Amazing Wellness - - CONTENTS - By Isaac Eliaz, MD, LAc

Feed­ing your gut with the right foods may hold the an­swer to op­ti­mum men­tal health.

If there were a magic pill that could make you hap­pier, would you take it? You might won­der if the pill caused side ef­fects—pills of­ten do. But in this case, there are no side ef­fects. There’s ac­tu­ally the side ben­e­fit of be­com­ing health­ier. That’s a slam-dunk, right? Peo­ple would line up around the block for that pill. The crazy part is, that drug ex­ists, just not in pill form. The tech­ni­cal name for it is diet. We of­ten think of healthy eat­ing for the meta­bolic ben­e­fits. But there’s a grow­ing body of ev­i­dence that this sim­ple ap­proach can sup­port pos­i­tive mood. THE BI­OL­OGY OF HAPPY

Your di­ges­tive tract does a lot more than di­gest. It’s the fi rst line of de­fense for the im­mune sys­tem, pro­tect­ing your body from harm­ful in­vaders. It also has a major im­pact on neu­ro­log­i­cal health. Th e gut se­cretes hor­mones that in­flu­ence the brain. In fact, there’s a steady feed­back loop be­tween the brain and the GI sys­tem. Th e gut also con­tains a num­ber of neu­ro­trans­mit­ters, like sero­tonin, that in­flu­ence mood.

Some of the most ex­cit­ing new re­search cen­ters around the role that the many mi­crobes in the di­ges­tive tract play in pro­mot­ing men­tal health. Some re­searchers are call­ing it the “mi­cro­bio­tagut-brain axis.” Hun­dreds of dif­fer­ent species of bac­te­ria, fungi, and viruses are the body’s con­stant com­pan­ions, and ev­ery­one has their own unique mi­cro­bial for­est, or mi­cro­biome.

Th ese mi­crobes help di­gest food, pro­duce nec­es­sary vi­ta­mins, and work in con­cert with your im­mune sys­tem to pro­tect against pathogens. Th e good bugs aren’t nec­es­sar­ily al­tru­is­tic, though—they’re

There is one thing mi­cro­biome re­searchers know with­out a doubt: what peo­ple eat has an im­pact— pos­i­tive or neg­a­tive—on their mi­cro­biome and their mood.

def­i­nitely look­ing out for their own best in­ter­ests. It’s just that hu­mans have co-adapted in a way that makes their in­ter­ests align with ours.

Th is re­la­tion­ship be­gins at birth. In­fants ac­quire their

fi rst mi­crobes while trav­el­ing through the birth canal. Sci­en­tists are try­ing to fi gure out how to get those same mi­crobes into ba­bies born by cae­sar­ian, since re­search has shown that ba­bies born with­out the ben­e­fit of birth canal mi­crobes have an in­creased risk for cer­tain con­di­tions. Other re­search is look­ing at us­ing the mi­cro­biome as a ther­a­peu­tic tar­get to help pa­tients who sur­vived a trauma or are deal­ing with anx­i­ety. Many in the re­search com­mu­nity see the mi­cro­biome as a po­ten­tial tool to ad­dress a wide va­ri­ety of men­tal and emo­tional is­sues.

Th is is a com­pli­cated dance, one that sci­ence is only be­gin­ning to un­der­stand. But there is one thing mi­cro­biome re­searchers know with­out a doubt: what peo­ple eat has an im­pact—pos­i­tive or neg­a­tive— on their mi­cro­biome and their mood. Th e bot­tom line is keep­ing things in bal­ance.


Th e Western diet is high in sim­ple sug­ars and dam­ag­ing types of fat. New stud­ies con­tinue to show how these foods dys­reg­u­late the mi­cro­biome.

It goes with­out say­ing that you must stay away from junky, pro­cessed foods, which are not only loaded with sim­ple sug­ars and fats, but also con­tain a va­ri­ety of ques­tion­able chem­i­cals—dyes, preser­va­tives, fl avor en­hancers, etc. Even worse, junk foods can have a per­ilous ef­fect on mood. Con­sider what hap­pens when you eat a donut. You might feel great for about 15 min­utes, but then, you crave an­other one. And peo­ple tend to crave sug­ary, fatty foods when their mood is low. Trou­ble is, rather than im­prov­ing men­tal bal­ance and sta­bil­ity, this leads to a down­ward spi­ral.

Th e Western diet af­fects the mi­cro­biome in other pro­found ways. Mul­ti­ple stud­ies show that junk foods throw the mi­cro­biome out of bal­ance, al­low­ing more ag­gres­sive, dis­ease-pro­mot­ing mi­crobes to fl our­ish. Th is can lead to chronic in­flam­ma­tion, leaky gut, and other health-rob­bing con­di­tions.


If you eat a good diet rich in fruits and vegeta­bles, you sim­ply feel bet­ter. Healthy fats, like omega-3 fatty acids found in such foods as wild salmon, sar­dines, wal­nuts, and chia and fl ax seeds, have been linked to en­hanced learn­ing and mem­ory.

A 2017 study, pub­lished in the jour­nal PLOS One, showed that teens and young adults who had bet­ter ac­cess to fruits and vegeta­bles im­proved their psy­cho­log­i­cal well-be­ing. Th ese im­prove­ments hap­pened fast. Par­tic­i­pants showed im­proved “vi­tal­ity, fl our­ish­ing, and mo­ti­va­tion” in just two weeks.

An­other study, pub­lished in the Amer­i­can Jour­nal of Pub­lic Health, showed that in­creased fruit and veg­etable con­sump­tion was “pre­dic­tive of in­creased hap­pi­ness, life sat­is­fac­tion, and well-be­ing.”

Th e im­por­tant thing to re­mem­ber is that when you eat, you’re not only feed­ing your­self, you’re feed­ing your mi­cro­biome.


You can ac­tu­ally write your own pre­scrip­tion by choos­ing dif­fer­ent fruits and vegeta­bles for their spe­cific health­pro­mot­ing ef­fects.

First, be sure to get macronu­tri­ents (healthy fats, good-qual­ity com­plex car­bo­hy­drates, and clean pro­tein sources) and mi­cronu­tri­ents (min­er­als, trace el­e­ments, phy­tonu­tri­ents) in your diet—both are needed for op­ti­mal phys­i­cal and emo­tional well-be­ing. In the veg­etable depart­ment, there are some su­per­stars. Kale, broc­coli, spinach, beet greens, col­lards, and other green leafy vegeta­bles are par­tic­u­larly nu­tri­ent-dense.

Th at’s not nec­es­sar­ily a se­cret. But some of these can have a pro­found im­pact on the brain. Here’s a closer look:

Spinach, chard, and broc­coli are rich in mag­ne­sium, which sup­ports re­lax­ation and in­creases a neu­ro­trans­mit­ter called GABA. Greens are also rich in fo­late and other B vi­ta­mins, which are good for stress man­age­ment.

Yo­gurt and ke­fir have good amounts of mag­ne­sium and pro­vide a boost to the mi­cro­biome.

Nuts and seeds, in­clud­ing al­monds, sesame, pump­kin, and sun­flower seeds, are also good mag­ne­sium sources. For a treat, in­dulge in

dark choco­late, also high in mag­ne­sium.

Sea vegeta­bles are high in trace min­er­als, many of which are not al­ways found in the av­er­age diet. Th ey also con­tain vitamin B and amino acids. 12 Kale, broc­coli, cau­li­flower,

cab­bage, and other cru­cif­er­ous vegeta­bles are rich in mood­sup­port­ing com­pounds. Cab­bage, broc­coli, and as­para­gus con­tain tryp­to­phan, which sup­ports re­lax­ation. Av­o­ca­dos are rich in healthy fats, pro­tein, vitamin B , fo­late, and 6 tryp­to­phan. Th ey sup­port both healthy mood and re­lax­ation.


Cer­tain sup­ple­ments sup­port a strong mi­cro­biome, as well as help with mood. Here are my top sug­ges­tions:

Pro­bi­otics & Pre­bi­otics. Pro­bi­otics, found nat­u­rally in yo­gurt and many fer­mented foods, pop­u­late the gut with healthy fl ora. It’s un­clear, though, whether a few mil­lion mi­crobes from a serv­ing of yo­gurt have any im­pact on restor­ing gut bal­ance. Tak­ing a pro­bi­otic sup­ple­ment on a reg­u­lar ba­sis en­sures that your gut is get­ting a steady sup­ply of healthy bac­te­ria. Use a for­mula that in­cludes pre­bi­otics, or add a sep­a­rate pre­bi­otic sup­ple­ment in ad­di­tion to a pro­bi­otic— pre­bi­otics pro­vide food for pro­bi­otics.

GABA. When nor­mal lev­els of GABA (gamma-aminobu­tyric acid) are present in the brain, you feel calm and at ease, and you sleep well. When you don’t have enough, stress, anx­i­ety, ner­vous­ness, ir­ri­tabil­ity, and in­som­nia take over. One study showed the gut bac­te­ria Lac­to­bacil­lus rham­no­sus pos­i­tively al­tered GABA ac­tiv­ity in the brains of test an­i­mals, and also im­proved their stress re­sponse. In ad­di­tion to GABA sup­ple­ments, you can also in­crease GABA by tak­ing the amino acid L-theanine (found in small amounts in green tea), inositol, mag­ne­sium, and chamomile.

L-tryp­to­phan. Tryp­to­phan is an amino acid that is used by the brain and con­verted into sero­tonin, a neu­ro­trans­mit­ter that gov­erns feel­ings of de­pres­sion, anx­i­ety, and sleep. More than 90 per­cent of your sero­tonin is found in the gas­troin­testi­nal tract. Peo­ple with im­pul­sive or ag­gres­sive per­son­al­i­ties may ben­e­fit the most from tryp­to­phan. In stud­ies of adults who are self­de­scribed as “quar­rel­some,” 1,000 mg of tryp­to­phan three times a day pro­duced in­creases in mea­sures of agree­able be­hav­iors. Tryp­to­phan can cause drowsi­ness.

Vitamin D . Nu­mer­ous stud­ies 3 link low lev­els of vitamin D to de­pres­sion. Re­search shows that vitamin D im­pacts gut health too. A study pub­lished in the Euro­pean Jour­nal of Nu­tri­tion showed that high-dose vitamin D sup­ple­men­ta­tion re­sulted

3 in a health­ier bal­ance of gut bac­te­ria. Th e re­searchers con­cluded that the study “sup­ports the ben­e­fi­cial ef­fect of a high-dose vitamin D3 sup­ple­men­ta­tion on the hu­man gut mi­cro­biome.” Get your vitamin D level tested by your doc­tor. Typ­i­cal dosages vary from 1,000 IU to 5,000 IU, but you may need more de­pend­ing on your blood test re­sults.

Zinc is a key nu­tri­ent for hor­mone reg­u­la­tion and im­mune health. It can also sup­port neu­ro­log­i­cal func­tion. Rec­om­mended dosages range from 15–50 mg daily.

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