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The Gut-Brain Connection

The Gut-Brain Connection

How Nutrient-Dense Foods Can Help Improve Your Child’s Mental Health and Well-Being

May is children’s mental health awareness month. We all know that things like Covid isolation, socialization stress, and academic pressure can take a toll on our mental health. But did you know that there is a strong connection between the gut and the brain?

The gut is often called the second brain because it plays a significant role in human body function, such as digestion and nutrient absorption. In fact, gut health has a significant impact on mental health! The microbes in our gut communicate with the brain and can affect our mood, anxiety levels, and even conditions like ADD/ADHD.

Food for Boosting Mood and Reducing Anxiety

If you’re concerned about your child’s mental health, research has shown that eating nutrient-dense foods like fresh fruits and vegetables makes a positive difference. Chewing is especially important because it kickstarts the digestive process. If your child doesn’t like eating vegetables, try adding greens such as parsley, celery, cucumbers to fruit smoothies.  Another vegetable boost is to mix cauliflower rice with regular rice – try 2/3 cauliflower and 1/3 rice – it comes out fluffy and tender and no one is the wiser.

Diets high in refined processed sugar like Mac n cheese or cheese pizza can be harmful to the brain. They may cause inflammation and oxidative stress, leading to an unhealthy gut and conditions like anxiety and depression. Research has shown that eliminating gluten from the diet can even help prevent conditions like Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia.

Serotonin and the Gut

It’s important to keep the gut and brain in balance, especially since the neurotransmitter known as the “feel-good” hormone serotonin is produced in the gut. If your gut isn’t healthy, it may not be able to provide enough serotonin to the brain, increasing the risk of anxiety and depression. Stress and anxiety can also lead to health issues, so keeping the sympathetic (fight or flight) and parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous systems in balance is crucial.

Good Reads

Drew Ramsey, M.D., a psychiatrist, and one of psychiatry’s leading proponents of Nutritional Psychiatry and author of Eat To Beat Depression and Anxiety (HarperWave 2021). He is an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. 

Dr. Uma Naidoo This is Your Brain on Food, an Indispensable Guide to the Surprising Foods that Fight Depression, Anxiety, PTSD, OCD, ADHD, and More. Dr. Uma Naidoo is a nutritional psychiatrist and serves as the director of nutritional & lifestyle psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital. She is on the faculty at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Naidoo trained at the Harvard Longwood Psychiatry Residency Training Program, and completed a consultation liaison fellowship at Brigham & Women’s Hospital and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

A healthy gut leads to a healthy brain and a happier, more balanced life!

Tips for Improving Gut Health

Here are some easy-to-follow tips for improving your gut health and, in turn, your mental health:

  1. Avoid processed foods, especially ultra-processed foods like white bread, chips, and snack cakes.
  2. Eat probiotic-rich foods, like kefir and sauerkraut, to help your gut and mood thrive.
  3. Consider going gluten-free, as it may positively affect your gut microbiome. Test to see if gluten is causing inflammation, and if not, try ancient grains like einkorn, which are prepared using traditional methods like soaking, sprouting, and souring.
  4. Consume healthy fats.  Brain development needs DHA EPA omega 3 from fish, olive oil, flax seed, nuts, and seeds to help with brain development, memory, cognitive function, and anti-inflammatory effects. Avocado is a great option for improving mood.
  5. Eat mushrooms, especially shiitake mushrooms, which are rich in vitamin B6, the “happy mood vitamin” that impacts serotonin production.
  6. Snack on nuts like almonds, cashews, walnuts, and Brazil nuts to increase serotonin levels and promote positive outlook.
  7. Boost dopamine, the feel-good neurotransmitter, by consuming sesame seeds, which contain tyrosine, an amino acid that increases dopamine levels.
See also:  Sweet Potatoes for Weight Loss

Improving gut health is key to reducing systemic inflammation and improving mental health due to the gut-brain connection. So, be mindful of what you eat and feed your gut the right foods to improve your overall well-being.

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Anita Wang, MD, FACEP, is a board-certified medical doctor of 30 years

Feel better, look better, naturally without harsh prescriptions or complicated surgeries. Practicing Functional and Integrative Medicine allows her to help patients find optimal health and vitality through comprehensive health profiling and rebalancing. She has practiced at UCLA Medical, Eisenhower Medical Center, and as a team lead in China during the 2003 SARS outbreak with Doctors without Borders (MSF). As the founder and lead practitioner of Wellness, Longevity and Aesthetics, Dr. Wang speaks globally, advocating for natural preventive health, pelvic and muscular strengthening, and minimally invasive aesthetics skin tightening.