I might be speaking to you right now if you’re feeling anxious or depressed. Maybe you’ve been in a slump for a long while now, dark in loneliness, enveloped in grief, couch-locked into depressive-paralysis or indescribable irritability. You’re not alone.
In fact, here are some shocking statistics regarding the state of mental health in America:
- 1 in 5 American adults have a “mental health condition.” That’s actually 40 million people.
- Our rates of childhood and teen depression are increasing exponentially.
- Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States.
- Women are more likely to be affected than men.
- Antidepressants were the second most commonly prescribed medication; 254 million prescriptions, to be exact
- Depression continues to be the leading cause of medical disability in the United States and Canada.
- In an NIH study, 38% of 700 patients experienced at least one side effect when taking an SSRI antidepressant. These included sexual dysfunction, sleepiness, weight gain–many of which were noted as being “very bothersome” and “extremely bothersome.”
Gut health and mental health seem to go hand in hand, it turns out! In fact, right now, the colony of species in your gut has a lot to do with previous trauma, as well as what you’re feeding them! These childhood experiences not only affect our mood as adults but also your overall health and weight.
In a study conducted in the 1990s on obesity and childhood trauma, 64% of participants had at least one childhood trauma; 40% had multiple traumas. These traumas affected adult mental and physical health, correlating to fibromyalgia, cancer, autoimmune diseases, mental health issues, and addiction.
Studies such as these guide us in understanding that mental health is not just about neurotransmitters. It is also our microbiome. Stress and trauma can kill off species in our microbiome in much the same way as processed food, antibiotics, prescriptions, and chemicals do. The less diversity in your microbiome, the more health issues in adulthood.
Imagine the casualties of microbiome death when repeated traumas coincide with environmental toxins! Whole species of good bacteria could potentially become extinct, triggering systemic disease manifestations, which can begin with Leaky Gut Syndrome.
Leaky Gut is a name for inflammation in the gut that has caused tiny fissures in the intestinal lining, which allow food particles out of the intestines and into our systems. Think of your plastic garbage bag suddenly spilling its contents on the floor. Our bodies try to “pick up” the contents, but our immune system often sees these stray particles as system invaders, which it begins attacking. And thus begins autoimmune-like triggering. The symptoms? Joint pain, muscle aches, fatigue, digestive issues, headache, brain fog, anxiety, depression, mood swings, skin rashes and acne, the list goes on. . .
When a client mentions to me that they are depressed, anxious and having trouble sleeping, I automatically think GUT. I don’t think brain/neurotransmitters, pop an SSRI and see me in six weeks when it’s supposed to start working. This is not healing. This is not uncovering the root cause of illness. It’s now a known fact, anyway, that 90% of our serotonin is found in our gut, thanks to our glorious microbiome. When this is out of balance, our entire body suffers. Antidepressants frequently cause weight gain. It is speculated that this change in weight is associated with the depletion of healthy gut flora. Probiotics just might be more effective at solving the depression/anxiety riddle by replenishing the gut with healthy bacteria rather than depleting it.
The cure? Nature has many.
- Bitter Herbs: Plants heal your gut. Bitter herbs, for example, increase digestive function, bile flow, and hepatic function. These herbs include dandelion, burdock, yellow dock, and angelica. Better digestion increases nutrient absorption. They naturally get the digestive juices flowing. If you have had your gall bladder removed or feel bloated after meals, bitter herbs are especially meaningful to your overall physical and mental health.
- Aromatic Herbs: Herbs that add flavor and smells affect us emotionally due to their terpenes. These are key to healing from trauma. Aromatic herbs include mint, rosemary, thyme and basil. Smelling them automatically has a calming effect. Their scent induces an electrical and hormonal signaling within our brains. When we eat these herbs, they aid in digestion, ungluing stuck energy, calming our nervous system, and healing inflammation.
- Anti-Inflammatory Herbs: Some herbs soothe and moisten, such as licorice, slippery elm, marshmallow root, calendula and plantain. These calm and cool the intestinal lining and help promote a healthy environment for good bacteria survival and nutrient absorption, which will promote improved mood and well-being.
- Nutritional Herbs: Because leaky gut frequently is accompanied by nutritional absorption issues, any supplements you might take to heal your gut or add nutrition to your body in capsule form may not be absorbed. Food is medicine. Plants in their natural form heal the best. Broths and teas present an easily digestible medium for providing nourishment. Herbs such as moringa, sea weed, nettle and oat straw can replenish lost nutrients and help the body increase a healthy microbiome.
- Supporting Herbs: Leaky gut presents, also, with a congested liver. A weakened liver results in emotional feelings of anger, resentment, irritability and heat from systemic inflammation. To support the liver, incorporate dandelion flower or root along with milk thistle (you can drink this as a tea) to naturally help your liver remove toxins.
Anxiety, depression, insomnia and irritability can all be addressed with food. YOU have the power over your health. Before filling your prescription, clean your diet of foods that strip the body of healing energy–processed meats, dairy, sugars, and gluten. Replace them with healing foods such as aromatic herbs, bitters, fermented foods, and organic fruits and vegetables. Eat raw nuts and seeds. Chew slowly and purposefully. Food is energy and good energy heals. Your forest needs the right soil and nutrients to grow.