An individual’s gut comprises about 500 million neurons. The nickname “second brain” has been associated with the gastrointestinal tract because it can function independently from the brain. It is one of the only areas of the body that has two-way communication.
It communicates through the parasympathetic fibers of the vagus nerve and the sympathetic fibers of the prevertebral ganglia. This stream is known as the gut-brain axis, and it explains why people have “gut feelings”, “butterflies”, or other reactions in the stomach due to mental and emotional states.
The gut-brain axis is regulated by neurotransmitters, various hormones, immune system cytokines, and different organisms. The enteric (intestines) nervous system contributes to what goes on in the body. This system comprises 30 different neurotransmitters.
Corner Canyon Health Center’s approach to the food we serve is consistent with the new research and understanding about how what we eat influences how we feel and function. The stomach produces 90% of our serotonin and 50% of our dopamine, both neurotransmitters that make us feel good and “normal”, in addition to performing many functions that lead to improved mental and physical health.
The typical American diet consists of a lot of processed foods, and people with addiction sometimes don’t eat much at all. Both lead to an insufficient amount of good bacteria in the stomach, which means the brain and body don’t get what they need in multiple areas.
Our chef-prepared meals are filled with healthy grains, vegetables, lean protein, fruit, nuts, and other fresh healthy ingredients, oriented around a Mediterranean diet, which works to improve health in many ways. These foods include prebiotics and probiotics, and we also offer supplements with probiotics to ensure clients get what they need to create an optimal stomach biome. Our chef also teaches workshops to assist clients in understanding the fundamentals of healthy eating and how to plan for and prepare delicious, healthy foods.
The gut brain connection involves bacteria in the gut that produces more than 90% of the body’s serotonin and 50% of its dopamine. Factors like our level of anxiety, appetite, mood, emotions, learning, recollection, and inflammation in the body are all influenced by this area.
These are all factors that play a role in an individual’s addiction susceptibility and mental health. When external factors trigger different stresses, inflammation in the gut may arise. When this happens, the brain may react with symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other mental illness disorders.
In a 2018 study from a team at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the Sheppard Pratt Health System researchers looked at 66 patients hospitalized for mania. These patients completed a clinical trial looking at the two most recommended types of probiotic bacteria (Bifidobacterium animalis subspecies lactis strain Bb12 and Lactobacillus rhamnosus strain GG and), in addition to a placebo group, which were added to treatment as usual for the clients in the study group.
After being followed for 6 months, the results were striking. Patients receiving the probiotic had a significantly decreased risk of being rehospitalized. About 73% in the placebo group were rehospitalized, compared with 24% of patients in the treatment group. In addition, individuals receiving the probiotic were rehospitalized for much shorter periods of time (2.8 vs 8.3 days).
In an interesting human study, scientists transferred gut bacteria taken from anxious humans into “germ-free” mice—which had been raised so their guts contained no bacteria at all. After the transplant, these animals also demonstrated signs of anxiety. Hence the formation of the gut brain connection.
When your gut is healthy, the communication between your gut and brain will work properly. With proper gut brain health, serotonin is produced, essential nutrients are synthesized, and clients feel energized, calm, and experience an overall greater sense of well being.
Our Corner Canyon chef cooks healthy, delicious meals. Our gut-brain die contains a few simple carbs, whole grains, vegetables, lean protein, and fruit and salads, with homemade dressings, comprise most of the food served. Most clients lose some weight, while significantly underweight clients gain weight, these changes are not the purpose of the healthy model of eating we use. However, they contribute to increased health and wellness. Clients are taught about the gut-brain connection and observe our chef preparing and cooking meals. While our chef cooks, he explains what he is doing and why. This allows our clients to have an increased ability to prepare food for themselves and understand the impact of gut brain health after leaving treatment.
We also conduct an intervention where we feed clients only simple carbs at one meal and then process with them how they feel after a typical fast food meal like that compared to the usual way we eat at Corner Canyon. Clients with poor gut brain health describe feeling lethargic and sleepy, unable to pay attention, and having symptoms of high blood sugar. Many clients will experience a decrease in healthiness after leaving treatment and not understand how critical healthy eating is in avoiding this decrease. Our goal in this process is to educate our clients about how to keep their gut brain healthy and how to create the proper gut brain diet to stay healthy and avoid relapse. We recently started “Cade’s Kitchen” where our chef encourages clients to practice food preparation in addition to learning about healthy food and the gut-brain connection
Generally, when people think of mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder, depression, and anxiety, we often associate the causes to conventional factors. These factors could include trauma, physical distress, emotional distress, genetic susceptibility, and much more. But oftentimes, individuals don’t associate these conditions with the function of the immune system and the gut brain health.
A person’s gut has over 500 different species that comprise about 100 trillion organisms. When we experience social, physical, and psychological stressors, our immune system is affected and the kinds of bacteria that live in our gut are as well. Inflammatory species of bacteria grow and have an effect on the nerve receptors in the gut. These nerve receptors have a direct connection with the neurotransmitters in the brain. Research has validated the connection of these bacteria with the process of recovery from addiction and mental health conditions. Maintaining a nutrition-rich diet consisting of vegetables, fruits, and whole foods is one factor that is important to an individual’s battle with overcoming these conditions. Having good gut brain health leads to a better mental state and lessons struggles we often face with mental illnesses.
-Diet – A diet rich in whole foods, vegetables, and fruits helps cultivate a healthy gut environment. The high fiber content of these foods creates a structure that healthy bacteria can grow on, and include prebiotics. Adding fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, apple cider vinegar, kefir, Kombucha (has a trace amount of alcohol, however) and tempeh add helpful bacteria. The elimination of processed foods also keeps inflammation at bay.
-Supplements – Taking probiotics, specifically strands of good bacteria like bifidobacterium and lactobacillus, keep pathogenic bacteria low. When good bacteria are in place they interact with hormone levels, helping turn off cortisol and adrenaline which can cause long-term harm to the body.
-Relaxation – Emotions play a huge role in gut health. One’s ability to calmly attend to the stresses of life creates a peaceful body. Meditation, breath work and simply making time to relax can do a world of good for one’s overall well-being. Having a healthy gut biome contributes to this ability to relax
Avoid Antibiotics – Whenever possible, and increase intake of probiotics if they are necessary.