top of page

How Inflammation Affects Our Gut, Brain, and Our Health and Why Diet Counts

Updated: Mar 15, 2021

#Gluten and Inflammation

We have our brain. We also have our gut, where 70% of our immune cells live. Communication between these two are bidirectional, meaning that the gut talks to the brain and the brain talks to the gut—they depend on and affect each other. This is referred to as the #gut-brain axis, and often these organs are considered as one system. Our gut is our "second" brain and has a brain-like neural network that regulates digestion, #inflammation, and our immune system. When there is imbalance and inflammation in our gut, it can be detrimental to us. 

Several years ago, I was diagnosed with #fibromyalgia. I spent years going from doctor to doctor, receiving test after test trying to determine its cause. Finally, my primary doctor decided to give me an allergy test. I was allergic to gluten. Eliminating gluten from my diet dramatically decreased my generalized muscle pain, brain fog, environmental allergies, scar tissue in my back from surgeries, and my energy started returning. Later, when I found out that I most likely had celiac disease because my body had become so over-sensitized from years of pain and a compromised immune system, I strictly enforced a diet of no cross-contaminated foods. Soon my back pain was decreasing even more, despite my nerve damage and neuropathy. Research has found that ingesting gluten can detrimentally affect the immune system by changing composition of the gut microbiome (microorganisms), killing living cells, promoting inflammation in the gut and central nervous system, and enhancing intestinal permeability, which leads to autoimmune diseases and Leaking Gut Syndrome. (1) 

I am not saying that all fibromyalgia is caused by gluten. I wish it were that easy. What I am saying is that the health of our gut dramatically impacts the health of our immune system, body, and brain. Chronic inflammation alters the gut's microorganisms, playing a role in human brain diseases, depression, anxiety, and chronic #pain. Gut microorganisms "influence memory, mood, and cognition and are clinically and therapeutically relevant to a range of disorders, including alcoholism, chronic fatigue syndrome, chronic pain, fibromyalgia, and restless leg syndrome", and possibly brain diseases, multiple sclerosis and other neurological conditions. (2)

The Link Between the Gut and Emotional Health

Microorganisms, known as microbiomes, in the gut send signals of alarm to the brain through the vagus nerve, triggering mood changes. Inflammation in someone's gut can cause “anxiety-producing chemicals” in the brain, leading to depressive like symptoms such as anxiety, lethargy, decreased activity, and impaired cognition. (3) This new knowledge is changing the way some mood disorders are being treated. “Psychiatric researchers have observed that patients with higher levels of inflammatory markers…are less likely to respond to antidepressants, and more likely to respond to anti-inflammatories.” (4) 

How often have you felt your stomach upset when you were feeling anxious? 

It is true when people say that they hold their stress in the stomach. Because of the gut’s and brain’s intimate connection, the brain also exerts a powerful influence on gut microorganisms. Many studies have shown that different types of psychological stress, such as maternal separation, crowding, heat and noise stress can affect the gut's cellular makeup. (5) Even mild stress can alter the microbial balance in the gut, making someone vulnerable to infectious disease. 

You may be eating a healthful diet, but you gut may not heal if you are experiencing a lot of stress. This is how much stress affects us. This is why meditation and relaxation are often used as part of treatments to help with irritable bowel syndrome and other GI issues. I have had clients whose complaints of stomach pain decrease after relaxation and meditation exercises. When we calm our brain we calm our gut, and vice versa.

An Anti-Inflammatory Lifestyle for Gut and Brain Health and Pain Reduction

Because of the intricate connection between the gut and brain, living an anti-inflammatory lifestyle is important in reducing chronic pain, gastrointestinal disorders, multiple illnesses, and related anxiety and depression. I say lifestyle because inflammation is not only caused by certain foods, but by stress. Below are some suggestions for living an anti-inflammatory lifestyle.

1. Food

Living an anti-inflammatory diet can be life changing. My colleague saw a client who complained of 8/10 pain in his neck, shoulders, arms and wrists. She changed his diet to an anti-inflammatory diet. After hard work, this client lost 18 pounds and was pain free. This was 2 years ago, and he is still pain free. 

Inflammatory foods to avoid: Gluten sugar, refined carbs, like white bread and pasta, trans fats found in fried foods, soybean, canola and corn oil, preservatives and additives, such as carrageenan. (6), processed foods all can cause inflammation. Alcohol also causes inflammation. As alcohol breaks down inside your body, it creates toxic by-products that lead to inflammation. 

Anti-inflammatory foods to eat: Organic, grass fed meats and fresh caught fish, good fats such as Omega 3s, fish oil, olive oil, coconut oil, avocados, nuts, chia seeds, flax seeds, turmeric and cinnamon spices, herbs of basil, parsley, oregano, ginger. Green leafy vegetables, bok choy, celery, beets, broccoli, blueberries, pineapple, bone broth, collagen powder, ashwaganda, green and white tea.

Golden Paste Recipe (great also to promote sleep)

1/2 tsp turmeric (I buy from Banyan)

1-2 cups of water (just enough to keep turmeric from burning)

Cook 7 minutes.

Add: 1/3 cup ghee or coconut oil & 1 1/2 tsp black pepper

Mix, cover, refrigerate up to 2 weeks. It tastes good with a little coconut or almost milk added and warmed before bedtime.

What About a Low Histamine Diet?

Now, more and more I am seeing information about a low-histamine diet to decrease inflammation. Often we think of histamine when we think of allergies, because when we are allergic to something, histamine alerts the body of potential danger by producing inflammation. Histamine is found naturally in our body and is okay in small amounts. However, If you have compromised immune system and GI system, it may not be able to handle reasonable quantities of histamine that are in a variety of foods. Increased histamine can cause headaches, feeling hot, congestion, fatigue, and feeling downright miserable. Because histamine travels throughout your bloodstream, it can affect your gut, lungs, skin, brain, and entire cardiovascular system. There are a variety of foods that naturally contain histamine and cause the release of or block of the enzyme that breaks down histamine. (7)

Foods to avoid: It is best to avoid canned foods, aged cheeses, fermented foods, wine, beer, champagne, vinegar containing foods, sour foods, smoked foods, and cow’s milk.