No matter where you go these days, it seems just about impossible to escape the discussion on food allergies, intolerances, or sensitivities. While those topics are a discussion for another time, so many people don’t understand the connection between food and mood. Food sensitivities can have a variety of very obvious consequences some of which include everything from headaches to bloating to skin rashes, hives, or even severe reactions like anaphylaxis (allergy as compared to sensitivity), but the connection of food to mood is one that it often not well understood. This leads to confusion about the origin of often erratic moods. Let’s start with the gut…
We have discussed the gut in many previous articles, but believe it or not, mood (like many other physiological functions) starts in the gut. About 90% of our serotonin is produced in the gut. When the gut is disrupted by the foods we eat, our production of serotonin is disrupted because gut bacteria play a huge role in the production of this neurotransmitter which plays a critical role in depression, mood regulation, sleep, migraine headaches, and anxiety. This also explains why many SSRI medications given for depression cause IBS, constipation, and other gut issues, because they are targeting the gut chemicals before they can be used in the brain.
There are many potential food contributors to this phenomenon, and it often takes detective work to fully grasp what an individual may be sensitive to, but one standout food is wheat. Now, I will be the first to to preach moderation, but I will also be quick to say that it is important to listen to your body. Everyone is different, and it is important to know how individual foods might be affecting you. If you find that a certain food is causing symptoms like depression or brain fog, cutting it out or finding an alternative is a far better choice than taking a medication. Now, there is a place for medications, but they are far over-prescribed, and I have seen many cases where changing food choices has changed a client’s mood and ability to focus dramatically.
Many people find that cutting out wheat (and even living a grain free lifestyle) makes dramatic improvement in their mood. Wheat produced in the U.S. is hybridized, most often for the purpose of being “roundup resistant.” When we hybridize wheat, it forms new proteins that our bodies can see as foreign. Because wheat has been hybridized many different ways, it forms a variety of different proteins that the body doesn’t recognize. The reason for brain fog and mood symptoms can be caused by two major factors.
- When inflammation occurs in the gut, it causes inflammation. This inflammation can cause a malabsorption of protein, specifically an amino acid called tryptophan. This is the amino acid responsible for making us sleepy after Thanksgiving dinner and promotes relaxation.
- When inflammation is present, it also interferes with the absorption of essential nutrients. These nutrients help to feed gut bacteria which in turn produce serotonin.
For more, really wonderful information, read Wheat Belly and/or Grain Brain. Wheat is not an essential food in our diet. As long as you are eating a variety of high fiber vegetables, there is no essential nutrient found in wheat that is not found in other sources. I recommend that any of my clients who are struggling with mood challenges or brain fog do a two week no wheat challenge. It takes about that long to get it out of your system and start the healing process. After two weeks, you should know if wheat is playing a role in your mood or brain fog symptoms.
Stay tuned for more articles on the role of gut health and mood. We will be outlining some great gut healing tips to help you move forward into your best mood … naturally.
STEP(S) FOR THIS WEEK:
- Think about how you are feeling and whether or not you might benefit from a two week no wheat challenge. If you are already eating a primarily whole food diet, this will not be a huge leap. If you need a bit of starch in your diet, organic potatoes, quinoa, and butternut squash are great sources that are naturally free of gluten and wheat. Just make sure to stay away from "gluten free" options in the grocery store as the ingredients they contain can do more harm than good (and can cause weight gain as they are high glycemic).