Click 'read more' to access the transcript of my talk with Lisa Jendza, the amazing soul behind the Freedom Food Summit.
A bit of context... During the time allocated to the recordings of all talks from the panel of experts, I was moving, therefore, it was impossible to connect and share my message with all the attendees. Plus, I did not have an internet connection and signal was poor. I would have never been able to keep a connection stable.
Somewhat frustrating, especially that there was much preparation into the talk, I was very happy to contribute to the summit in my own way, even if it meant to be going live on the Freedom Food Summit facebook page.
IT WAS AMAZING!!!!
Actually, it was phenomenal!
I was so thrilled to be there and share my knowledge and be surrounded by such energy. Lisa's introduction to the summit is truly amazing to listen to. She is on a mission... and so am I. But you knew that already.
The Impact of manufactured foodstuff on the vagus nerve
and their implications in mental health disorders and neurodegeneration
What is the Vagus Nerve?
The vagus nerve represents the main component of the parasympathetic nervous system, which oversees a vast array of crucial bodily functions, including control of mood, immune response, digestion, and heart rate. It establishes one of the connections between the brain and the gastrointestinal tract and sends information about the state of the inner organs to the brain. Surprisingly 90% of the information is relayed to the brain and only 10% of the information originates from the brain.
Alongside the sympathetic nervous system and the enteric nervous system (ENS), the parasympathetic nervous system represents one of the three branches of the autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system is in charge of all unconscious processes occurring in the body, like breathing and heart rate.
The sympathetic nervous system directs the body's rapid involuntary response to dangerous or stressful situations and is widely referred to as the ‘fight-or-flight’ mode, or the stress response.
The parasympathetic system is regarded as the ‘rest-and-digest’ mode due to opposite effect on the nervous system.
To some extend, because of its action on the parasympathetic nervous system, the Vagus nerve is identified as the ‘rest-and-digest’ system. It is also coined the ‘social nervous system’.
The bidirectional communication between the brain and the gastrointestinal tract, the so-called “gut-brain axis,” is based on a complex system, including the vagus nerve, as well as the influence of gut microbiota, in order to regulate gastrointestinal homeostasis and to connect emotional and cognitive areas of the brain with gut function. This means that the vagus nerve is involved in most, if not all, processes occurring in the body in any one time, which is mediated by the microbiome-gut-brain axis. Therefore, our gut bacteria play a pivotal role in our health and well-being and its actual effect on the vagus nerve is well-documented in peer-reviewed literature.
Why should we learn more about the microbiome-brain–gut axis?
The microbiome-brain–gut axis is becoming increasingly important as a therapeutic target for gastro-intestinal and psychiatric disorders, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
It is also well-established that the gut is an important control centre of the immune system. As a result, the vagus nerve plays important roles in the relationship between the gut, the brain, and inflammation.
Modern medicine is giving still little attention to the gut.
Yes, research has advanced tremendously but this has not translated in doctors looking for the root cause of intestinal problems. This is really a problem. In fact, it is estimated that over a billion worldwide suffer from IBS. Yet, it isn’t clear what causes IBS. Often, doctors will simply ‘put you in a box’ and tell you that you have IBS. IBS, or irritable bowel syndrome, is an umbrella term to regroup any symptom you may experience but doctors cannot establish the cause. Meaning, they don’t know.
Bloating, diarrhoea and/or constipation, nausea and feeling uncomfortably full after eating, even small portions, are usual complaints. More often than not, these symptoms occur following food poisoning, or gastroenteritis, which disturbs the microbial milieu inside the small intestines and may also affect peristalsis. Peristalsis is the one-way movement of food inside the digestive tract. And so, food may remain too long in the small intestines and produce gas, leading to bloating and, in severe cases, pain. This also damages the microbial environment, and undesirable bacteria and yeast for example may settle in a place they shouldn’t, causing even more problems on the long-term. This is a condition known as SIBO, which is short for Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth. IBS or SIBO are conditions that directly impact on the vagus nerve and brain function. Like all gut disorders, they may also lead to many inflammatory conditions by simply increasing intestinal permeability. It may also increase visceral fat accumulation, you know that little extra around the middle, and make you weight-loss resistant. Which means that no matter what you try you can never lose the extra weight.
This also lead to blood sugar imbalances and this we know is an opened door to metabolic syndrome, which regroups obesity and diabetes, among several other disorders. It is such a problem in our modern world that 1 in 3 adults in the US has insulin resistance, also known as pre-diabetes. If left unaddressed, insulin resistance can settle as type-2 diabetes. In the US, again, 1 in 10 people have diabetes. This amount to 34.2 million Americans. Real people. These statistics, you may agree, are really concerning indeed.
So, what can we do?
Can you explain the importance of social connections and reconnecting to food
As mentioned earlier, the vagus nerve is often referred to in literature as the ‘social nervous system’. We also now understand the role it plays in our overall health and well-being. It is recognised as the ‘rest-and-digest-detoxify-and-heal’ system due to being a communication highway between the Enteric Nervous System (the nervous system connecting all parts of the gastrointestinal tract) and the brain, between the gut and the liver, between the gut and the bone matrix, and the gut and the lungs, which is all mediated by our gut environment, more particularly a strong and health-supporting gut microbiome. Any imbalances in our gut Millie will undoubtedly affect those pathways, usually the weakest organ or system will pay the highest price.
It is believed that a healthy vagal function allows us to connect with ourselves, to nature, to a higher purpose, but also to other people, to emphasise better. This allows us to feel safer and able to approach other people. One key point in depression or even anxiety, for example, is seeing people withdrawing themselves, because they are living in a constant state of fear. When you are in that state it is very difficult to want to socialise and connect with others.
It has been established by a large body of evidence, that social isolation is connected with higher mortality rate, poor quality of life, and early deaths. This is why recent events have brought suffering to the many. It is therefore important to assess our responses to our environment, to events, and how we let these these affect our stress response.
It is indeed vital to address all aspects of our lives that affect our response to stressful events, and this is often achieved with strong connections to other people, to nature, and to ourselves. This is usually achieved through mindfulness (living in the moment and identifying the power of our thought patterns and their impact on our physiology, our emotions and our behaviour). The way we talk to ourselves is truly important when it comes to health, as are our limiting beliefs, as they can become barrages, preventing us to reach a healthy state, to improve our lifestyle and most importantly be happy.
According to a large study of over 2.5 million participants our approach to life events matters (https://doi.org/10.1111/aphw.12178).
Are you a “glass half empty” or “glass half full” type of person?
Well, research now shows that having a positive outlook on life and generally satisfied with your life can have a significant impact on your health.
The study adds to the growing body of evidence suggesting that a greater sense of well-being and happiness makes it more likely that you will engage in healthy behaviours, including eating well, getting enough sleep, and daily exercise, thus enjoy better health and a better quality of life, and, therefore, live longer.
And so, good health habits lead to feeling happier and healthier, and feeling happier and healthier leads to better health habits. Being a “glass half empty” may tend to get you stuck with a negative outlook on life. It may, therefore, be useful to cultivate a more positive attitude. This can be achieved using exercises like mindfulness, gratefulness and journalling.
It may be important to embrace these tools and approaches that lead to meaningful and lasting change if you want to overcome the many challenges of living in the modern world.
This also includes a very healthy connection to food.
There is no way around it, we have lost our connection to food ever since the industrial era, with the global population becoming sicker and sicker, fatter and fatter, and having a much poorer quality of life, despite great advances in the medical field.
So, we need to focus on what we choose to put at the end of our fork, and it must be nourishing:
We also know that pro-inflammatory foods, foods that activate our immune system and foods that are robbing us of our energy all activate the stress response, in the same way as facing danger. This is really important.
Over-consuming ultra-processed food products, those that come with a long list of ingredients that sound nothing like actual foods, can be irritating to the digestive tract, they can lead to increased intestinal permeability and increase the risk of inflammatory disorders on the long-term, as well as autoimmune diseases and thyroid dysfunction, and neurodegeneration (which include dementia and Alzheimer’s). It is such a worldwide problem, so much so that it is estimated that cases of dementia will increase to 152 million by 2050.
Ultra-processed manufactured food products also contain excessive quantities of salt, sugar and trans fat, huge stressors for the body. This type of food also contains several to many additives simply added to make these look better and taste better, but most importantly addictive. Sugar in itself is addictive. Sugar also has a major impact on the constitution of the gut microbial communities and plays a pivotal role in fuelling inflammatory responses. Recent data shows that the average American consume nearly 60 kg of sugar every year. This is incredible!!!
With a growing part of the population opting to reduce their sugar intake, many Americans may, in fact, consume twice as much. It is therefore not surprising that 2 out 3 adults and 1 out of 3 children and adolescents in the US are either overweight or obese.
It is estimated that 2.16 billion of adults will be overweight and 1.2 billion will be obese by 2030.
The other problem is that it is estimated that the average American consumes up to 4 kilograms of chemical additives from their food choices each year. This is absolutely astonishing.
It is also impossible to ensuring that their use is safe and to monitor the cumulative effects of all the combination of the various additives on our health and mental well-being on the long-term. This is particularly important because people relying on ultra-processed food products tend not to consume just one of these products daily, but several or many. Some only ever consume this type of food products.
This can be understood as living inside an inflamed body.
These huge stressors for the body impact the vagus nerve and so activate the stress response chronically.
One of the key elements of the stress response is to switch off all secondary systems, and these include digestion and immune defences. This is because the body cannot spare energy, which must be diverted to the muscles and the brain.
This may explain why your digestion suffers whenever stressed or anxious, why you feel fatigued and not able to think straight, forgetting things more easily. Bloating and intestinal discomfort are the usual tale-tell signs.
We also know that when we are stressed or anxious we are less likely to care for our diet, be active, which creates a vicious circle with ill-health as an end result.
Consuming highly calorific foods (to supply the energy to sustain the stress response), particularly ultra-processed poorly-nutritious food products can exacerbate that state of suboptimal health and increases the toxic load the liver and our cells must deal with.
Also, often low in fibre, ultra-processed food products may lead to stagnation and retention of toxic waste, creating a real problem, particularly in the gut, which can dysregulate the fragile ecosystem and turn it into a pro-inflammatory environment, which can only be changed back to a healthy milieu by changing the diet to a more healthy one, and this is achieved by consuming fresh, whole foods, such as fruits and vegetables, and unrefined vegetable oils, processed as little as possible, so that the nutrients are preserved, enzymes and antioxidants retain their role, to support health, and maximise absorption of the food we eat. I would like to add that cooking from scratch is highly-recommended in this case. Because it is the very first step to reconnect with food.
What are the possible modalities to soothe the vagal system, including the food choices to help tone down the immune response and increased risk of disease?
When your autonomic nervous system isn’t working properly, the symptoms can be devastating. This is particularly important when the stress response is chronically activated, because it affects the information relayed via the vagus nerve. As a result, you might…
There is often not much your doctor may suggest to help. Very often you will be told it is all in your head and be prescribed mood-stabilising drugs, perhaps you may be recommended to try counselling or visit support groups. But these conventional treatments do not address the root causes and may not offer the results you are hoping for, especially on the long-term. I have to say though that cognitive behaviour therapies and similar modalities may help you deal with early-life trauma by challenging your patterns of thoughts and help you find new ways to positively change the way you respond to triggers. So it is not all bad.
Again, concentrating on nutritious foods is fundamental. The old term ‘superfoods’ has now been replaced by a less ambiguous term: “nutrient-dense foods’.
Nutrient-dense foods are foods that contain a large array of nutrients and yet are low in calories, therefore, having a minimal impact on blood sugar levels.
Blood sugar management is key to health. I cannot stress it enough. We have discussed earlier that blood sugar imbalances play a key role in fuelling inflammatory responses and are a huge stressor for the brain. This is of particular importance because when stressed, anxious or depressed, we tend to go for unhealthy foods, usually those that are high in calories, and somewhat comforting. Sugar is extremely pleasing to the brain. In fact, it triggers the reward mechanisms in the brain. However, the feel-good moment is very short-lived and often leads to guilt and more discontentment, fuelling stress responses and further disturbing blood sugar balance. This is truly a vicious circle and it is often known as the energy rollercoaster. You may experience very high highs in energy but mainly very low lows — the pattern of stress and then collapse. The rollercoaster of high energy and then feeling exhausted. A period of anxiety followed by heaviness and then feeling down.
This occurs when your body experiences overwhelm. Everything shuts down to go into an energy conservation state. This is now known as the ‘freeze response’. During this state, a person is unable to think or focus, perhaps experience brain fog. Struggling to have energy and focus, they also can become emotionally distant or numb. To counteract this, most people may reach for caffeine or other stimulants, highly calorific foods, or create a stressful environment, usually by establishing self-imposed deadlines or procrastinate, or all at the same time, which ultimately have you jump on this energy rollercoaster of very high highs and mostly very low lows.
I also want to address procrastination and boredom, especially in the work/study environment. These are still considered a form of ‘distress’ by the body. A state that still tips the balance towards stress and unbalanced stress responses. I discuss this extensively in one of the chapters in Energise - 30 days to vitality: “Stress and Fatigue”. This chapter is dedicated to exposing the real problems that stress brings into our daily lives and the effect of stress on every system in the body, energy production and on the brain.
Malnutrition is also a major stressor for the body. This is not only a problem of not having access to food, but following a wrong diet, crash dieting or other types of highly-restrictive diet. The body may not receive the nutrients it needs to function optimally. And so the brain may also be lacking vital health-supporting nutrients, which plays hugely on your mood and outlook in life. So it is very important to consume a plant-based balanced diet, full of fruits and vegetables (think rainbow), lean meat from wild or pasture-raised sources and wild-caught fish. Avoiding ultra-processed foods and cooking from scratch more often are some of the key elements to health.
Mindfulness, as discussed earlier, is also very important. It allows us to be conscious of the effect of our environment on our thoughts, our emotions and our behaviour.
Careful attention must also be given to negative self-talks and limiting beliefs. Again, dealing with early life trauma is critical to recovery.
Breathwork is one of the most effective exercise to soothe the vagus nerve, and it is free. It can be done at any time for any period of time as needed.
I have recently designed several videos which are available on our Youtube channel, which are called ‘5-minute SOS mediation’. Each video is available without background noise, with nature sounds, or with binaural waves, which are the same waves that are emitted by the brain.
There are also longer meditation exercises to help your response to stress and prepare you for the day ahead or to relax as the evening draws in and you are preparing to sleep.
We are working on adding new ones very soon, so do subscribe to our channel.
As just mentioned, I have also written a book. The full title is “Energise - 30 Days to Vitality, Reset your body to its natural rhythm. Manage blood sugar and energy levels. Stamp down inflammation. Gain clarity. Become more resilient and find joy in living,” which will be coming out within the next few weeks and addresses all aspects of health, starting by looking at the human biology and physiology, the gut and the importance of microbial diversity, the impact of our food choices, the damaging effect of stress, and also includes many easily-implementable tips to reach a better state of health.
This amazing book will also be accompanied by another manual on safe detoxification practices, giving easy ways to reduce your exposure to very toxic substances, outside and inside your homes, and be more mindful about all that you put on and inside your body. The title of the book is Detox before Energise: The hidden dangers in food, air and water, keeping you from reaching your ideal weight, damaging your health at the cellular level, stealing your vital energy and clouding your mind.”
I believe it could not come soon enough. As there are so. Much we keep learning about our environment and the myriad of toxins we are exposed to every second of ever day.
I am also giving the chance for one person to receive a free copy of Energise.
To enter the giveaway visit our blog.
Again the link will be posted in comment below
I will also be sharing a free handout during the summit exposing the facts of our food choices on the vagus nerve. So that you can access everything I talk about today, the references, current statistics, and more.
I invite you all to watch the interviews on the summit as they will be packed with vital information to help you make better food choices and reconnect with food, including very useful cooking tips.
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Registered Naturopath, Nutritional Therapist, Iridologist, Lecturer, NLP practitioner and Personal Performance Coach.
The perfect combination to give you all the tools you need to become the better version of YOU.
The YOU you have always dreamed to be.