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For years, I have worked with folks battling mood-related concerns and I always got the sense that they felt like they did something wrong personally. Unlike more easily noticeable issues, mental health imbalances carry a stigma that often delays reaching out for help.
New research is suggesting that optimal mental health can be just as physiological as healthy bile flow or digestive strength. These systems are understood to rely upon upkeep and regular maintenance, like the clutch or brakes in your car. I would like to make the case that maintaining mental balance may rely on the maintenance of body parts. These parts however are just really, really small and have been overlooked until now.
As it turns out, there are glymphatics in the brain and microbes in the gut that may balance our mental health. Let’s review what we know.
In the gut, there are trillions of microbes who are responsible for manufacturing about 95% of the serotonin and other neurotransmitters, like dopamine, that are responsible for balanced mental health. (1) Serotonin, for example, not only protects the gut, but is delivered from the intestinal tract to the central nervous system, where it plays a leading role in supporting stable moods.
The successful production of these neurotransmitters in the gut depends on the health of the intestinal lining or skin, and the kind of microbes that inhabit the intestinal tract. The microbes also directly communicate with the brain via what is called the gut-brain axis. This relationship is bi-directional, which means that information from the gut can go to the brain and vice-versa. There are plenty of studies that are linking the gut microbiology to the ability to stabilize mood, worry, sadness or joy. (2,3)
There are also newly discovered glymphatics in the brain and central nervous system (CNS) that drain dangerous toxins while we sleep, to the tune of 3 pounds per year. (4-10) When these brain and CNS lymphatics get congested, there is good science linking to numerous mental health imbalances. (4-10)
One theory is that modern humans do not get as much physical activity as ancient humans did. This physical activity supports the flow of the major lymphatics in the body to both detoxify and deliver nutrients to the body. If physical activity is lacking, the major lymphatic drainage becomes compromised. This defaults the toxic drainage through the microscopic lymphs that drain the brain and CNS that are not equipped to handle this type of load. Stress, a poor diet and processed foods can also overwhelm the intestinal skin and congest the lymphatics.
If the brain cannot remove toxins adequately through its microscopic lymphs, and the gut has been overwhelmed with stress, undigested and processed foods that compromise microbes and the production of the neurotransmitters, it would be hard to imagine how we can have stable moods and optimal mental health.
Ancient Wisdom for Mental Health
While Ayurveda did not discuss the presence of microbes in the body, they did equate perfect mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health with the health of the digestive and lymphatic systems. The therapies employed for digestion were not harsh laxatives, oregano oils or digestive enzymes. They were kind, gentle approaches that supported the health of the intestinal skin, its microbiology, lymphatic drainage and the re-booting of upper digestive strength.
It is exciting to see the newest and most profound science linking lymphatic drainage and microbiology to some of our most prevalent health concerns. The following are some kind and gentle Ayurvedic strategies to remedy these concerns.
To support the intestinal microbiology, we must create a healthy environment by tending to the intestinal skin. This inner skin will be reflected in your complexion. My favorite formula to do so is a soothing intestinal prebiotic tea made of:
- Slippery Elm
- Marshmallow root
- Licorice root
Foods that support the intestinal skin are:
- Kitchari (see recipe here)
- Slow-cooked organic vegetables
- Sweet potatoes
- Small amounts of meat (10% of overall calories)
- Cooked cereals
Herbs that support the intestinal skin:
Re-populate the gut with colonizing probiotics:
- Please see my 4-Step plan to re-boot the microbiology.
Decongesting the lymphatic system requires a comprehensive plan:
- Exercise with nose breathing daily.
- Re-hydrate: Sip hot water every 10-15 minutes for 2 weeks and drink ½ your ideal body weight in water each day.
- Consume more red fruits and roots that would dye or stain your clothing, such as:
- Spices like ginger, turmeric and fennel
- White pith of citrus fruits and pomegranates
- Consume more lymph-moving veggies:
- Leafy greens
- Herbs to decongest brain-lymph (take before bed and with breakfast):
The final step in this process is to change the neural pathways that our thoughts and behaviors have created throughout our lives. By bringing the body back into balance, we establish a new platform in which to change old protective patterns of behavior. This is not a hard process, but it does require taking action. The key is to allow yourself to become aware of the truth – your truth, and then act on it.
The truth is that we are all, in essence, loving creatures. Yes, we can be angry and defensive to protect ourselves, but that is not how we are defined. New science tells us that we actually thrive in a loving environment, and degenerate in a stressful or violent one. (14) Good microbes flourish (11), chromosomal telomeres linked to longevity lengthen (12), the health and longevity hormone, oxytocin, surges (13), and our genes literally change in a loving environment versus a stressful one. (15)
At the end of the day, we cannot separate this body and mind. They are one, and must be treated as such. Your thoughts will affect your body, just as much as your body can affect your thoughts. It may sound very complex but, in reality, the solution is incredibly simple. If we are in essence loving creatures as the science shows – to experience love only requires us to act on that love. Maybe instead of holding in all of our love and passion, the message is as simple as Edina Menzel’s song in the movie, Frozen, “Let it Go!”