There are few topics in modern nutrition discourse that garner as much attention as those related mental health, digestive health or the intricate connection between the two.
Gut-brain connection ring a bell?
Although nutrition is my obvious hobby horse, what interests me today is the manner in which the state of the gut can be improved by focusing on the state of the brain, independent of food.
Having broached this topic briefly with a previous Kaleigraphy client, it was brought back to my attention during a recent client interaction.
A case of dietary modification improving digestive health, but only in the absence of stressful situations.
Psychological stress is a pervasive phenomenon and one which carries with it severe consequences for digestive health owing to the negative impact it has on your GI tract.
In fact, a paper out of the World Journal Of Gastroenterology described IBS ( irritable bowel syndrome) as a stress-sensitive disorder for which treatment modalities should include some emphasis on stress management.
Guess what helps some people with stress?
A very comprehensive 2014 review of nearly fifty studies published in the Journal Of The American Medical Association concluded that:
“Clinicians should be aware that meditation programs can result in small to moderate reductions of multiple negative dimensions of psychological stress.”
Stress Damages Your Gut
According to evidence discussed in a 2017 review paper out of the Advances in Mind-Body Medicine journal, stress leads to the production of CRH (Corticotropin-releasing hormone) throughout the human body, and particularly in the gut.
CRH is known to disturb the gut microbiota and inhibit the healthy functioning of these bacteria which would otherwise promote an anti-inflammatory environment in your intestines.
The author’s of this paper speculate that because meditation reduces the stress response it thus suppresses the creation of a pro-inflammatory environment which would otherwise play a contributing role in poor gut health.
Meditation Improves Your Gut Health
In 2015, the Harvard University Gazette published an article highlighting a 2015 study out of the PLoS journal conducted by hospitals associated with the university that showed meditation and other relaxation practices as yoga, over a 9-week period, improve the symptoms of both IBS and IBD.
What’s more, the study also found that these types of relaxation practice also altered biochemical & genetic markers of both stress and inflammation.
In both patients with IBS and those with IBD, participation in program appeared to have significantly improved disease-related symptoms, anxiety, and overall quality of life, not only at the end of the study period but also three weeks later.
A 2011 randomized controlled trial in women with IBS found that a mindfulness intervention which included meditation had a significant and lasting impact on symptoms and quality of life of the participants.
It was the first well-controlled experimental study of it’s kind to find such results and provides a strong basis from which to pursue meditation as a potential treatment modality in IBS.
While more high quality research in this area is clearly necessary, the potential of meditation as an alternative treatment modality appears promising.
This is likely especially true for those who have already “checked all the boxes” from the dietary perspective.
So Wait, What Even Is Meditation?
So here we are 500 words in and I haven’t even really discussed that meditation is.
It comes in different forms, some even meditate with kale in their mouths.
In all seriousness, meditation is a long practiced technique that may be fairly described as personal training for your mind – although someone with more expertise in this area may offer a much better definition.
According to the National Institute Of Health, meditation has four common elements:
1. A quiet location with little to no distraction
2. A comfortable posture ( kale optional)
3. A point of focus
4. An open mind/attitude
Now even with all of that, those who have never meditated probably still have no idea where to get started.
Don’t worry, there are [free/partially free] apps for that.
Apps To Consider: Waking Up, Insight Timer, Enso, Calm, 10% Happier, Headspace, Bhuddify.
Of course, you can always Google ” how to meditate” as well.
Sage wisdom from yours truly.
As I continue to grow as a professional, I have become increasingly interested by the interaction between mental health and nutrition.
This will be apparent to regular readers, given my previous article was on Cognitive Behavioural Theory and exploring how negative thoughts can damage the way we interact with food.
As today’s blog post also points to, The manner in which we care for our minds obviously has serious implications for how effective nutrition can be in caring for our bodies.
A point that should not be taken lightly!
Until next time,
Andy De Santis RD MPH