The Second Brain

Editor’s Note: The thoughts and opinions in this blog post are intended to help promote a continued conversation concerning Mental Health and its connection to Nutrition and Wellness. Please understand we are not medical professionals, nor Behavioral Health experts, and the content offered is research-based opinion merely to promote discussion and education.

Interestingly this is the month for Mental Health Awareness which comes at a time when we are experiencing a global pandemic that is affecting physical and mental well-being in our collective community. Let’s talk openly about this sensitive topic with the hope to lift the stigma surrounding neurophysiological disorders such as mood, anxiety, obsessive, panic, and depressive disorders, and insomnia.

It all starts with the brain! Yes, that organ responsible for controlling our quality of life sits right between our ears and behind our face, yet we’re so unfamiliar with how it works. The brain controls thoughts, perception of reality, memory, emotions, movement, organ function—the things that make us human. Overlooking our brain health can lead to serious problems.

Statistics show the world is facing a mental health crisis. Yet, the quality of information about mental health, and misinformation due to lack of research, is staggering. One in five adults experienced mental illness in 2018 — a record-breaking statistic that increases every year. Yet the cloud of mystery and stigma surrounding depression, anxiety, mood disorders, etc., conditions many of us live with, remains. We are told, “You might not be able to control your circumstances, but you can control your response to your circumstances.” (Foster Friess)

But what if a mental illness disables your control response? The most upsetting part about mental illness is the lack of control over the one thing you feel that you should be able to control: your own reactions. It’s much easier to accept the unpredictability of life than an unpredictability within ourselves.

Many studies show the comorbidity of neurophysiological disorders such as anxiety disorders, Tourette syndrome (TS), autism, Sydenham’s chorea, trichotillomania, dissociative disorders, depressions, eating disorders, and OCD with mood disorders like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, as common phenomena. Clinical depressions also can arise in response to extreme perceptions of control.

Source: Bridgestone RecoveryThese co-occurrences are attempts to combat the horrifying lack of control resulting from trauma or neurophysiological disorders. Exercising extreme control over how to dress, eat, look, feel, act, or experience something through OCD rituals, suicidal behavior, disordered eating or self-harm, provides a misdirected sense of autonomy.

Many who are diagnosed with mental illness opt for psychotropic medicine which creates an artificial perception of control but often worsens the problem in the long run. Out of the one in five adults diagnosed with mental illness in 2018, forty-three percent were treated with psychotropic medication. Research shows that there is a way to take control over mental health and lives in a healthy, holistic manner.

Did your grandma ever tell you that if you ate watermelon seeds you would grow a tree in your stomach? She was onto something. Imagine your insides as a tree: the roots are in your gut and intestines, fertilized by your microbiome, the trunk stretches upwards along the gut-brain axis, and the branches spread across your brain. A healthy, fruitful tree needs healthy roots.

The gut, which takes root at the bottom of your torso, has even been named “the second brain” because of its influence over the rest of the body. Mental health starts in the gut.

A line transporting millions of neurons and microbes, called the vagus nerve, reaches from the brainstem to the lowest viscera of the abdomen, touching most major organs along the way, so that the health of one “brain ” is communicated to the other.

Just like a sudden change in the weather directly affects plant life, a change in the diet affects the atmosphere of your gut, therefore altering which kinds of microbiota will flourish in the microbiome.

Probiotics are live bacteria that help cultivate a healthy gut environment. They reduce inflammation in the gut, maintaining a healthy habitat for essential microbes to thrive.