During the holiday season, prepare for added stress, limited sleep, and overindulgent celebrations. For many, anxiety, sadness, and depression are brought on by the holidays, taking a great toll on our health, particularly our brain health and gut health.

In fact, we seemingly don’t have a problem with one without it affecting the other. The brain and gut are intimately connected, which means that triggering factors that affect one, will ultimately affect the other. An imbalanced intestine can send signals to the brain, just as an imbalanced brain can send signals to the gut. Therefore, a person's stomach or intestinal distress can be the cause, or the product of anxiety, stress, or depression.

Patients who have autoimmune disorders can be among those who suffer the greatest during the holiday season. Gut dysbiosis, or imbalance of intestinal microorganisms, plays a major role in the development of autoimmune diseases. Conversely, good gut health is vital to the management of autoimmune-related symptoms.

With the connection between gut health and brain health being so significant, you can see how there could be a vicious cycle between mental wellness, gut function, and overall physical health and how the heightened emotions of the holidays and what they look like this year, might trigger this cycle, especially for those who are autoimmune-compromised.

To help manage the rigorous effects that this year's holiday season could have on us, here are five tips for boosting your brain health and gut health:

How to Boost Brain and Gut Health

  1. Limit inflammatory foods: Unfortunately, many seasonal favorites come with inflammatory side effects that can spike the autoimmune response or even trigger the onset of autoimmune diseases. Alcohol, sugary foods, gluten, dairy, and processed meats are just a few inflammatory foods that we should all try to avoid. It’s fine to treat yourself but do it in moderation.
  1. Get plenty of sleep: A lack of sleep can cause heightened emotions, sensitivity, and difficulty focusing. At an already emotional time of year, adequate sleep is crucial. With the current climate making travel and family gatherings risky, many will struggle emotionally, and a lack of sleep can intensify that. If you are having trouble sleeping, speak to your healthcare provider, as it could also be an indicator of gut imbalance.
  1. Seek counseling:  Seeking therapy to learn to manage or cope with your feelings is not something to be embarrassed about. Take control of your mental health just as well as your physical health.
  1. Spend extra time outdoors: Megan Riehl, PsyD, gastrointestinal psychologist and clinical director of the gastrointestinal behavioral health program at Michigan Medicine, recommends readjusting our mindsets about quality time outdoors. She says, “We can significantly benefit from being outside in the winter. The emotional benefits of fresh air and sunshine, coupled with the physical activity of walking, hiking, or cruising in a wheelchair, are a win-win situation.”
  1. Proactive Health Management: Routine physicals and testing are essential to health management. The “What I don’t know, won’t hurt me” adage is not conducive to living a long, healthy life. Rather than waiting for something to be wrong and then trying to fix it, maintain your health.

Is My Gut Healthy?

Some of the signs of an unhealthy gut include irritable bowel syndrome, diarrhea, bloating, constipation, unexplained weight gain or loss, and fatigue. If you present with any of these symptoms, or sleeplessness, anxiety, or depression, seek the care of your primary care physician.

Cyrex Laboratories offers the Array 10 - Multiple Food Immune Reactivity Screen™. This test measures reactivity to 180 food antigens, assisting in the early detection of dietary-related triggers of autoimmune reactivity. This test is highly recommended for anybody with unexplained symptoms whether gastrointestinal, neurological, dermatological, or behavioral in nature.

A healthy gut will produce the mood-boosting brain chemical, serotonin. The American Psychological Association estimates that 95 percent of serotonin is created by gut bacteria. A healthy brain will keep the gut happy. This gut-brain relationship is one that must be nurtured. Take notice and take care with these tips.

Dr. Chad Larson, NMD, DC, CCN, CSCS, Advisor and Consultant on Clinical Consulting Team for Cyrex Laboratories. Dr. Larson holds a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine degree from Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine and a Doctor of Chiropractic degree from Southern California University of Health Sciences.

He is a Certified Clinical Nutritionist and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. He particularly pursues advanced developments in the fields of endocrinology, orthopedics, sports medicine, and environmentally-induced chronic disease.

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