Mental Health

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The Role that Your Gut Plays in Your Mental Health

To understand the connection of the brain to the body, we are going to look at the connection between the gut and the brain. Your brain and digestive tract (gut) developed from the same clump of cells early in your development – as your cells differentiated (changing to take on a specific function), some cells stayed in your brain, while others migrated to your lower thoracic cavity where you gut is. Cells that form together, such as the cells in your brain and gut, often stay connected; so, when one set fires or is activated, the connected set fires as well. Ultimately, when your gut is sick, your brain will also be sick.

A very large nerve called the Vagus nerve (Latin for “wandering”) directly connects the gut to the brain. While it works both ways, it primarily communicates from the gut to the brain – the gut is even sometimes called the “second brain” – so, when the gut is unhealthy, it won’t be long until the brain is also unhealthy. Consequently, when the brain is unhealthy, it causes a myriad of mood and behavioral problems. In fact, the person who suffers from mental illness really can’t control themselves because their brain is unhealthy & damaged, which overrides their every desire. Many neurotransmitters are made in your gut and travel through the vagus nerve to your brain – in fact, 75% of serotonin (the happy hormone) is made in your gut. So, if your gut is faulty, you are much more prone to experiencing mood swings, depression, sleeplessness and irritability. It is impossible to have a healthy, well-functioning brain without first having a healthy gut.

The blood brain barrier is made of tiny blood vessels with walls made of cells that fit together very tightly, allowing some materials to cross but preventing others from crossing. In other parts of the body, these small blood vessels are lined with cells that have small spaces between each individual cell so that substances can move readily between the inside and the outside of the vessel; however, in the brain, these cells fit together tightly and substances cannot pass out of the bloodstream and into the brain. The facts are out there, and even the medical community is starting to realize that much of mental illness is linked to toxicity in the brain. When someone develops a leaky gut, toxins such as heavy metals, mercury in vaccines, fluorine, chlorine, bromine, pesticides and other toxins can cross the blood-brain barrier and end up in the brain. Once the gut is compromised, there must also be some detoxification of the body and brain, and there must be a conscious, consistent plan to repair and rebuild good flora in the gut. First detoxifying the brain and then repairing and reseeding the gut have been shown to have tremendous beneficial effects on autism, ADD & ADHD, bipolar, dyslexia, OCD, Schizophrenia and learning disabilities.

Anxiety & Depression

Simply stated, anxiety is an apprehension of the future, especially about upcoming challenging tasks – this is normal. What is not normal is when the reaction is significantly out of proportion to what the challenge is. When anxiety is free-floating, with no real cause or when it is so severe that it impedes daily activities, that’s a problem. A simple internet search will show you that many of the exact symptoms that you are trying to avoid are often made worse by taking potent anti-anxiety medications, such as Xanax. Furthermore, anxiety (fear for the future) often shows up with its sister depression (excessive regret over the past). A nearly equal number of Americans suffer from both conditions… this begs the question: Is there a link between anxiety and depression? What causes it in the first place? Remember that when we talk about harmful chemicals and food additives, what we are really talking about is stress – these substances create a toxic burden on the body and cause symptoms like anxiety and depression. If we merely treat the symptoms, then we have “shot the messenger” – symptoms are powerful messengers trying to get our attention and showing us that something is stressing the body and that it needs to be addressed.

Understanding Anxiety

Hey Doc… I have had debilitating anxiety for years and have been taking a medication to help, along with my anti-depressant. I feel okay most days, but there are still times when I have overwhelming anxiety about nothing in particular – I just feel unable to be at ease, even with the medications. When my anxiety is bad, I can’t leave the house, my heart rate speeds up, my blood pressure skyrockets and I get almost incapacitated. What am I missing? How can I feel less anxious

In 1819, the English poet John Keats called anxiety a “wakeful anguish” – this barely describes the agony of fighting with an unseen dragon; a nameless, faceless source of panic. More than 40 million Americans are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and many of those people take prescription drugs for it, the most popular being Xanax. However, a simple internet search of the side effects of this potent medicine will show you that many of the exact symptoms you are trying to avoid are often made worse by taking it. Anxiety is one of the most common neurological disorders, but it is also one of the most difficult to understand.

Many experts in the field of alternative medicine, and more and more experts in the mental health field are realizing that these conditions may be caused by the radical and harmful changes in the American diet over the last two generations. An abundance of processed foods filled with harmful chemicals, too much sugar, too many simple carbohydrates and the prevalence of genetically modified foods all lead to the perfect conditions for high inflammation, a wrecked gut and the anxiety & depression to go along with it.

Six Ways to Improve Brain Health

1 Avoid foods that are known mood disrupters. Margarine is made up of trans-fats that produce and promote inflammation within the body. The high levels of Omega6 fatty acids can cause mood swings and irritability. Packaged, salted nuts are high in sodium, as well as other chemicals, like MSG. MSG is linked to migraines, irritability, moodiness, muscle weakness, nerve pain and difficulty breathing. Excessive simple carbohydrates (bagels, muffins, breads, pasta, etc.) cause a seesaw effect in mood and emotions because of their “quick burn” nature. In general, the faster something burns in your body for energy, the more it will cause mood swings. 

2 Detoxify your body every day. Oil pulling takes toxins out of your mouth after a long night’s sleep. Hot baths with Epsom salt pulls toxins out through the pores. Sweating releases toxins. Exercising stimulates the lymphatic system to push toxins out. Drinking 1/2 your body weight in ounces of water – adding lemon helps too!

3 Exercise even when you don’t feel like it – especially when you don’t feel like it. Exercise creates BDNF – brain derived neurotropic factor – which is basically fertilizer for the brain. This helps you think more clearly and rationally. Exercise increases the production of serotonin – the “happy hormone”! Last year, researchers at the University of Texas Medical Center recommended that all doctors treat patients with depression with an exercise protocol because of its effectiveness in battling depressive episodes. 

4 Get enough Vitamin D. Vitamin D affects the amount of chemicals in the brain, including serotonin. The areas of the brain that are responsible for depression also contain many Vitamin D receptors – for this reason, low levels of Vitamin D have been implicated in depression and other mental health struggles. One theory is that Vitamin D affects the amount of chemicals called monoamines which have a direct effect on depression.

5 Practice gratitude. Gratitude keeps your focus outward which can help to manage the symptoms of depression. Each and every day, especially during the low times, write down five things for which you are thankful.

6 Help others. U.S. News & World Report ran an article that recapped research showing that those who regularly volunteer and help others are healthier, had better psychological frame of mind, were happier, were more resilient to stress and lived longer. The feeling of social connectedness does wonders for the isolated feelings of depression & volunteering, like gratitude, keeps you outwardly focused.

Ashwagandha & Adaptogens

People have utilized ashwagandha for thousands of years due to its natural healing properties and ability to help relieve stress, increase energy levels and improve concentration. Technically, it is classified as an adaptogen, or a substance that is known to help the body cope with stress. Ashwagandha helps control mediators of stress, including heat shock proteins (Hsp70), cortisol, and stress-activated c-Jun N-terminal protein kinase (JNK-1). Furthermore, it helps to reduce the activity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis – this is the system in your body that regulates the stress response.

One study, with 58 participants, found that those who took 250 or 600 mg of ashwagandha extract for eight weeks had significantly reduced perceived stress and lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol than those who took the placebo. Furthermore, another study involving 60 participants found that those who took 240 mg of ashwagandha had significant reductions in anxiety compared to those who received the placebo. Ashwagandha may even benefit cognitive functions, such as executive functioning, attention, reaction time, and memory.

Read About Stress MAXX Here


We know that many people struggle with the debilitating effects of mental illness, such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, etc. on a daily basis. We offer this information not to suggest that there is an easy fix to what you are experiencing, but to instead provide information and tangible steps that you can take in order to help your body get out of a neurological, physical, and chemical stress response, all of which can, at the cellular level, produce positive effects for your mental health. Under no circumstances should anyone stop taking prescription medicine without first consulting their doctor. Most importantly, we want you to know that we will fight with you and for you, that there is hope and that what you are going through will not be your reality forever. At Redeem, we want you to experience freedom in your mind, body and spirit and would be overjoyed to help you take a step toward freedom in whatever way possible, no matter how big or small that step is.