Next on the Anxiety Series: Gut Health. I am kind of embarrassed to admit it, but up until I started Chinese Medicine school, I did not see the connection between nutrition and overall health. I thought diets were for those trying to loose weight, had heart disease, diabetic, etc. Complete disconnect. My diet consisted of primarily of sugar, dairy, and refined carbs. (Think toast for breakfast, sandwich for lunch, mac and cheese for dinner, ice cream for dessert). Once in my Masters program, we would be evaluated by our peers and supervisors in a clinic setting as guinea pigs. Imagine my surprise when my anxiety, insomnia, constant head fog, dermatitis, poor immunity, low energy, and sinus congestion were attributed to poor digestive function. (I also had chronic abdominal pain). What was perplexing was that I had been a super healthy kid and teenager, so diet alone didn’t seem the only culprit as to why my health plummeted over the previous several years. The inquiry went something like this: Long term antibiotic use? No. Did you traveled to a third world country and get sick (dysentery, parasite)? No. We were looking for clues as to what would disrupt my gut microbiome so severely. Sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees, and the answer was right in front of me. “What are these scars from?” I was asked while being having my abdomen palpated looking for tender spots. Bingo! When I was 20 years old, I got very, very sick in Barcelona. I ended up spending almost a week in the hospital with appendicitis. The first panic attack I ever experienced was the night after the surgery. A very traumatic experience to say the least. Looking back, it’s as if I never recovered. Slowly losing my health until I learned how to heal myself naturally. Long thought to be an unnecessary organ, the appendix is now viewed as a storehouse for good bacteria to help maintain healthy flora in the gut. Diet has been integral in healing my gut (and mind!). First off was eliminating inflammatory foods (sugar, cow’s milk dairy, gluten) and adding foods/herbs to heal the lining (bone broth, licorice root, aloe), prebiotics (veggies, legumes), and fermented foods that helped repopulate healthy bacteria (sauerkraut, miso). This was not easy, and I have so much empathy for people that are on special diets for their health. I find it funny that some of my clients will get borderline hostile with me when I suggest dietary changes. I get it! Certain foods are really hard to give up. But it is soooo worth it in the long run. I don’t think I will ever be healed to my pre-appendectomy days, but I’d say my anxiety is a tenth of what it used to be (and those other health concerns I mentioned have resolved as well). Chinese medicine for millennia has seen a connection between mental health and the gut. It is well-founded in Western Medicine now as well, even linking conditions like autism and ADD to poor gut health. Not to say that everyone that has anxiety has a gut problem, but it is worth the inquiry if you are suffering. I know right now it is really hard to be mindful of what we’re eating (I am having serious sweet cravings), but never a time in recent history has our health been of more importance. For me, when I am feeling stressed, I eat worse, which causes my anxiety to flare, and creates an awful cycle. My life right now is doing everything I can to stay calm, present, and grounded. I hope the information I am sharing to help anyone suffering with anxiety. It makes me sad to think: if this pandemic happened 8 years ago in the throes of my dark days of poor health, I would be in very bad shape without the tools I now have. If you would like support via nutrition, herbs, and lifestyle, please reach out to me for a tele-health appointment.
Disclosure: If you are on prescription medications, please check with your healthcare provider for herb-drug interactions prior to ingesting any herbs.
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