We’ve known for some time that the bowel and the brain are closely interactive. But is it fully understood, to what extent? When we go about our day-to-day lives, we tend to eat and drink as sustenance becomes available, and we fuel ourselves depending on whatever is going to “feel good” at the time. In this way, we are subject to cravings for certain “foods” that our mouths think are great, but that our stomach and bowels are soon to disagree with. The interesting thing about this is that what we brush of as being a “simple stomach ache” or “a few cramps” could actually be small, physiological alarms that are trying to tell us we are also hurting our brains by our carelessness in what we consume.
Modern studies on how the body and the mind interact are turning up more and more instances in which treating problems of the mind can result in relief from disquieting, physical symptoms, and also vice versa; that treating the body badly has long-term, detrimental effects on the ways that we think and feel.
Knowing this, it is not so surprising that the age of increasingly prevalent neurological disorders and processed, chemically bathed foods apparently coalesce. I meet so many different peoples who come from various backgrounds and at widely spaced ages who suffer from gastritis, anxiety, mood disorders like bi-polarity and depression, stomach ulcers, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), stress, asthma, migraines… the list goes on. It seems like everyone is afflicted by some mysterious enemy whose origins simply cannot be traced, but whose effects on each individual’s quality of life is anything but benign.
These are real problems, and they have to have a real source. Chalking it up to modern economics is simply not enough.
Scientific American Mind magazine did a column in this summer’s issue about physical complaints that were found to co-occur with certain psychological conditions. Among their reports were the following:
- Gastritis and Anxiety. It turns out that people with frequent stomach and intestinal discomfort, including really, really common things like heartburn or IBS (for which you can find temporary relief on the shelves on any drug store or supermarket) are nearly twice as likely as the general population to suffer from anxiety or mood disorders. The unexpected point of this research is that even those with no known mental issues experience improved gut health after weeks of psychotherapy. The general improvement to these patients’ mental health, conflict management skills, relationships etc., paralleled improvements in all of their gastrointestinal symptoms for at least an entire year. Sounds to me like a much better method of ‘healing at the source’ than an Alka-Seltzer diet can deliver.
- Ulcers and Depression. Preliminary data on the relation between ulcers, depression and anxiety suggests that patients treated for depression were much less likely to develop an ulcer (for those young’uns like myself who aren’t sure what an ulcer is, it is an open sore inside in the lining of the stomach or first part of the small intestine, which seems to be caused either by a certain bacteria, the use of pain killers, or a specific type of tumor, and they have been for a long time linked to stress) 10 years after the fact, compared to those who never received therapy.
- Tinnitus and Stress. Ringing in the ears, which effects around 50 million Americans, can be a seriously upsetting pain in the ass – I even had it badly growing up, and it comes back to haunt me now and again. Not surprisingly, research this year confirms that nearly half of all tinnitus sufferers also have a mental disorder. And a small study in January found that reducing stress with mindful meditation greatly alleviated tinnitus sufferers’ symptoms – a finding I can really jive with, since after a couple unpleasant hearing tests I finally learned to “make the ringing stop”, by breaking through the pre-conceived notion that visceral functions cannot be brought under voluntary control, and learning to quickly quiet my own heart rate. To me, this is evidence that blood pressure can be related to tinnitus, too, as it is to stress – and we are all well aware of how junky foods affect blood pressure.
The magazine touched on other related subjects, too, in separate articles. Such as how certain pesticides that still linger in the environment despite being officially banned in 2001, can cause Parkinson’s disease. Or how some Buddhist monks, whose diets are primarily plant-based, experience an unusual increase in synchronized high-frequency electrical activity of the brain during periods of rest and meditation.
One of the most shocking reports, I think, brings to question whether or not it is possible to recover from Autism by way of (and of course alongside special education and therapy) an adjusted diet. Even though the article stressed that whatever sparked cases of recovery remains a mystery, it did highlight an interesting point, which is that there was no correlation between patients who had the best outcome and those who received more or better behavioural treatment than others. Which means that recovery must be based on some other environmental, or genetic, factor. This provoked me to do a little more poking around on the inter-web and, unreliable as are it’s archives, what I found is potentially astonishing (it may seem as if I’m spinning off on tangents, here, but I promise it all relates. Just bear with me).
-talk about the digestive history of autistic kids, and re-stress the therapy-digestion link
-find cases of a changed diet reversing the detrimental neurological effects of autism – which are what, exactly?
-then pose this hypothesis:
-I remember watching a film in high school about a little boy wi
th a severe neurological disorder, the details of which I regretfully forget, but that the disorder presented itself very similarly to autism. The family specialist had prescribed, as part of a long list of homeopathic remedies/management techniques, a diet that strictly forbade certain sugars but that should also be high in certain fatty acids. … note about autistic kid who might have been cured by diet. Just think: if suspending certain foods because of their chemical make-up, and incorporating a superfluous amount of others for the same reasons, can benefit a handicapped person enough to allow them to function as ‘regular’ people in society, could it then be so far-fetched to assume that the causation of the disorder could come from chemical stimulus in our environment, as well? What exactly is it, and in what quantities, that we are putting into our bodies is making our DNA and our brains have such severe hiccoughs as to result in a population absolutely crowded by occasional, to full-time, invalids?
-I think that what we need to accept is that despite the FDA’s valiant efforts to ensure the safe production of mass-market consumables, there is much left to be desired in the actual quality of our food – and much, still, to be learnt about the harmful effects of chemical additives like preservatives, artificial flavour and dyes.
-this matters to me mostly because i’ve come through life thus far with an unidentified learning disability that has memorably plagued me from the day I learnt to tie my shoes. I have found, thus far, that the only consistent remedy to changing the way I feel, my motivations, and my ability to focus on things is to put a whole lot of care into what I do and do not choose to fuel my body. (no where near perfect, yet)… bad pun, but it’s food for thought.
References: Rodriguez, T. (2013, July) When Talk Therapy Treats Tinnitus. Scientific American Mind, 12 Medical Reference (2005 - 2013) What is Peptic Ulcer Disease? WebMD. Retrieved July 6, 2013, from http://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/digestive-diseases-peptic-ulcer-disease. Image source: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=gut-second-brain