Last week, I met with a naturopathic doctor. We met at a Middle Eastern restaurant for lunch on a Thursday afternoon off the oceanfront of Virginia Beach. I was searching for referrals for my therapy clients who require more naturopathic care, and she agreed to meet with me over lunch.
I was about 60% there for my clients, 11% to talk counseling services, 29% for my own curiosity. I want to know if you can reduce inflammation-induced brain fog without going gluten free, too! (Short answer: Apparently you can’t.) Regardless of my pie-chart motivations, I wanted to learn more about naturopathic care. Granted I was having lunch with her and not getting a free consultation, but she got me started on the process.
Naturopathic treatment starts with becoming aware of the food you ingest. I was mostly aware that the falafel I ordered wasn’t like the falafel sandwich I ate regularly at Mamoun’s in Greenwich Village. The falafel was served alone in a round dish—and sadly only six of them. I finished them before she started telling me about leaky gut. If you know anything about naturopathy, they start talking about leaky gut pretty fast. She ordered the same thing and only ate three.
Your body contains an axis that connects your gastrointestinal tract to your central nervous system. She paused while she was explaining the gut-brain connection, and she asked me if I had taken a course in Neuroscience. I said yes and muttered something disjointed and inaudible about neurotransmitters to somehow confirm it. Satisfied, she explained that the neurotransmitters in your brain controlling your mood also live in your intestines (i.e. serotonin, dopamine, norephinephrine, etc.) That’s why they dub the stomach the “second brain.” This mass of neural tissue lining your intestinal walls can affect your concentration, mood, and affect. If your body has healthy bacteria in its gut, you’re more likely to increase receptors in your brain that make you feel better. To quickly summarize leaky gut theory, inflammation in the gut causes brain fog and depressive symptoms.
After our quick neurogastroenterology prerequisite, she turned to the topic of diet. If small intestinal inflammation leads to brain fog and mood swings, then naturopaths start looking at the food we eat—especially gluten, fiber, and amino-acid packed food like quinoa. All her patients must keep an expansive food diary for 7 days before their second visit. She reviews their entire medical history, compares the food diary with their symptomology, and orders appropriate tests. Recommendations are made after the test results are in.
With that anticlimactic ending, I had to push for examples. What about people with common autoimmune disorders like Hasthimoto’s disease that create depressive symptoms? What’s their story? Currently, modern medicine can’t stop the body from attacking itself but only replenishes thyroid hormones to keep you stable. To stop the body from attacking its thyroid, naturopathic doctors recommend a strictly gluten-free diet. Gluten aggravates the intestinal walls, leaking microbes and food particles that your immune system attacks. Further research from Dr. Amy Myers suggests that gluten and your thyroid appear similar to white blood cells, so the body will attack gluten and your thyroid simultaneously. If synthroids don’t alleviate symptoms like depression, you have the option of either restricting 80% of the food you eat or waiting for further research.
My other gatherings were easier to apply to life. Drink purified water. Apples are basically magical. Ramen is a bad word to bring up to a naturopath. The falafel I ate was amazing, but I have to remember to order it as a sandwich next time. We promised to keep in touch. She packed her three falafels to-go. I bought apples on the way home.
If you want to learn more about gut health, these are pretty cool classes:
Photo Credit: Brook Lark