Let us look at the 4 main steps you can take to eat healthy and optimize your brain for better cognitive performance.
Meet Dr. Ana Freire, MMed., N.D.
Dr. Ana Freire is a licensed Naturopathic Doctor working in Ontario, Canada. She started in a traditional allopathic medical practice and soon found herself wanting to fully integrate her patient’s mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being as she recognized that each patient has a unique story, with equally unique health concerns. With a special interest in gut and mental health, she thrives on being able to provide individualized treatment to each of her patients through lifestyle and dietary counselling, supplementation, and acupuncture. To learn more please visit her practice’s website. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook: @dranaraquelnd
In a recent interview with Dr. Ana Freire we were discussing the topic: —-> Can optimizing your gut health lead to better cognitive performance?
“If you’re looking to optimize your brain health, then you have to focus on your gut health.”
Even though the digestive tract and brain aren’t next to one another, they are in constant communication. This is what we call the gut-brain axis. This axis links the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) with the enteric nervous system and bacteria in the gut. The trillions of microbes that live in your gut are responsible for making important compounds and chemicals that affect how your brain works, including 90% of the neurotransmitter serotonin – the “happy chemical”. The gut and its microbes also control inflammation, which is a crucial key to an optimally working, happy brain. Intestinal dysbiosis (an imbalance in the gut flora) and inflammation have been linked to anxiety, depression, and even dementia. So, when our gut health is impacted, so is the health of our brain, and therefore, cognitive performance.
Whether you are trying to resolve some digestive symptoms such as bloating, are trying to better manage your mental health, or simply want to slow down age-related cognitive decline, the gut can’t be avoided!
The 4 steps to gut healing, often known as The Four Rs, have been a mainstay in naturopathic medicine. These measures can be followed by almost any individual, however, the specifics should definitely be tailored to your needs. While working one-on-one with a healthcare professional will allow for customization, I’ve outlined below the fundamentals so that you can start feeling your best sooner than later.
The 4 Rs to better gut and brain health include the steps remove, restore/replace, replenish/re-inoculate, and repair.
So, let’s dive in.
Step 1: Remove
The focus here is to remove the things that are causing inflammation and further injuring the gut and its microbiome. Think of it this way: to be able to patch up a wall, we need to stop hammering at it.
This first step may look different for each person, based on their history, but often it includes eliminating the most common digestive irritants or triggers for a period of time. This gives our gut a break and also helps to better identify if specific foods are a primary trigger for you.
Often, dietary modifications include the removal of the following inflammatory foods and substances:
-Gluten found it wheat, barley, and rye
-Processed foods (which include refined starches, sugar, in addition to saturated and trans-fatty acids)
-Any known food sensitivities
However, diet is not the only offender! Managing chronic stress and eliminating pathogens (parasites, yeasts, bacteria) that can be at play are equally important.
Step 2: Restore/Replace
This second step is all about restoring what has been lost or affected through poor digestive health. By providing our body the nutrients we need to function optimally, we set ourselves up for better recovery.
Anti-inflammatory foods, in addition to certain supplements, can help not only heal the gut but support digestion at this step.
Great foods to consider here include:
-Polyphenol-rich foods such as extra virgin olive oil and green tea
-Omega-3 fats such as those found in wild-caught oily fish
-High-fiber foods such as vegetables, fruit, seeds and nuts
-Anti-inflammatory herbs and spices such as turmeric
As mentioned, certain dietary supplements may also have a role in this step to further help support digestion and absorption. Digestive enzymes, for example, assist in the breakdown of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates and may be of benefit in individuals presenting with digestive symptoms.
In this phase I also like to include a discussion on the restoration of a more mindful approach to eating. When we eat on the go, or mindlessly eat while working at a computer, we generally don’t produce enough of the things we need (salivary enzymes, stomach acid, digestive enzymes) to digest properly. [Click here for “how to” details on Mindful Eating]
Step 3: Replenish/Re-inoculate
The third step is to replenish the flora in your gut with beneficial bacteria. Not surprisingly, probiotics were going to show up in this discussion.
Probiotic supplementation may improve gut health by enhancing secretion of anti-inflammatory substances within the gut, in addition to supporting our immune function. Probiotics are also responsible for altering the composition of our microbiome which is at the root to optimizing brain health through gut health.
In addition to high-dose supplementation, probiotics can also be found in fermented foods, such as kefir, fermented vegetables (e.g. sauerkraut, kimchi), tempeh and kombucha.
Step 4: Repair
This final step addresses repairing the intestinal lining and mucosa. Having done so much groundwork in eliminating triggers, adding in the appropriate nutrients, and introducing beneficial bacteria, it is important to further support the healing effort. Here we use specific nutrients and botanicals (plants) that have been shown to decrease inflammation and repair damage to the intestinal lining.
Examples of these include:
L-Glutamine Deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) Marshmallow root Slippery Elm Zinc Vitamin D
The gut and brain are intricately connected. In order to promote a healthy brain and preserved cognitive function, addressing our gut issues and consequently reducing inflammation, is paramount. It is the foundation from which all else is built upon. Removing offending factors, replacing missing nutrients, replenishing your microbiome, and repairing any existing damage is the backbone to achieving a better gut and in return a happier brain.
To learn more about Dr. Ana Freire, please visit her practice’s website, be sure to follow her Instagram and Facebook: @dranaraquelnd
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