(Warning: some readers may find parts of the following to contain TMI; sorry.)
Over the past few years we’re hearing more and more about the gut being our second brain. Well-known neurologists such as Dr. David Perlmutter are writing books and articles about it (https://experiencelife.com/article/healthy-gut-healthy-brain/). Institutions such as the National Institute of Mental Health are spending millions of dollars on studies to understand the relationship between the brain in our head and the brain in our gut.
It wasn’t until just this month that I personally realized how much not only what I eat, but my experiences contribute to the state of my gut. If you’ve read my bio on this site then you know I live with Ulcerative Colitis (IBD), and generally I now live quite well despite this illness that used to have me living in my bathroom.
But in the early part of June, for no apparent reason the quality of my stool diminished. I wasn’t having diarrhea (which is one of the hallmark signs of an impending IBD flare for me), I was simply having small, mushy stools 3-6 times in the first three or four hours of my day. It didn’t stop me too much from living normally. I wasn’t living in my bathroom, but it did cause me to rearrange my work schedule to begin after noon. As the days progressed into a week, then two, then more, it was apparent I wasn’t having a “flare.” Just crummy quality stool, and too much of it.
Of course my nutritionist side kicked in. “What am I eating that could be causing this?” “Am I getting enough fiber? Vitamin D? Exercise?” “Could the warmer weather or Spring allergies be the cause?” “Did I pick-up an intestinal bug somewhere?”
When I mentioned this to my husband (he’s a gem considering the poor guy hears more about poop than any husband should ever have too!) he said, “Didn’t this happen last June, too?”
“Hmm, did it?” I asked myself as I headed upstairs to review my calendar from the previous year (Yes, I save my old calendars. I have them dating back to the early '90s!).
What I found out was that it had indeed happened in June of 2016. And June of 2015, and 2014, and 2013. “What the heck?” I wondered. As I looked through the calendars further I realized the connection.
In June 2012 that dear, sweet husband of mine had become gravely ill. After suffering at home for two weeks he was admitted to the hospital on June 12, 2012. That hospital admission would span 4 weeks until his release on July 13. Without going into all the details, that was the best day of our lives, because 2 weeks prior he’d been admitted to ICU and the doctor’s told me it was highly unlikely he’d walk out alive.
So, that’s it. That darn brain in my gut, which has already been on high alert for most, if not all, of my life, has been holding onto the stress, concern, and emotion of that experience with my husband from 5 years ago! (probably with a death-grip of fear it could happen again)
I’m now working on trying to figure out how to clear that stress and emotion from my body. I have re-engaged with my yoga and Reiki practices; I’ve spoken with a guru or two about how to clear these rooted emotions from my body; and I'm introducing more homemade probiotic rich foods into my diet again (I’d gotten lazy and lax about making yogurt and lacto-fermented veggies, but have a batch of each brewing away as I write).
In the meantime, things on the evacuation route are getting better each day. This coincides with the time-frame of the hubs being home from the hospital for about a week. His entire recovery would take more than a year, but just having him home, alive was enough to relieve much of the stress I’d lived with for the two months he was seriously ill. And as I look back through those calendars I keep, by the end of July in each of the past three years things have gone back to good for me on the poop front.
So, there you have it. Stress, Emotions, Past Experiences. They can indeed get stuck or rooted in our brains, as well as in our gut. And if you read the article I mention above from Dr. Perlmutter, all of this can cause or contribute to headaches, arthritis, eczema, allergies, autism, ADD, and even Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
So, the take-away from all of this is:
Clean up your Diet:
Most of what you eat should be comprised of good, whole, organic Veggies, Fruits, Protein, Nuts, and Seeds. Include moderate amounts of Dark Chocolate, Coffee, Tea, and Red Wine.
Drastically cut back on, or leave behind, simple carbs and sugar:
Crackers, Bread, Chips, Cakes, Cookies, Pasta, Pre-Made and Pre-Packaged foods are all pretty much empty calories.
Increase your Quality Fat Intake:
Think Nuts (whole, unadorned, not the flavored variety you like so much - sorry) Seeds, Avocadoes, Olive oil, Coconut Oil, Pasture-raised meats (you'll find probiotics in this meat as well).
Add or Increase Probiotics:
If you're new to probiotics start very, very slowly. Just a 1/4 to -1/2 teaspoon of homemade yogurt a day to begin. Or, the same amount of the juice from lacto-fermented veggies. There are a lot of good things in probiotic-rich foods but it takes your body a little time to get used to them. Too much, too soon, could make you feel very unwell. Contact me to help you learn more about introducing probiotics: firstname.lastname@example.org
Allow yourself to make time for you:
Yes, I know, you're busy and everyone needs something from you, and you don't have time for yourself. Well, my best advice? Make it. Make yourself your first priority. And know that it’s more than okay to do this. You have permission to care for yourself first and others later. Without daily self-care we’re not as good or as healthy or as happy and fulfilled as we can be. You'll feel better for yourself as well as for your loved ones. Don't wait for a health crisis before you make the time to care for you. I give you the permission.