The Second Mind

When I started this blog one of the things I felt passionate about was how food can help both mental and physical recovery. I did a lot of research into gut health and when I started 10 years ago there was very little information surrounding this.
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Now, it seems the power of the gut is gaining momentum.  For the first time, new research has linked the health of gut bacteria to mental health.  It seems the Second Mind really is in the gut.

The simplest explanation I heard was this.  If the billions and trillions of bacteria in your gut are happy and balanced, they release good” things” (not the medical term!) into the body making you feel energetic, hopeful, positive.  If they are unhappy and imbalanced, they secrete toxic substances into the body, making you feel depressed, tired, ill etc.  Get this balance right and the body can be in a natural state of harmony.

But of course, there are many external factors that can upset the natural balance of bacteria in your gut.  For me it was years of antibiotics and painkillers, plus anaesthetics, infections etc. My system was all over the place and my digestion was so bad at one point, one spoon of food would be so difficult for my body to digest I would fall asleep for a few hours.  I had reached breaking point and I needed to understand what was going on.  But this wasn’t an easy ask either.  Western medicine has neglected the field of gut health for so many years that even the best doctors had no idea how to help me.  Their solution mostly revolved around medicines that I should take, which were the root cause of the problem to begin with. I was disappointed and disheartened and really didn’t know where to start to find a solution.

As with most things in my life, the best moments have come naturally.  Not when I have been looking for them or trying to seek them out but when I had either given up, lost hope or just decided I had to get on with things anyway.  One sunny morning driving in Dubai (where I lived at the time) I was listening to one of the talk radio shows, something I rarely did.  I always loved to have the music blaring, driving around in the sunshine, but on this day I was stuck in traffic and bored of everything else on the radio.  As luck would have it, a Canadian doctor called Heather Eade was talking about how she believed the gut was the most overlooked part of the body and yet it was the key to so many aspects of health.  Well now she had my attention.  Even more interestingly she believed in diagnosis using Western methods but looking at treatment in a more holistic way. I couldn’t make an appointment fast enough, and so started my journey into understanding the impact of digestive health.

It was a bad start. To begin with, Dr Eade tested me for food allergies and intolerances.  Foods are grouped into red, yellow and green categories – red meaning the body was extremely intolerant or allergic and green being not at all.  As I turned each page it was red mark, after red mark. From the usual suspects like wheat and dairy right down to onions, my body was rejecting food left, right and centre. No wonder it didn’t matter what I ate, my body was just in a constant state of inflammation and the balance of my gut bacteria was completely off. She also discovered an unusual underlying thyroid condition. In essence, my body was unable to compute what I was eating and how to digest it, therefore that no matter how little I ate I was putting on weight. This was caused by a small compression of my intestine which had happened as a result of the weight of the lorry on me. No one had detected this before. This compression was also slowing down how my food moved through my intestine during the digestive process.  It sounded awful and untreatable.  However, Dr Eade assured me she could help and so we started on a year long programme of food elimination, herbs and vitamins.  

First, I had to eliminate any food that was high in FODMAPs.  These are foods that are high in a particular carbohydrate that is a common cause of digestive issues. The list includes onions, beans, legumes, dairy and wheat amongst a host of others.  She advised me to try this for 3 months and then we would test my intolerance levels again.  As my very supportive friends and family will attest this is a nightmare.  So many foods I liked had FODMAPs in them. Eating out was near on impossible unless I ate steamed spinach and boiled chicken (and even then explaining this in a restaurant was sometimes challenging!).  Getting variety in my diet was also really hard.  I am a foodie, so it was very difficult to manage initially. But as I started to feel better, I was encouraged. And slowly but surely my symptoms started to improve.  I was less tired and bloated and my body started to feel like it was not having to work as hard to digest food.  My mood improved and I had more clarity of mind. And after 3 months my tests came back more positive, less red marks than before but still a significant number.  So I wasn’t out of the woods yet.  Dr Eade wanted me to continue for another 3 months. And that’s when things really started to change.  Slowly we started to reintroduce food groups. It was trial and error supported by Dr Eade and her combination of herbs and vitamins but soon I was able to manage things myself.  I tuned into how I felt when I ate something and kept a diary of symptoms.  Patterns started to emerge of which foods made me feel sluggish or emotional and which ones gave me energy.  And this is how I really began to understand that so much of what I was experiencing beyond my digestive issues, was related to the balance of my gut health.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation out there.  Social media stars and those promoting the “clean eating” movement don’t always give the right advice.  What works for one person might not work for someone else.  There might be further underlying issues that mean your body might not respond in the same way.  It can be deflating and hard. The key is to find what works for you.  A lot of what Dr Eade helped me to do was still trial and error.  Listening to and monitoring my body myself and documenting how I felt.  I will continue to share my journey in further blog posts, with a bit more detail about each stage and the changes I noticed. But I know one thing.  There is definitely a mind gut connection and I am going to continue to research and learn more.  And I will keep you posted on what I find!

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