The first time I realized that the digestive tract is connected with mental health was the second day of a juice fast. In the fall of 2009 I felt I had nothing to lose by taking a break from food. For the first time in many years, I experienced mental clarity. I was shocked. The clarity didn't last as I resumed eating, but I determined to learn more about the gut/brain connection.
The more I learned, the more I realized that poor digestive health affects more than mental clarity. It affects mood, energy, memory, vision, and virtually any other function related to physical and emotional well-being. Dr. Bernard Jensen, a pioneer in the field of alternative health, has written extensively about the critical role of the digestive system, going so far as to call it "king" in much the same way Mozart called the pipe organ "the king of instruments."
The digestive tract is the great console of the body. It can be the creator of harmony or disharmony. Disharmony occurring in the digestive tract has its sounding board in areas of the body removed from the gut. The nervous system, via countless pathways, connects the walls of the digestive tract to every corner of the body. Because of this neurological and anatomical fact, the bowel reigns supreme.I experienced a jolting reminder of this truth recently when I suffered a dramatic relapse in my mental health. My sleep became disturbed. I was anxiety-ridden and depressed. The renewed symptoms reminded me of the many years I spent in a constant state of emotional unrest. My journal looked like this:
- My brain feels like it will explode.
- Something must change.
- It's never enough.
- I feel hopeless.
I decided to fast. Aside from the known health benefits of intermittent fasting, spiritual benefits are noted throughout the Bible. Consider Daniel's determination to fast from the king's food, as recorded in the first chapter of Daniel:
At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. (Daniel 1:15)Another apparent implication of Daniel's determination to choose his diet carefully? Mental clarity. He was given "knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning." (Daniel 1:17)
I decided to go with a GAPS fast. The Gut and Psychology Syndrome Diet is a digestive healing plan utilizing fresh, whole, nutritionally dense foods. I've benefited from the diet for more than three years now. (Read about the start of our GAPS journey in this previous post.) A return to the Introduction Diet of meat stock made sense, even in the Arizona summer.
My body responded with an immediate healing crisis. Thankfully I have an established protocol for die-off, including vitamin C, charcoal, zeolite, colon cleansing, and more. Within a few days I rebounded. My outlook on life improved. My clarity returned. My family commented on the change. "Your eyes even look clearer!"
It's been several weeks since I began the fast. I'm adding foods slowly, watching for emotional responses. My sleep has returned. My brain is lighter. So is my mood.
I have no doubt my mental state will continue to ebb and flow, much like life itself. But I have a fresh reminder that diet matters. Especially when it comes to my emotions.
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