By Meg Bowman, LDN
As a functional medicine-trained LDN (licensed dietitian nutritionist) who specializes in mental health nutrition, my job is to search for figs.
Let me explain. Rather than searching for the psychosocial reasons you are experiencing mental health symptoms, I look for the biological culprits. Many conditions or diseases impact mental health, but generally speaking, the three categories or factors that I see the most are food, inflammation or the gut – the FIGs.
Did you know you can make someone depressed or anxious in half a week by taking out certain components found in protein? Foods are the building blocks of neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and GABA – neurotransmitters that help to support mood. Part of assessing the “F” in FIG is determining whether you have the raw materials (protein, vitamins and minerals) to make the neurotransmitters your body needs. But assessing “F” goes beyond neurotransmitters. Frequently people have poor relationships with food, or they may even feel fear of eating certain foods. By learning to listen to your body through intuitive eating practices, you can also bolster mood and your relationship to food.
I experienced some localized inflammation the other day – I was walking in a field when a thorn from a nearby tree pierced the bottom of my shoe and went into my foot. As you can imagine, the sore spot became a little pink, puffy and warm. This is inflammation – my body was helpfully mounting a response to heal my foot. However, when there is systemic inflammation present throughout the body, mood can suffer. Systemic inflammation can interfere with your brain’s ability to act normally – and it can even interfere with the creation of neurochemicals like serotonin. Finding ways to lessen inflammation such as mindfulness, gentle movement and nutrition and supplements can bolster mood as well as physical health.
What happens in the gut does NOT stay in the gut – meaning, there is a robust, well-researched connection between the gut and the brain called the gut-brain axis. This connection means that I frequently see people with mental health symptoms ALSO have gut conditions like IBS, diarrhea, IBD, GERD, or celiac disease. Through the careful selection of supplements and foods, we can harness the gut brain connection to send different signals from the gut to the brain, improving mood.
How do I figure out what FIGs might be affecting my clients? Often, I will utilize lab testing (blood, stool, urine, saliva), while other times a detailed look at a client’s medical history as well as their presenting symptoms will indicate clues.
Ultimately, finding the biological contributing factors behind mental health symptoms allows me to understand your story – a holistic view of the biological, psychological, an social aspects that make up your experience.
Meg Bowman MS CNS LDN is a licensed dietitian nutritionist who specializes in mental health and GI conditions. Meg is the owner of Nourish Integrative Solutions, a private functional medicine nutrition practice in Skokie, as well as a co-owner of The Clinician’s Incubator, a company specializing in mentoring new nutrition graduates through the first years of private practice. Meg’s training is in the functional medicine model of nutrition, which is informed by her belief in a Health at Every Size (HAES) weight neutral, non-diet approach. For more information, visit www.nourishis.com or call 847.461.3321.