Fitness, Health, and Wellness

Crohn’s Disease and Mental Health

Crohn's Disease and Mental HealthIt’s no question that Crohn’s Disease, or any inflammatory bowel disease, can affect your mental health. I’ve been really open about how my mental health ebbs and flows. I think it is important to understand that with Crohn’s Disease, your mental health may take a plunge. But, there are ways to improve your overall health, both physically and emotionally, even with IBD. I’ll share what’s been going on in my life and how I am making changes to improve my well-being.

The Gut-Brain Connection

First off, it’s important to understand how intertwined the gut and the brain are. It’s no wonder that when we struggle with inflammatory bowel disease that we also struggle with our mental health. I mean, with everything going on in the world, who’s mental health isn’t all over the place? Add on the fact that we have damaged guts…a potential recipe for disaster. There is so much information out there on this. I’m only going to scrape the surface and hope you look more into it!

Think of the times that you had butterflies in your stomach or felt nauseated before a test or speech. Those are direct linkages from your gut to your brain. Your brain may start stomach juices flowing before you have even taken a bite of food. It’s a strong connection, and that connection is real. Think of your gut as a second brain. Scientists call this the enteric nervous system (ENS) which is comprised of millions of nerve cells within the lining of your digestive system. No wonder we may struggle mentally when our gut health is poor.

The ENS is responsible for our bodies ability to digest food. And all those nerve cells send direct signals to our brain and central nervous system which can have a huge effect on our mood. It is now known that people who have damaged digestive systems (IBD, IBS, and more) struggle with anxiety and depression because of it. Before, they thought that the anxiety and depression caused the problems, not vice versa.

Crohn's Disease and Mental Health

How to Improve Your Brain Health and Your IBD

A good number of “feel good” chemicals, think serotonin, are produced in the gut. If the gut is damaged, meaning our microbiomes are off, these chemicals are not being produced appropriately. That mean a shortage of these chemicals are making it to our brains and throwing off our moods. But, because scientists better understand this connection we can do many things to help solve the problem.

One way to improve your mental health is to try to change your microbiome. That can be done by taking prebiotics and probiotics. If you have healthy gut bacteria, that will reduce overall inflammation and appropriately produce the chemicals needed to keep the brain, and your mood, happy. There are also certain foods that help ensure a positive gut-brain connection. Foods high in Omega-3 fats, high fiber foods, and fermented foods are just a few that help promote the good bacteria…and we know what that good bacteria can do now. Better bacteria = better brain health = better mood/less anxiety. Promoting good bacteria will not only improve your brain health, but it will aid in healing your IBD.

What I have found fascinating is how gastroenterologists are using this connection to their advantage in a way. Some IBS patients have been prescribed anti-depressants not for the mental aspect, but because it calms the nerves in the digestive tract. How interesting is that!? What scientists and doctors have learned thus far is helpful to know what we need to do to try and keep this happy environment in our bodies. BUT, there is still so much more research that needs to be done in this area and it’s happening now!

So What’s My Deal?

My mental health is always up and down. The past year has been a lot of down, BUT it’s mostly internal/self. A few years ago, I couldn’t say that as I was struggling in all aspects of my life (work, self, IBD, etc). I’ve gained about 15lbs in 9 months after removing my IUD. It’s all right around my lower belly and thighs which is extremely annoying. Eating clean, cutting out alcohol, and excessive exercise haven’t even put a dent in the weight…and it’s getting to me. My clothes don’t fit, my anxiety is through the roof (SPOILER ALERT: I stopped my anxiety meds around the same time), acne is out of control, and my doctors don’t agree that any of this is hormonal in nature. 🙂

My Lady Doc told me at my appointment the other day that I just need to eat healthy and exercise 2-3 times a week for 30 days and the weight will come off. If not, I can get some testing done to check and see if it’s a hormone imbalance.  I reminded him that I’m vegan and currently workout 6+ times a week. We got that bloodwork done that day 🙂 But, he didn’t even check my female hormones, so…lost cause.

So, recently I’ve decided to take charge. I KNOW that my stress and anxiety increases cortisol levels, which leads to hormonal belly right in my problem area. I don’t care that my doctors don’t think it’s hormonal in nature. Anyone who is constantly anxious will have this happen to them, and it can lead to weight gain. I’m training for a half-marathon for F-sake and I’m not losing any pounds even with calorie deficit. That’s when I decided I need to get my anxiety under control. If I can accept my aging body for what it is, and become more familiar with my anxiety triggers, and learn to reason with them…maybe this will all fall into place.

Crohn's Disease and Mental Health

How I’m Getting My Crohn’s Disease and Mental Health Under Better Control…

  1. I started talking to a therapist. You heard it here first! 🙂 I’m learning about what triggers me. I’m learning not to fixate on my anxiety and how to navigate these triggering situations. All while trying to navigate my body dysmorphia – which ebbs and flows. Some days I’m 100% fine with my IBD warrior bod, other days I feel like a large bloated whale 🙂 She’s also helping me better understand how my young IBD diagnosis has left some unresolved issues that we are now working through. Getting diagnosed during such a pivotal time of adulthood is weird…
  2. My weekly routine now consists of some yoga and meditation. Yoga is part of my half marathon training schedule and I am making sure I DO NOT SKIP THESE VERY IMPORTANT WORKOUTS. For both my mind and my body. This is just another way to try and naturally lower my cortisol levels. Especially because running can be a great mental release, but it adds stress to your body that needs to be let go of at some point! I’m also at a point where I may consider going back on my anxiety meds. Even though I don’t like being on numerous medication, there is a time and place for them and I think they will help me overall.
  3. I’m trying my hardest to eat clean. It’s hard sometimes, but I know that eating healthy foods will aid in this journey. I’m also starting a prebiotic and probiotic regimen to promote a better environment in my gut and lower my cortisol levels…peep this article that talks about how probiotics can help (it was mentioned further up in this post as well).

And last but not least…I’m trying to not care as much. At the end of the day…I’m healthy and my Crohn’s disease is in remission. Maybe I’m 15lbs heavier, but my Crohn’s is happy and letting me train to run this half marathon. As long as I keep working to get into a better mental state, I’ll BE GOOD.

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