Most people think of weight loss, weight management, diabetes, etc. when they think of reasonable reasons to visit a nutritionist. But in reality, food is such a core component of well-being, that many people are astonished at the breadth and range of issues that can be successfully helped with nutrition therapy. I’d like to share a few of those issues today to illustrate the value of that most powerful tool in your hands – your fork.
Anxiety and Depression
Rates of anxiety and depression have been increasing at alarming rates in the past decade. Children younger and younger are being prescribed antidepressants and antianxiety medications to help them cope with day-to-day life. Did you know that over 80% (over 90% by some estimates) of your serotonin (the “happiness” neurotransmitter) is produced in your gut? Gut health is critical to proper balance of neurotransmitters. New studies have shown that depression and anxiety are symptoms, rather than diseases in and of themselves, of chronic inflammation. The Standard Western Diet of highly refined carbohydrates, excessive sugar, and inflammatory vegetable oils, can set off inflammation both in the gut, and subsequently in the brain, which then manifests as mood issues, depression and anxiety. More and more research shows that a healthy microbiome is necessary for a healthy brain. By addressing the inflammation in the gut and rebalancing the microbiome, which is damaged by inflammation and nutrient-poor foods, we can correct symptoms that appear in the brain, such as anxiety and depression.
ADHD/Autism and Learning Disorders
ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) have a well-established gut connection. The scientific literature clearly shows that children with ADHD and ASD have compromised gut function, higher rates of constipation, histories of increased antibiotic use (which damages the gut), and higher rates of birth by c-section (which also compromises quality of the microbiome). There is constant two-way communication between the gut and the brain through the vagus nerve. Did you know that ghrelin, the hormone that regulates appetite, also acts on the hippocampus in the brain to enhance memory and learning? When either gut function or brain function isn’t optimal, chances are the other will be compromised as well. Like the mood issues discussed above, inflammation plays a role here as well. Cleaning up the diet and healing the gut in children with learning disorders, ADHD, and ASD will often improve brain function, social functioning, focus, eye contact, speech, etc. Gut healing happens with dietary changes and supplements that promote healing and lower inflammation.
To say that there is an epidemic in infertility in our communities would be an understatement. New data from the UK suggests that by 2020, 1 in 3 women will have trouble conceiving. Currently in Canada that number is 1 in 6, which is hardly comforting either. Nutrition can play a huge role in fertility. Looking at traditional cultures, we now know that they understood the important role food played in ensuring the health of the next generation. Many of them had sacred fertility foods that were prized and given first to newly married couples before they were shared with the rest of the community. In our modern world, we are only now relearning the value of good nutrition prior to conception and during gestation. We are highly evolved creatures no longer suited to our modern environment. For example, conventional, factory farmed dairy and excess sugar consumption are two modern day food trends that wreak havoc on hormonal balance. Excessive stress levels, a mainstay of modern life, also compromise fertility as it increases cortisol levels, causing downstream hormonal imbalances. Environmental toxins, such as those found in pesticides, pollution, plastics, personal care products, and processed foods are also problematic for fertility. Glyphosate, the main component in modern pesticides, has many studies demonstrating its role in infertility in lab animals. And these issues do not apply only to women. Many studies show that male fertility plays a role in up to 50% of cases. Men with metabolic issues, e.g. poor insulin regulation, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, etc., produce higher levels of a compound known as aromatase, which permanently converts testosterone to estrogen. In case you’re unsure, that’s not a good thing for a man. Infertile men are also found to have lower levels of necessary DHA and EPA (Omega-3 fats) in their sperm. At their core, many of these issues have poor nutrient quality and intake as the starting point. Hormone balancing, decreasing inflammation, and replenishing vital minerals such as zinc and manganese are initial steps for improving fertility through nutrition therapy. Switching to all organic, non-GMO, non-processed foods is also a recommended first step for couples wanting to conceive.
So as you can see, nutrition therapy is for more than just weight management or food-related illnesses such as diabetes. Many of our most pressing chronic diseases can be directly related to poor nutrition. Is it any wonder that all these issues have dramatically increased just as our foods are increasingly hyper-processed and nutrient deficient? Just 30 years ago, numbers across all diseases were significantly lower. Cleaning up the diet is the best first step anyone can take to improve his or her health. Often times, a few choice supplements can further boost initial healing and jumpstart progress. Do you know anyone that might benefit from nutrition therapy?