By Jeff Louderback
When I was a freshman at Wright State University back in the fall of ‘86, I considered pursuing a career in psychiatry. Asking questions, listening and learning about people pique my curiosity. Instead, I chose a career in writing and communication, and it fulfills my fascination with the brain, and what makes people unique.
I’m passionate about telling people’s stories. Ask anyone enough questions, and you’ll discover something intriguing. Everyone has a story. Life is a book with a series of evolving chapters. At 50, I’ve entered a new chapter – one that is rich with exciting opportunities and projects, and one that poses challenges that require a sense of urgency so I can flourish in the short term and long term. Appropriately, my interest in the brain is more relevant than ever, especially with the knowledge that we all have a second brain – the gut.
Sometimes, I feel unstoppable and brimming with boundless energy to achieve my writing, publishing and other creative endeavors. Yet, there are also times when dragging myself out of bed is comparable to climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro.
For years, I’ve known that healthy eating and consistent exercise are essential to physical and mental wellness. As an adult, when I’ve eaten right and exercised regularly, I’ve thrived with energy, concentration, and focus. When I’ve not done those things, I’ve struggled with brain fog and lethargy. Over the last few years, these contrasting feelings have become more apparent. The latter symptoms are related to depression. What I didn’t know – until recently – was the cause, and how it relates to the gut-brain connection.
It was once thought messages were sent from the brain to the rest of the body. Now, we know that the stomach also communicates with the brain.
In “Nutritional Psychiatry: Your Brain on Food,” Eva Selhub, MD writes that the burgeoning field of nutritional psychiatry is finding there are numerous correlations between not only what you eat, how you feel, and how you ultimately behave, but also the kinds of bacteria that live in your gut.
The gut is called “the second brain” because its bacterial balance (the gut microbiome) impacts the secretion of hormones and neurotransmitters. There are 100 trillion bacteria in our gut, so creating a healthy balance of good and bad gut bacteria is essential to our physical and mental wellness.
Anti-depressants are designed to alter the balance of neurotransmitters like serotonin in the brain, but multiple studies indicate that only two out of every 10 people taking these drugs show improvement, and there is an abundance of side effects. A holistic approach of proper diet, exercise, and supplements to minimize inflammation is a more preferred method, at least in my mind.
Through a high school friend, April Kinnett, I learned about Amare Global, a mental wellness company which created a Gut-Brain Axis System that increases good bacteria in the gut. It features a formulation of probiotics, prebiotics, phytobiotics and natural herbs based on Eastern Medicine.
Striving to pinpoint how to address my bouts with brain fog and lethargy, and to enhance my overall wellness, the aforementioned factors have guided me to a newfound interest in the gut-brain connection, and the science behind why Amare Global has rapidly grown.
What is depression, really?
Most people who know me don’t know I deal with depression symptoms, likely because most people don’t understand what depression means. I’m a friendly and social person who knows no strangers (which is important since I talk to people for a living). I’m usually cheerful and positive, and it’s rare when I lose my cool. I’m calm under pressure, which is a reflection of why I thrive in a deadline-driven field. Yet what much of society associates with depression – feeling sad, being prone to outbursts, struggling with pressure – does not accurately reflect the truth of the condition.
People who have depression aren’t sad all the time. I, for one, am not prone to feeling discouraged. I’ve even been called “annoyingly positive.” There’s a difference in situational depression and ongoing depression. Situational depression is short term and related to a life circumstance. Clinical depression is like a snowflake, no two cases are the same. Not everyone with depression experiences every symptom. Some people experience only a few symptoms while others may experience many. Mine, for example, center around the brain fog and lethargy.
According to Amare Global, one out of every four Americans will deal with a mental wellness issue this year. When you discover what depression is – and learn about the gut-brain connection, and the prevalence in America of unhealthy diets high in sugar and processed foods – that figure makes sense.
Depression is a disruption of the body’s communication system. The brain sends messages throughout the body through neurotransmitters, chemicals that travel like millions of little lightning bolts through brain cells called neurons. Healthy people have an abundance of neurotransmitters, so their bodies’ messages sail through smoothly. People who have depression, don’t produce enough neurotransmitters, disrupting some of the messages. This is why the most extreme cases of depression affect every part of people – from the way they think and process, and the way they feel and sleep to their appetite, energy level, digestive system, and mood.
The First Brain
Our brain is always on. It cares for our breathing and heartbeat, our senses, and our thoughts and movements. Understandably, the brain requires a constant supply of fuel. That “fuel” comes from the foods we eat, and what’s in that fuel impacts mood and mental wellness.
Around 60 to 90 percent of neurotransmitters are produced in the gut. Dopamine affects emotions, especially happiness, and joy. Endorphins interact with the opiate receptors in the brain to reduce the perception of pain. Oxytocin is the love neurotransmitter that promotes connectedness. Norepinephrine helps with attention and focus. Serotonin regulates anxiety and impacts mood and appetite.
Multiple studies have found a correlation between a diet high in refined sugars and impaired brain function — and even a worsening of symptoms of brain-related conditions. Hence why nourishing both brains is important.
How the Gut and Brain are Connected
So how does the science lesson relate to my quest to implement a healthy lifestyle that fuels my brain with concentration, focus, and bustling energy?
“The gut-brain axis (GBA) refers to the close link and constant communication between our ‘two brains’: the one that everyone knows about in our head, and the one that we’ve just recently discovered in our gut,” said Shawn Talbott, Ph.D., a nutritional biochemist who is the founder of Amare Global. “Essentially, the GBA is what links the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) with our ‘second brain,’ which consists of the dense, complex network of nerves around the gastrointestinal tract, known as the enteric nervous system, along with the bacteria living in our GI tract, which is also known as the microbiome.
“The microbiome/ENS/gut communicates with the brain through the ‘axis,’ sending signals through a coordinated network of nerves, neurotransmitters, hormones, and immune system cells,” Dr. Talbott adds.
There’s a two-way street between your gut and your brain, and the GBA is how they communicate.
What is inflammation?
Inflammation can begin in the gut and affect the brain. Diets high in sugar and processed foods – and gluten and dairy – contribute to inflammation in the body, Dr. Talbott says.
Inflammation occurs when the immune system releases chemical messengers called cytokines, which are the immune system’s natural response to harmful sources like disease and infection. They communicate with other cells in our body to monitor inflammation.
Our immune system secretes antibodies that are circulated in our blood to combat the infection or fix the problem. The brain is supposed to have protection from these antibodies by the blood-brain barrier. When inflammation reaches our brain, the cytokines wreak havoc on neurotransmitters and interfere with brain function.
When our immune system attacks itself, symptoms like anxiety, depression and chronic fatigue among other health conditions can happen.
Considering my first-hand experience of feeling mentally and physically sharp when I avoid inflammatory foods – and taking into account the brain fog, the lack of concentration and focus, and the weariness I feel when I don’t regulate my diet – it makes sense that minimizing inflammation is ideal for my body, brain, and vitality. That makes sense for everyone, whether or not you battle anxiety, depression or any mental wellness condition.
The spark of hope, energy, concentration, and energy from Amare
Determined to find a holistic solution to bouts with lethargy, and lack of concentration and focus, I eagerly decided to experience Amare products for an initial month. There is no such thing as a magic pill. Reaching fitness and overall wellness goals does not happen overnight. It is comparable to a Major League Baseball team on a losing skid. First, it must win a game to end the streak. Then, the team has to win a second and then a third game in a row, and then some initial momentum is built. There will be losses now and then, even amid a 100-win season, but maintaining positive momentum by responding to a setback with victories defines sustained success.
Amare’s Project b3 was a perfect starting point. Armed with the knowledge about the gut-brain axis and how it relates to inflammation, I sought to further improve my diet by complementing the right foods with supplements that promoted gut-brain health.
Project b3 uses SENSE, a step-by-step guide Dr. Talbott created to help optimize the gut-brain axis. SENSE includes five areas: Supplementation, Exercise, Nutrition, Stress Management and Evaluation. These steps in Project b3 provide effective tips and techniques to help optimize mental and physical wellness.
“Project b3 is not just a short-term program, but rather a lifestyle system. It’s the holistic solution to healthier well-being,” said Dr. Talbott explained. “Mental wellness is not only in the brain, but also in the gut and that’s how we need to approach our physical well-being. By boosting our mental wellness, we can finally achieve the health we’ve been missing in our physical wellness.”
Project b3 begins with Reboot+, which is a three-day program that addresses gut bacteria imbalances that cause digestive issues, inflammation and fatigue, tension, chronic stress and depression. A detailed booklet details food you can eat (like veggies, fruits, legumes, and nuts and seeds) and items you must avoid (including processed foods, sugar, artificial sweeteners; all animal, dairy and soy products; juices and grains).
I immediately felt a boost of concentration, energy and focus after the three days, likely attributed to minimizing sugar.
On Day Four, Day 4, I started using the Amare FundaMentals Pack, which won the 2018 NutrAward for Best New Finished Product.
Designed as a three-product system, the FundaMentals Pack is designed to support microbiome balance and communication within all aspects of the gut-brain axis (GBX). Each product – MentaBiotics for the gut; MentaFocus for the brain; and MentaSync for the axis – delivers stand-alone mental wellness benefits that are brought together as a holistic GBX system.
Project b3 also includes VitaGBX (a multi-vitamin), two canisters of GBX Protein (2), GBX SeedFiber, and GBX SuperFood, all of which promote good gut bacteria.
The Super-Charged Mediterranean Diet
I have no desire to follow the guidelines of something complicated like Keto, which is not sustainable for the long term anyway. Dr. Talbott promotes a Mediterranean-style diet which is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats. This feeds the good bacteria in our gut and established a balanced gut microbiome, which in turn generates positive neurotransmitters and improves our mental sharpness.
A study from Spain showed that people eating the traditional Mediterranean diet were about half as likely to be diagnosed with depression over a four-year period.
“Scientists have known for at least a decade that a diet high in processed and highly refined foods increases depression risk in adults, teens, and kids,” Dr. Talbott said. “In a series of ground-breaking research studies conducted over the last year, scientists from Australia, Chicago, and New York City have shown that a few very simple dietary changes can significantly improve mood and dramatically reverse depression within as little as several weeks.
“In one study, people with major depression were able to reverse their disease within three months, even when other treatments such as synthetic antidepressant drugs were less effective and higher in side effects.”
Dr. Talbott calls his own “mental wellness diet” a “super-charged version of the Mediterranean diet”, which reduces chronic inflammation that accompanies depression.
A few groups of foods are specifically beneficial for the gut-brain axis, Talbott says. Some of the most important ones are Omega-3 fats, which can increase good bacteria and reduce risk of brain disorders; fermented foods (like yogurt, kefir and sauerkraut), which have been shown to enhance brain activity; high-fiber foods like nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables; polyphenol-rich foods like cocoa, green tea, olive oil and coffee, which are known to increase gut bacteria and may improve cognition; and tryptophan-rich foods (like turkey and eggs), which have the amino acid that is converted into serotonin.
The importance of exercise and sleep
High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is believed to change brain function, increase blood flow, and boost neurotransmitters, according to many exercise science experts. According to the Mayo Clinic, regular exercise may help ease depression and anxiety by releasing feel-good endorphins, natural cannabis-like brain chemicals (endogenous cannabinoids) and other natural brain chemicals that can enhance your sense of well-being.
Exercise tones both body and mind. Beyond triggering energizing, feel-good brain chemicals, such as endorphins, adrenaline, serotonin, and dopamine, exercise stimulates new nerve growth, which creates new pathways of communication and increases the brain’s flexibility.
Though I no longer regularly play basketball and baseball (yes baseball, not softball!) in organized leagues, I have rekindled my fitness habits, including a new regimen centered around a combination of intensive weight training and HIIT classes.
Lack of sleep increases cortisol and interferes with mood and mental function and contributes to systemic inflammation. Even though I sleep at odd hours at times – when I’m in hyperfocus on a writing project, for example, sometimes I work throughout the night – I do get eight hours. I have no choice. If I don’t, I’m not productive because of brain fog.
One step forward
This is not one of those miraculous transformation stories that happen overnight. At 50, I have a sense of urgency to thrive. And I understand that, like everyone who has depression or any other mental wellness condition, a healthy lifestyle is not a choice. It is a necessity for me to maximize the writing and communication gifts and talents God has blessed me with, and to flourish with every aspect of life.
What Amare Global has given me in these early stages is hope, motivation, enlightenment through education and confidence that I’ve found an effective holistic approach to a vibrant body and mind. With all of that, I’m inspired to – one week at a time – continue a lifestyle that incorporates the Mediterranean diet and Project b3 supplements to complement weight training, HIIT classes, hiking, tennis and whatever else I choose to try.
One step forward is better than one step back – or remaining idle and mired in a fog. In this case, the steps forward have lifted the fog.