesticides (and sometimes secrete pesticides from themselves) because they have been altered genetically to withstand the herbicide, Round-up. One of the big problems is with a substance called Glyphosate which inhibition of cytochrome P450 (CYP) enzymes, allowing for increased damage to the intestinal wall.
  • These chemicals are thought to play a part in everything from autism to cancer to gluten sensitivity
  • "Bt-toxin, glyphosate, and other components of GMOs, are linked to [intestinal] conditions that may either initiate or exacerbate gluten-related disorders" (Jeffery Smith).
  • Sugar, corn, soy and wheat are most likely to come from Round-up Ready Crops
Another great thing to do is consume bone broth. It's easy to make and it really heals the gut and aid in digestion. Here are recipes: Bone Broth and Beef Bone Broth

This was a game changer for me! I've been eating certain foods for my entire life so I did not realize how badly it's making me feel or the damage to my gut. 

An elimination diet is where you eliminate a certain food group from your diet for at least a month. When you re-introduce the food you will either notice no change in how you feel or you may feel sluggish, get a headache, feel bloated, GI distress, sinus congestion... the list goes on. A lot of people report that they feel better after only a week or two on the elimination diet! I personally started to feel better in a week and a half, and then I was a new person by 1 month. 

The most people foods to eliminate are gluten, dairy and sugar. I was sensitive to gluten and dairy, but I found that as my gut heals, I can tolerate dairy again (yay cheese!)

Is Something Hiding in MY Body?
I know this sounds gross, but parasites can cause imbalances in your body. In fact, it's been estimated that 90% of all people will have a parasite sometime in their lifetime. The parasites feed off your body and can cause a variety of ailments.

I used a herbal supplement (Parasite Cleanse) in combination with bentonite clay to do a GI parasitic cleanse and I don't even want to tell you what came out of my body!! So gross!!

Gut Support
I really like the Fearless Digestion class offered by Nutritional Therapist and creator of Fearless Eating, Craig Fear (yes, that's his real name and it's awesome). He uses all the same approaches that I used (and more) when I changed my diet to heal my gut. I've talked with him about what he's offering and I really am really excited about his program! Honestly, I wish I knew about it when I was struggling with my own health problems!

Fearless Digestion

Fearless Digestion is an in-depth 8-week online digestive wellness class that you can take from home which is fantastic. In the class, you'll learn all about healing your gut with proper nutrition and he'll provide you with recipes, handouts, a group forum and much more. I'd definitely recommend this class if you'd like a little help during this challenge.

The class started on April 23rd, but he said that he is accepting registrations through this weekend and he'll make sure anyone gets caught up. Even if you don't want to take his class, you should really take a look at his blog, Fearless Eating. He has a lot of great ideas for recipes and articles to read.

Click here to view more details about FearlessDigestion

Wrapping Up
I admit that this post is difficult to write partly because of my emotional connection to the topic, but also because I know I'm a voice that can impact someone else who has gone (or is going) through something similar. Assault is never okay and yet sadly so many people have experienced it at some point in their life. You are not alone even if it may feel like it sometimes.

I really want to convey that anxiety isn't something to be ashamed of. It's a serious issue that effects more people than we even know because so many people are not getting treatment due to fear or stigma. The only way to break that sigma is to break the silence!

Please remember that I am not a doctor and this should not replace medical advice. If you decide you would like to try anything that I mention, please consult your treating therapist and/or doctor.

I hope that this information has been enlightening to you and that it will make an impact on your life in a positive way. If you have anxiety or chronic stress, I'd love to hear about how your diet impacted your condition.

If you want to read about how I use natural methods to manage anxiety symptoms please click here to read about it.

If you'd like to join my Natural Living Support Group on Facebook please fill out this form!

Want to learn more about leaky gut and how to get better gut health?
I strongly encourage you to read the person story of a friend of mine, Sean. He details his journey with Leaky Gut Syndrome.
5 Ways to Heal Leaky Gut
Set your Immune System Up For Success: Optimize Your Gut
10 Signs of Leaky Gut

And don't forget to check out Why Your Ancestors Didn't Have Depression and Anxiety…
and Foods that Reduce Inflammation