How’s your mood today?
Did you wake up and decide it was a good day because the sun was out, you had a day off, or because of some other special occasion? For most people, the deciding factor of their mood is outside of themselves. It takes a person of personal power to decide their day will be the best day of their lives no matter the circumstances.
How’s your digestion?
Whenever I see someone moody look about them, the first question I ask is, “How is your digestion?” What many people don’t know about their moods and mental attitudes is that their diet and inner-world (digestion) are reflecting their thoughts. The truth is we have a choice. We are always in decision over a few things: our response, thoughts, perception, and self-care. The thoughts we decide to have are a matter of our inner-world; they then create our perception and the type of self-care we will provide for ourselves. This determines how we choose to act. Sleep, exercise, and, of course, diet are huge responses to our own ability to choose our thoughts.
The Gut-Brain Association
There is an interconnected network of nerve tissue between our digestive system and our brain. This is what is called the gut-brain or brain-gut axis. Our gut contains over 100 million neurons and more nerve tissue than our brain! This is why the gut is often referred to as the “second brain.” Many of us have experienced this phenomenon in stressful situations—moments where you get a funny feeling about something, intuitive insights, or hunches. The popular “butterflies in my stomach” feeling is a great example of the powerful connection between our brain and gut.
Probiotics and your mood
In addition to nerve tissue, our intestinal wall is lined with a thin layer of cells that keep food particles and bacteria out of our bloodstream. Behind this cell wall is our immune system. What protects this delicate cell wall are our probiotics or “healthy bugs.” These guys are the protective barrier of our gut-lining and therefore the protectors of our immune system!
Probiotics do everything from manufacturing B-vitamins and lowering inflammation to digesting food. They do this by keeping pathogenic bacteria from overgrowing inside our intestines. This is very important because pathogenic bacteria ignite inflammation and destroy tissues, including nerve tissue. Imagine for a moment someone is pinching the back of your arm, triggering nerve endings. Chances are you wouldn’t be in the most pleasant of moods if this kept occurring. The same situation is essentially occurring inside of us when troublesome bacteria start “pinching” away at our nerve tissue. They make matters even worse by irritating nerve tissue strongly connected to our brain and mood. In this way, the bacteria in our gut protect our mood by keeping nerve endings correlated with our brain healthy.
The mood cure
When our digestion starts to slip—from not choosing the right responses to life (regarding diet, exercise, etc.)—we are damaging more than just our gut-lining. As we injure our intestinal tract with harmful beliefs, we create a sort of vicious-cycle. Negative thoughts not overridden with a better belief turn into destructive behaviors. Many people with poor digestive health first chose to believe in something negative.
The solution is to work at both ends. Because so many of us have thought ourselves to illness, we have to not only change our thoughts but repair any damage done with the right actions. When we observe our actions non-judgmentally, we begin to see where our thoughts might have created our situation. This is a new, empowering way to look at life; instead of being the victim to circumstance, we can rise above situations and create a new belief about our lives, bodies, and so on. In addition to choosing new beliefs, here are a few action-steps that will assist your digestion and thereby mental energy. Restoring proper nourishment to the mind will help us to think more clearly and bring higher awareness into our life:
1. Liquid, Raw Probiotics: These foods—for example, raw coconut kefir, raw sauerkraut, raw milk kefir (for non-vegans), kvass, jun, and kombucha—are all teaming with healthy bacteria and easy to digest. As we learned earlier, they work as nutritional alchemists, providing us with B-vitamins that restore energy levels. They also protect our cell lining and immunity which keep our nerve tissue healthy. Not to mention that they are very hydrating which will help elevate mood as well. Incorporate one of these new foods until you feel comfortable with them. They may seem foreign to you at first but, I tell you, they are incredibly delicious and you’ll be craving them in no time because of how good you feel on all levels!
2. Hydrate: Most digestive problems are just as much rooted in dehydration as they are negative thinking. Without proper hydration the body cannot produce sufficient stomach enzymes and acids, the large intestine becomes dried (leading to constipation and toxicity) and even our brain function decreases! There are entire books on the subject of proper hydration to prove how critical it is to our overall health—mental health included—however, the key is to keep it simple.
Hydrate best with clean, filtered spring water, consuming about 3 liters a day. Your intake may depend on activity level, age, weight, and diet. If you are eating an ideal plant-based diet of 80% vegetables and low-sugar fruits, you will be getting plenty of additional hydration from those foods. However, you still want to consume mineral rich water daily.
I personally like a few bottled high-mineral spring waters (sparkling) like San Pellegrino, Mountain Valley, or Gerolsteiner. I usually add Sunwarrior’s Liquid Light, a liquid fulvic mineral blend, to alkalize and mineralize my water. This makes it more hydrating, covers nutritional bases, and even gives you some natural energy by nourishing the adrenals and thyroid. Any homemade soups will be very hydrating as well!
3. Meditate: This doesn’t have to be a mystical experience for you somewhere in the Himalaya mountains. Meditation can be surfing, yoga, journaling, walking in nature, or simply listening to your own breath.
Meditation for me is about bringing back body awareness. We become so out of tune with our own bodies by being constantly trapped in thoughts and worries that we don’t even recognize our own need for water, sleep, the right foods, or exercise! Additionally, most people are stressed, and this stress response shuts down the digestive system.
By quieting your mind in some enjoyable activity, you stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system. This gets you reconnected with your body’s needs and turns healthy digestion back on. The actions most people make that further weaken digestion (eating junk food, overworking, staying up too late) are all actions lacking awareness. When we bring awareness back to our bodies, we are more capable of making nourishing choices. Even if that nourishing choice is simply to eat only when we’re hungry, not just stuffing food in our mouths because we’re bored.
A great form of meditation is mindful eating. Next time you eat, simply pay attention to your food: taste it, smell it, and with each bite chew fully, feeling all the textures. Only put food in your mouth once the previous bite is chewed completely and swallowed. Eat only until you feel satisfied completely by paying attention to how full your stomach is. Ask yourself questions if you cannot tell, for instance, “Am I full?” or “Do I need more?” and soon enough you will retrain your mind to listen to your body.