Unless you’re under the age of 7 (or male, ha!) digestion is often a taboo subject. For the most part, people just don’t like talking about poop. And as a nutritionist, poop is a big part of the puzzle when trying to assess a clients overall health. In fact, I’d be willing to say that it’s the top indicator of true health in individuals, and we should (as a society) focus more on getting ourselves to have perfect digestion before trying to achieve a perfect weight, athletic performance, or anything else. If your digestion is great then, I shit you not (pun intended), everything else will eventually fall in to place.
How do you tell if you have good digestion?
Well for starters, it shouldn’t be painful. It shouldn’t take you an hour. It shouldn’t make others reach for a gas mask or run out of the house thinking the walls will fall down. It should be comfortable and something you really don’t notice at all until you have to go to the bathroom, and it should be relatively quick and easy, overall a pleasant experience. For those of you with great digestion, you probably look forward to your daily bowel movement and even probably brag about it to someone (ADMIT IT!)
And, for those of you who are more visual learners, here’s a chart that I use with clients to help them identify what numbers they are. Ideally, we’re all Types 3 or 4. And if you’re not a 3 or 4, you’ve got some work to do.
But for those who don’t have great digestion, it can cause other issues beyond physical discomfort. It can actually cause depression, anxiety, and other more serious mental issues. It can call something we refer to as “Gut and Psychology Syndrome” or GAPS.
What is GAPS?
By definition, GAPS is a condition which establishes a connection between the functions of the digestive system and the brain. The term was created by Dr. Natasha McBride in 2004 after working with hundreds of children and adults with neurological and psychiatric conditions, such as autism spectrum, ADD/ADHD, schizophrenia, dyslexia, dyspraxia, depression, OCD, bi-polar disorder, and other neuro-pyschological and psychiatric problems. Her work showed that individuals with these disorders had 1 primary thing in common- leaky gut syndrome- and she developed the GAPS protocol, a nutritional and lifestyle protocol, to address this by healing their leaky gut. (If you aren’t familiar with or aware of leaky gut, check out this blog post for more information).
So how do you connect the dots between Digestion and the Brain?
We know that leaky gut occurs when the walls in our stomach and intestines allow toxic bacteria to leak out into our bloodstream. These displaced bacteria cause inflammation and a host of other issues, the most prominent being depression and anxiety. We also know that leaky gut and poor digestion go hand-in-hand. So, beyond leaking toxic bacteria out into your bloodstream for it to travel all throughout your body (including your brain), your body literally won’t be able to absorb the nutrients from the foods you’re consuming and leads to nutrient deficiencies (like a Vitamin D deficiency that leads to a decrease in Serotonin and Dopamine production which can cause depression… see how this all adds up?).
So if you’re someone who suffers from depression and anxiety, take a look at the stool chart and see where you rate. If you’re a 3 or 4, then it may be safe to say that something else may be causing your depression and anxiety. But if you’re not a 3 or 4, take a look at your diet. You can heal leaky gut syndrome and experience the ‘side effects’ of improved mood, better sleep, higher energy levels, and better digestion!
How do I heal leaky gut and improve my digestion?
The easiest things you can do right away to improve your digestion is to drink plenty of water, limit alcohol and caffeine, eat whole foods (NOT processed junk), avoid wheat (gluten) and avoid added/refined sugars. I guarantee just doing this for just a week alone will yield improvements!
If you suffer from depression or anxiety and have any questions about any of this, please feel free to reach out! Even if you don’t want to work with a nutritionist at this time, I’m more than happy to help point you in the direction of some resources that may help. 🙂