Wednesday, July 18, 2012
Eating our way out of our mood swings
There is a link between our mood and blood-sugar which is well known. With diabetes on the rise, the dangers of drops in blood-sugar and how to deal with them are now being taught in First Aid courses, describing the tell-tale signs of mood swings and irritability linked with long periods of not eating. The more serious symptoms include seizures, and unconsciousness (and in extreme cases, death!).
One does not need to be diabetic to suffer from lowered-blood sugar, nor from the shakiness and irritability associated with lowered blood-sugar - when there is no detectable reduction in blood-sugar, it is usually associated with the drop in energy a few hours after a meal. The usual symptoms are shakiness, a general sense of weakness, altered mood, confusion, fatigue, anxiety, a pale complexion, abnormal sweating, an increased pulse rate, and hunger.
It's not just the food we eat, but also the type of bugs (good and bad) that live in the digestive tract, that can affect mood. The evidence for the wider implications for gut bacteria affecting the nervous system is slowly growing, with disorders of these microbes being linked with medical conditions such as obesity and inflammatory bowel disease. There is also growing speculation and research into the link with the state of the gut flora and its effect on mood.
In Chinese Medicine, the health of the digestive system is associated with the organ-systems of the Spleen and the Liver. The digestive system is one of the main parts of the body where vital energy (Qi) is produced, however if a person is tired, run down or has weakened digestive function, their Qi will become depleted because of an impaired ability to absorb nutrients and energy from food. A lack of Qi puts strain onto the liver and creates symptoms of anger and frustration. When the qi is lacking, soon to follow is a deficiency of a nutritive substance called Xue (roughly translates to blood), because the poorly functioning digestive system (Spleen) is not absorbing and distributing the basic building blocks of Blood from the diet. Blood in Chinese Medicine has a large role in housing the Shen (spirit, or Mind), so if the Blood becomes depleted, the mind lacks the support and grounding it needs. This can leave people feeling easily overwhelmed, easily brought to tears, or feeling generally unsettled and out of sorts. People who suffer from mood swings can fluctuate between the symptoms of depleted blood and constrained qi - feeling tired and cranky when you're hungry, or being driven to emotional eating when upset. Common symptoms of a weak digestion - not necessarily a problem that is fixed by antidepressants or a nice relaxing holiday.
The key in fixing these very common types of mood fluctuations is in looking after the health of the digestive system. Ensuring that the diet provides the foundational building blocks required to function on a daily basis is a good start. What we eat is going to make a difference not just to the energy to move our physical bodies, but also to maintain psychological and emotional wellbeing. A substantial quantity of good quality green vegetables is vital (3-6 cups per day). A good healthy dose of ‘good fats’, so that we can produce cholesterol and maintain a healthy endocrine system. Because hormones like estrogen and testosterone have a role to play in disorders such as depression, eating dietary fat that converts to hormones is important.
The quality of the Blood/Xue depends on vital minerals and vitamins, such as Vitamin B, D, C, and zinc, calcium, and magnesium. The state of the gut flora needs to be protected, and clearing nasty bacteria, parasites and yeasts such as candida and others, while re-building good flora with the use of probiotics can greatly improve the health of our digestion.
Get serious and cut down on the amount of sugar you consume, as this is what will ‘damage the Spleen’ and therefore damage digestion and the production of Qi. A routine of regular, gentle exercise that moves Qi and Blood, such as walking, Yoga, or Tai-chi is also useful. At the same time, looking after the nervous system by eliminating or minimising exposure to serious stressors such as "general life stress", chemical toxicity, emotionally toxic people, and changing your inner emotional landscape to look more like the hills from the sound of music, rather than a wartorn battlefield. Strategies to help reduce stress can be enhanced by learning to meditating, learning how to relax, and maintaining regular sleeping patterns.
Of course, your Chinese Medicine practitioner can prescribe herbal medicines, acupuncture and tailored advice to you so that you can really quickly regain balance in your mood and in your mind. Once you achieve harmony, it's much easier to maintain it using these strategies listed above.
In these ways, it is possible to maintain the health of the physical, emotional and mental aspects of ourselves.