In my lectures over the years, I often start off by asking the audience three simple questions:
- Are you stressed? Of course you are. That’s strike one.
- Do you get less than 8 solid hours of sleep a night, or do you consistently feel fatigued during the day? Yes? Strike two!
- And what about mood—do you often feel “blah” or downright depressed? Yes? That’s strike three.
In today’s fast-paced, hurry-hurry world, almost all of us are fatigued, under a mountain of stress, and often feeling the blues. In fact, the problem is so bad that nearly 1 in every 3 doctor visits is related to stress, fatigue, or depression.
Yesterday, I visited Salt Lake City’s Fresh Living program (KUTV CBS Ch2) to talk about how rebalancing the “Brain-Body-Biome” can help people to beat feeling “tired-stressed-depressed” with more energy, less stress, and improved mood. You can see the video here.
So what’s the problem?
- Our environment is full of physical stressors—environmental toxins such as air pollution, processed foods, inadequate fruits/vegetables, etc.—that can lead to problems with the balance of the beneficial bacteria in our guts. We call these bacteria the “microbiome” – or Biome for short – and an imbalanced biome is often a primary cause of problems with mental wellness.
- Every day, we encounter a variety of mental stressors that influence our Brain – such as bills and traffic and deadlines and family issues – that lead to chronic stress, elevated stress hormones such as cortisol, and changes in neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine.
- Our overall health habits, such as diet, exercise, and sleep are poor, leading to obesity, lack of energy and compromised health throughout the entire Body, and especially the health or our heart.
- On top of all of those imbalances in brain-body-biome, our bodies also tend to work differently (and usually less effectively) as we
- In short, this combination of stress, diet, lifestyle, and aging has led to imbalances in our brain-body-biome balance – causing us to become tired, stressed, and depressed.
The result? A vicious cycle of unending stress, fatigue and depression that can be very difficult to break.
Society’s Solution? A Poor One
Dozens of synthetic drugs have been created to mask the tired-stressed-depressed syndrome. Antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs, and sleeping pills abound. Even so-called “energy” drinks, which claim to help solve the problem, are a burgeoning market. In fact, all of these product classes together represent over $100 billion in yearly sales!
Society and Depression – a Changing Stigma
As little as 5 years ago, most people would feel uncomfortable openly about depression, because it was viewed (wrongly) as a moral failing or a weakness. We might have been OK talking about how “stressed” we were – or how little sleep we got the night before – or of course how “busy” we are – but few of us would admit to not being bullet-proof.
Luckily, this is changing – and people are beginning to open up about being vulnerable – being human. The list of celebrities who are honest and have recently spoken openly about their struggles with depression include Beyonce, Adele, and Oprah. But it’s not just women – men such as actor John Hamm, “the Boss” Bruce Springstein, and “the Rock” Dwayne Johnson have also talked about how struggles with depression have affected their lives and the lives of those around them.
The Healthy Solution? Restoring Brain-Body-Biome Balance
Over the last decade, my research has been focused on helping people to look better, perform better, and most importantly – to feel better – and all of that research has a central theme of restoring “balance” across the brain-body-biome.
This means a triple focus on the brain (head), the body (heart), and the biome (gut). You’ve heard the expressions to “trust your gut” or to “listen to your heart” – these are common sayings based on the fact that we have different “brains” in addition to the one in our head – and that these “3 brains” contribute different types of intelligence about our health and well-being.
Your 3 Brains – Brain-Body-Biome
Recent scientific studies are showing us the close and intricate links between what happens in the gut (our “2nd brain”) and the heart (our “3rd brain”) – and how our “1st brain” (in our head) interprets those signals to determine our mood, energy, tension, and other aspects of mental wellness. For example, cardiovascular research has shown that more than 50% of heart disease patients will also suffer depressed mood – and those with depression are 2-5 times more likely to suffer a cardiovascular complication such a heart attack or stroke. In fact, depression is more predictive of future heart problems than high cholesterol and more than doubles the risk for gastrointestinal problems such as colitis and irritable bowel syndrome.
Research is also showing us how management of gut balance (with probiotic and prebiotic foods and supplements) can reduce depression and anxiety while also increasing calmness and stress resilience. Likewise, phytonutrients (also called phytobiotics) such as flavonoids from grapes, apples, blueberries and pine bark can simultaneously improve blood flow (benefiting the heart/body), enhance the growth of good bacteria (benefitting the gut biome), and balance neurotransmitters (benefitting the brain).
How to Restore Brain-Body-Biome Balance
There are many steps you can take to achieve better brain-body-biome balance conducive to optimal physical health and mental wellness.
- Diet: Eat frequent small meals comprised of complex carbs, lean protein, healthy fats, and high-nutrient foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains. Even a nighttime snack (despite all the popular advice otherwise) can help keep your metabolism up and stress levels down. Be sure to include foods high in prebiotic fibers to nourish your healthy bacteria (artichoke, kale, black beans, oatmeal).
- Exercise: Frequent, regular exercise (even mild forms such as gardening or walking) can do wonders to relieve stress, lower cortisol, and improve blood flow. Research studies show a difference between a the microbiomes of regular exercisers (less inflammatory) versus sedentary people (more inflammatory) – so get moving for the health of your brain-body-biome.
- Stress-Relief: There are various types of stress-relief behaviors you can incorporate in your lifestyle. These include yoga, meditation, exercise, prayer, dietary changes, and targeted dietary supplements.
- Dietary Supplements. Believe it or not, there are specific supplements that can help lower cortisol levels, thereby lessening stress exposure, improving mood and enhancing your body’s natural mental and physical energy levels. These supplements are not stimulants, and won’t result in any kind of “crash” effect. They include:
- Brain – Foods such as dark chocolate and hot peppers or dietary supplements containing Kanna (Zembrin brand) – shown to reduce depression and improve cognitive function.
- Body – Foods such as blueberries and apples or dietary supplements containing New Zealand pine bark extract (Enzogenol brand) – shown to improve blood flow and neurotransmitter balance to support heart/brain benefits.
- Biome – Foods such as black beans and oatmeal or dietary supplements containing guar bean extract (Sunfiber brand) – shown to improve the balance between good/bad bacteria in the intestinal tract and production of anti-inflammatory SCFAs (short-chain fatty acids, good for reducing both cardio-inflammation in the heart and neuro-inflammation in the brain).