Food And Mood – The Gut Brain Connection Expanded

There is a lot of noise out there about the gut-brain connection as it relates to our health. We are learning so much more about how a healthy gut can greatly influence our health. Research in the fields of neuropharmacology & neuroscience are revealing just how important it is for us to maintain a healthy balance of gut bacteria in order to achieve homeostasis within our body (and our gut) thus experiencing optimal health. This bacteria is known as our microbiome. The human microbiome is the totality of microorganisms and their collective genetic material present in or around the human body.

Michael Spector, an American journalist and staff writer for New Yorker magazine wrote the following about the human microbiome. “We are inhabited by as many as ten thousand bacterial species, these cells outnumber those which we consider our own by ten to one, and weigh, all told, about three pounds-the same as our brain. Together, they are referred to as our microbiome-and they play such a crucial role in our lives that scientists have begun to reconsider what it means to be human.”

Michael Specter

Elaine Hsiao a postdoctoral fellow in chemistry & biology at Cal Tech spoke on Ted Talks in 2013 about the promise of micro based therapies and the potential to reduce more invasive types of therapy for various illness. She explained that our bodies contain 10 times more microbial cells than our own eukaryotic cells. These microbes which include bacteria as well as viruses and protozoa are part of the micro flora that make up our commensal microbiome. There are 100 trillion commensal microbes in our intestines which effect our behavior inclusive of anxiety, learning & memory, appetite and satiety. I guess it can get a little crowed in our gut…it may look something like this:

100 trillion

So how do these microbes in our gut contribute to brain health & help to control disease? According to Hsiao it occurs in several ways. The first is through the Vagus Nerve which contacts the gut lining and extends up to the brain stem. In this case the bacterium – Lacto Bacillus Rhamnosus effects depressive behavior in studies on mice and demonstrated that the mice treated with this bacterium exhibited less depressive symptoms.

The second way these microbes contribute to health is through activation of the immune system. Hsiao explains that 80% of our immune cells live in our gut. Immune abnormalities contribute to several neurological disorders. In this case the bacterium Bacteroides Fragillis was used to treat mice with the outcome being that these mice were more resistant to developing multiple sclerosis. This was also dependent upon a special subset of regulatory T-cells that express the marker td-25.

Another way in which microbes contribute to health is through the activation of the gut endocrine system. Gut endocrine cells are primary producers of neuropeptides and neurotransmitters. Gut microbes can also produce metabolites which impact brain function and have been shown to reduce communication deficits such as are present with autism in studies on mice.

In addition to understanding how the health of our gut influences our overall health, there are certain vitamins and minerals that when present in healthy amounts in our body produce improved mood. We can improve our gut flora depending on the foods we eat. This chart can help explain the spectrum of foods from acid to alkaline. A diet that is too acidic which is the case in many American homes increases our risk of becoming ill.

Acid-Alkaline-Chart

Adding in the daily amount of the following vitamins can also reduce your risk for symptoms related to depression.

Calcium is important in maintaining healthy bones and blood vessels. Some studies show that low levels of calcium in women (could not find similar studies for men) may increase symptoms related to PMS and depression.

Good food sources for calcium include: Broccoli, collard greens, kale, edamame, bok choy, figs, oranges, sardines, salmon, white beans, tofu, dairy, almonds and okra.

Chromium is a trace mineral needed to help the body metabolize food and regulate insulin. Chromium also plays an important role in increasing the levels of serotonin, norepinephrine, and melatonin in the brain which are all critical to regulating mood and emotions.

Food sources include: Broccoli, grapes, whole wheat products, potatoes and turkey.

Folate, or B9 supports the health and creation of cells in the body and regulates serotonin. Serotonin is the brain’s messenger, passing messages between nerve cells and assisting the brain in regulating mood among other things. Folate and B12 are often paired to treat depression. The recommended daily amount is 400 mcg (micrograms) per adult.

Foods rich in Folate include: Spinach, avocado, black eyed peas, Brussel sprouts and asparagus.

Iron transports oxygen through the bloodstream, supports muscle health and general energy. Low levels of iron leave us feeling tired and depressed. Iron deficiencies are more common in women.

Foods rich in Iron include: Soybeans, lentils, turkey (dark meat) beef or pork liver, clams, mussels, oysters, spinach and fresh ginger

ginger

Magnesium is responsible for more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body…it helps to break down glucose and transform it into energy.

Foods rich in magnesium include edamame. cashews, almonds or hazelnuts for snacks; add more whole grains such as millet, quinoa and brown rice and eat fish (halibut in particular).

Omega-3 fatty acid is not naturally produced by the body but it is critical to mood health. Deficiencies in omega-3 can contribute to mood swings, fatigue, depression or decline in memory.

Salmon, sardines, tuna and rainbow trout contain omega-3s. Chia seeds are also a good source. Vegetarians who rely on plant based sources may wish to consider supplements as plant and animal omega-3 differ.

B6 promotes the health of our neurotransmitters. A deficiency of B6 can lead to a weakened immune system, depression, confusion and short term anemia. B6 is known to relieve mood related symptoms of PMS. RDA is 1.3 mg daily for adults.

Foods containing healthy amounts of B6 include: Chickpeas, tuna, Atlantic salmon, chicken or turkey (white meat), sunflower seeds, pistachios, bananas, lean pork, dried prunes, avocado, spinach and lean beef.

B12 is critical to good brain health. Our mood depends largely on the signals from our brain making B12 one of the most important nutrients. B12 synthesizes a group of nutrients that are critical for neurological function. Low levels of B12 can contribute to increased fatigue, depression, lack of concentration, mania and paranoia.

B12 is found naturally in animal proteins such as eggs, beef, fatty fish and pork. It is also added to enriched cereals and breads. Taking a supplement is wise as the body can store what it does not use for a later time.

Vitamin D – Most of us are vitamin D deficient. It is recommended that we take a supplement to assure we take in enough vitamin D. Rates of depression increase with vitamin D deficiency.

Few foods contain vitamin D naturally but Salmon, eggs, chanterelle mushrooms and milk are good food sources.

salmon-category1

Zinc protects our digestive system as well as promoting a healthy immune system. Research has shown that healthy levels of zinc in the body reduce the risk of depression. Zinc has been known to enhance the effectiveness of antidepressants in some studies.

Foods rich in zinc include: pumpkin seeds, cashews, Swiss cheese, crab and pork loin.

Eating foods that balance blood sugar levels can also reduce the potential for fluctuation in mood and improve general health. You can do so by following these simple steps:

Increase whole grains. Whole grains release glucose into the bloodstream more slowly and evenly sustaining blood sugar levels and thus your energy. It is not so hear to do so. Eat power snacks that provide energy without weighing you down such as nuts, yogurt, fruit. Think of food in this way: carbs provide energy, protein helps to maintain that energy and healthy fats extend energy. So make the most of good carbs, fats and proteins in your diet?

Eat Well, Be Well

Leanne Yinger, M.Ed. HNC
Certified Holistic Health & Nutrition Educator @ Kira’s Kitchen
Email: Kiraskitchen5@gmail.com

Spice Up Your Life

It’s no secret that spices have wonderful flavor, adding much to our culinary palette. But did you know that spices have more to offer than taste, in fact in some cultures spices are highly valued for their medicinal benefits. With cold and flu season approaching it seems like a good time to explore spices for flavor and for health.

spices-market

Indian, Chinese and many Indigenous people use herbs and spices for various health needs. Turmeric (Curcuma Langa) for instance, is touted as a super food with multiple health benefits. A member of the ginger family, it is native to Asia and used in Pakistani and Indian recipes as a staple spice. Along with its delightful taste, turmeric is one of the highest sources for beta-carotene due to its curcumin content. Its also noted with containing strong antioxidant, antibacterial, anti-arthritic and anti-inflammatory qualities and is known to strengthen the nervous system. There is a great deal of interest among cancer researchers as to turmeric’s ability to reduce cancer cells. This article is worth reading http://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/herb/turmeric. As with any health aid it is wise to note potential adverse reactions related to particular conditions. Turmeric can be taken as a tea, added to recipes or in capsule/tincture or oil form.

tumeric bulb

http://www.nanotech-now.com/news.cgi?story_id=49363;  http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/ART03001/Three-Reasons-to-Eat-Turmeric.html; http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=78; http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/turmeric

Cinnamon is a spice most of us are familiar with and use on a regular basis. There are actually two types of cinnamon: Ceylon cinnamon commonly used in the western world and cassis cinnamon from Southern China. Some studies have had positive outcomes showing cassis cinnamon reduces blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.

cinnamon_fe

http://www.scottsdalefitnessandhealth.com/natural-remedies-for-blood-sugar-control.html; http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=68; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20924865http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/266069.php

Cumin originated in Egypt and is a spice not as widely known in western cooking as cinnamon, though it is widely used in Middle Eastern, Mexican and Indian cooking. Cumin’s health benefits are similar to cinnamon in reducing blood sugar and new research has it showing some promise as an anti-carcinogenic spice. It can be found in seed or ground spice form most often in cooking and in oils, tinctures and elixirs for medicinal purposes.

cumin-seed

http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=91; http://www.livestrong.com/article/415653-ground-cumin-health-benefits/

Many of us have strong associations to the holidays when we smell cloves. Its strong fragrance reminds us of favorite baked goods, mulled cider or a baked ham. Some of us have clove extract to address tooth pain. Cloves are used in ground form most often in cooking/baking but are also used whole in drinks or to season meats.

oranges-cloves

I like to make orange, clove pomanders like these ones to hang on my Christmas tree.

Clove is most commonly used medicinally as an expectorant and so it is often found in teas and oils. It comes in gum form to address bad breath and to aid digestion. Cloves contain eugenol, a component that has been studied for its anti-inflammatory qualities as well as its ability to remove toxins from the body. Clove oil is used widely for its antimicrobial, antifungal, antiviral, antiseptic and aphrodisiac properties. Similar to cinnamon and cumin, clove also contains a good amount of nutrients such as iron, magnesium and calcium.

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/251.html; http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=69

Cayenne pepper is another spice used widely in spicy cooking and can be found in in dishes from all over the world. Chili originated in Central and South America, but the cayenne pepper is named for the city of Cayenne, in French Guiana. Along with its spicy addition to a favorite dish it has many health benefits including inhibiting cancer cell growth, increasing blood flow, anti-inflammatory properties and is used in some cases for weight reduction.

cayenne-pepper-592x444

http://www.ecorazzi.com/2013/07/22/the-incredible-health-benefits-of-cayenne-pepper/;http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/267248.php; http://one-vibration.com/group/selfhealth/forum/topics/cayenne-pepper-the-wonder-drug#.VF00zjYo4dU

Finally, ginger. I use fresh ginger daily in recipes and in tea. It is a wonderful digestive aid and adds spice to an array of dishes. It also is known as an anti-inflammatory food as a result of a compound (gingerols) which acts as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent. Ginger is the object of a good deal of research related to cancer as well. Research in several cancer studies have shown the potential that ginger actually inhibits the growth of cancer cells.

ginger

http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=72; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19833188

Here’s a pretty effective elixir to boost immune function and help with congestion due to a cold: From Kim Erikson

1 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
1 large clove garlic, juiced or minced
1/2 lemon juiced
1 Tbs fresh ginger juice or finely grated ginger
pinch of cayenne pepper
mix all ingredients and take at once as a shot
Happy Health!
Leanne Yinger, M.Ed. @ Kira’s Kitchen
Board Certified Holistic Health Coach

Day Lilies and The Language of Flowers

In The Victoria Era The Language of Flowers was used to subtly tell people what was on your mind. Lilies represented “Majesty” which makes perfect sense to me when I am admiring my day lilies that return each year with prolific blossoms and bountiful beauty.

Image

Day lilies are also edible. I had the life changing experience in my early 20s to work with two wise herbalists in an herb shop in Branford, Connecticut called Bittersweet Farm Herb Gardens. These women taught me about herb lore and craft and how to properly dry herbs for use in potpourri. I learned how to grow and care for all types of herbs and edible flowers and how to make both edible and fragrant products from the herbs we grew in our traditional English herb garden. Day lilies were part of this education.

Day lilies have many edible parts including the buds, flowers, tubers and stalks. I am most fond of the flowers as they are only available for one day and then they drop away. The flowers are mostly used for their bright color and they can thicken soups and sauces in the same way okra does. The stalks remind me of wheat grass and they are high in vitamin C and fiber. The buds which are plentiful on many varieties are delicious when prepared in a simple butter saute or if you’d like a healthier version try toasted sesame oil. The butter allows for more of the natural flavor to come through so for this plant I break my own zero to very little dairy rule and go for butter. And last but certainly not least are the tubers. In New England we have an abundance of wild growing Tiger Lilies. Freshly dug the tubers are very tasty when added to butter for a simple saute. The whiter tubers are sweetest and remind me of early sweet potatoes.

Image

I caution everyone to approach eating wild plants and flowers with care. For some there may be allergic reactions to introducing unfamiliar foods. Try a little and see how it goes before digging up the whole bank of day lilies you find in your backyard.

For more information on edible plants try one of the following reference books:

The Encyclopedia of Edible Plants of North America by Francois Couplan

Edible Wild Plants: A North American Field Guide by Thomas Sam Elias

AND because I grew up in Northern California

The Encyclopedia of Useful and Edible Plants of California by Charlotte Bringle Clark.

Good eating and please remember to stop and kiss a lily they only show their pretty faces for one day!