Which came first: the stress or the irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)? Stress may cause stomach pain and digestion issues, but worrying about eating the wrong foods can also cause stress!
“Our gut health and our mental health are completely interlinked. Our bodies are complex, and we can’t compartmentalize them,” says Michelle Gray, owner and pharmacist at Gray’s Compounding Pharmacy in Kimberley.
The gut and the brain are directly connected through the vagal nerve, so if one is out of order then the other will be impacted. The neurochemicals that keep our brain healthy are made in our gut, so if your gut is having trouble producing those chemicals your mental health balance may shift.
“We may take mental health medications to regain that balance, even when the gut is the source of the problem,” Michelle says.
When the gut lining is inflamed (due to stress, food sensitivities or other factors) it can cause leaky gut syndrome. Toxins from everything we ingest are able to slip into the body instead of being expelled.
“Toxins are generally fat soluble, and guess what — our brain is composed of a very fatty material. Those toxins can lead to brain fog, where life feels like you’re walking through jello and it’s really tough to focus.”
The body will try to detox in many ways, causing unpredictable symptoms.
“The skin is our largest detoxifying organ, so IBS can be connected to eczema, psoriasis and unexplained rashes. Arthritis, heartburn, all of these things may be linked to the gut. Often in healthcare we chase the symptoms, but it’s more effective to treat the root cause if you can pinpoint it,” Michelle says.
Many people assume they don’t have gut issues because they have regular bowel movements, but Michelle says your gut health may still need help.
“It can flip from one day to the next — constipation one day and loose bowels the next. Excessive bloating and pain are also signals you may have IBS.”
What you can do
Reducing stress, inflammation and toxins is the best way to improve your gut health.
- Try reducing gluten: ”Often when people shift to a gluten free diet (not filling up with store-bought gluten free products, but actually reducing gluten and grains), they start feeling better right away,” Michelle says. “Reducing gluten allows our gut to heal, because it’s not constantly being attacked.”
- The Dirty Dozen and Clean 15: The ‘dirty dozen’ is a list of 12 fruits and vegetables that are more likely to contain high amounts of pesticides — try to buy organic if you can. The ‘clean 15’ is a list of produce that’s generally low in pesticides, even if you buy non-organic. Following these lists is a great way to reduce toxin levels, which reduces the stress on your body’s systems.
- Test for a food intolerance: If you’ve removed some foods and still haven’t resolved your symptoms, an RMA Lab food intolerance test may provide answers. “Food sensitivities cause inflammation — that’s different from food allergies, which cause an anaphylactic response,” Michelle says. The take-home test is available through Gray’s Compounding Pharmacy, and will test your blood for sensitivities to 222 common foods.
- Hormone imbalances: Many people develop new food sensitivities as they age, and hormone changes surrounding menopause can have a dramatic effect on other body systems. “All of these systems are connected! I started with hormone consulting and learned to help balance patient’s hormones, but then their lifestyle would disrupt the balance. So I’ve brought in lifestyle consulting and collaborations with other health practitioners to try to weave together the complex systems in our bodies,” Michelle says.