Guest post By Aimee McNew of Paleo Hacks
We don’t typically associate diet with our mood, but what we eat has a huge impact on our mental well-being.
While ups and downs are associated with major life upheavals (pregnancy, changing jobs, moving, etc.), beyond that, mood swings should not be considered normal. Even “that time of the month” doesn’t have to be racked with a sudden drop in energy. PMS symptoms, while commonly associated with normal menstrual cycles, are not actually common in all menstruating women. Prominent PMS symptoms tend to appear more in women with conditions or imbalances that are responsible for the aggravating symptoms.
As someone who has struggled with postpartum depression and major depressive disorder at different times in my life, I want to clarify that conditions like those, as well as bipolar disorder, are serious and should always be addressed with the help of a qualified professional.
While mood swings are not as serious as diagnosable disorders, they can feel life-altering in their own right. It’s important to remember that mood swings are not an inevitable part of life, we just have to consider what is at their root cause.
What Could Be Going On
To say it briefly: a major part of our nervous system resides in our gut, and mood swings occur when our gut balance is compromised. Emotional and mental stability and wellness is intimately connected with the brain-gut connection. The brain regulates the nervous system, but we have an entire “gut brain,” or the enteric nervous system, that has a massive sway over how the brain and nervous system functions as a whole. This translates to an active role in how our moods wax and wane.
While other factors can certainly impact mood (e.g., blood sugar balance, hormone conditions like thyroid disease, medication side effects, or sleep deprivation), gut health can also be associated with any or all of these.
Leaky gut is a condition where the small intestinal junctions, which serve as gateways between the intestinal tract and the bloodstream, become weakened in response to food allergies, toxins, or other foreign particles. Basically, it can happen to anyone of any age, and it’s extremely common, particularly in those who have chronic or autoimmune conditions—although leaky gut itself can be a factor that leads to the development of these conditions, too. When these intestinal gateways are loose, undigested food and other particles can enter the bloodstream and spark inflammatory responses, autoimmune problems, and a general disruption to homeostasis.
SIBO, or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, is another form of gut disruption in the small intestine where the “good” bacteria that belong in the large intestine and colon actually proliferate in the small intestine, resulting in gut symptoms like diarrhea, nutrient malabsorption, and painful bloating.
It’s entirely possible to have SIBO and leaky gut. Both conditions are associated with brain disorders like anxiety, depression, and even sleep disorders. They primarily mess with the nervous system by impacting how vital nutrients are absorbed, especially B vitamins, which have a calming and balancing effect on the brain, energy levels, and mood. B vitamins are water soluble, meaning that they need regular replacement since they aren’t stored within the body in fat tissue. When B vitamins, especially B6, B12, and folate, become regular deficiencies, people may experience increased irritability, anxiety, insomnia, fatigue, and other disruptive symptoms that can lead to feelings of depression, sadness, anger, and frustration. Sometimes this can lead to an incorrect diagnosis where medication is prescribed, and symptoms are further masked.
In order to address mood disorders from the root, the gut needs to be brought back to a homeostatic balance.
Bringing Balance to Your Gut
A gut-friendly diet is first and foremost anti-inflammatory. Nothing disrupts homeostasis more than inflammation, and our first line of defense should be to reverse the process with antioxidants and other nutrients that get to work repairing the damage done by this fiery interference. While inflammation itself is meant to be a protective measure, when it occurs in response to autoimmunity or chronic stress, it ceases to be protective and begins to cause a destructive friction within the body that leads to further breakdown.
A Paleo diet is one of the best protocols for gut health, but just because something is Paleo doesn’t mean it’s mood balancing. A Paleo diet for mood and mental health will focus specifically on four things:
Omega-3. One of the traps that Paleo eaters can fall into is relying too heavily on nuts, which are higher in omega-6 fatty acids and lower omega-3’s. Wild-caught seafood is, of course, one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Low intake of omega-3 has been implicated in mood disorders before. While it’s important to eat wild caught seafood regularly, it’s even more important to keep fatty acid profiles balanced between omega-6 and omega-3. So ideally, the ratios would be balanced evenly, instead of the default that tends to have omega-6’s consumed anywhere from 12 to 17 times more than omega-3’s. Foods rich in omega-3 include salmon, flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts, oysters, mackerel, and leafy greens like spinach.
Bone Broth. Well-reputed for its gut healing properties due to the presence of collagen, glutamine, and glycine—nutrients that help to repair the tissues of the digestive tract and therefore increase nutrient absorption—bone broth is a Paleo superfood. But certain people with histamine intolerance or SIBO may have a hard time getting this oily beverage down. Alternatives include plain dehydrated bone broth, making your own low-histamine bone broth (no garlic, onions, or spices), or a pure collagen supplement.
Leafy Greens. Some green vegetables can be problematic for SIBO, like cabbage, broccoli, and brussel sprouts. Spinach, chard, romaine, beet greens, watercress, and kale are all especially rich in B vitamins as well as antioxidant nutrients like vitamin C, and tend to be recommended for SIBO. The fiber found in leafy greens can also aid in elimination of toxins. Toxic buildup anywhere in the body, but especially in the gut, will have a direct impact on the nervous system. It could quite literally be said that toxic build-up in the gut has a major role in toxic thinking in the brain.
Eggs. Rich in folate and other B vitamins, eggs are a balanced source of protein, fat, and other essential nutrients. While some may have an intolerance, a majority of people can tolerate eggs, especially when they’re sourced from truly free range hens. Eggs also contain omega-3 fatty acids, and are a great source of selenium, which is a mood-boosting nutrient that helps to bring stability to the brain. Selenium deficiencies are associated with anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders, and diets that are highly processed can easily be selenium deficient.
Too many are willing to settle for a roller coaster of mood swings and instability when in many cases, it’s because they don’t know there’s something proactive that can be done about it. Eating for your health takes on a whole new meaning when you realize that it goes beyond weight and energy, but can literally impact how you think, feel, and even respond to life.