November 5, 2014

Does Weak Digestion Sabotage Mental Health?

stomach ache

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As children, we cope with adversity by enduring emotional stress in the digestive system, most commonly manifest as a “tummy ache.”

Studies have now mapped this process by locating 95 percent of the body’s’ serotonin, (a neurotransmitter that stabilizes mood) in a surprising place: only five perscent of it is found in the brain and the rest is manufactured and located in the intestinal wall. (1)

As adults, we often struggle emotionally and aim therapies at balancing brain chemistry while overlooking the role the digestion plays on mental health. New research has found that one of the most popular Ayurvedic nerve tonics helps improve stress tolerance, intelligence, immunity, memory and sleep.

As if that weren’t enough, it also supports the repair of the skin on the inside and outside of the body. This herb can also help support clean arteries, healthy lining of the stomach and intestines, all while boosting the lymph drainage around the gut.

Read how this amazing herb helps balance the mind via the gut, all with the fascinating side benefit of protecting the body from the ravages of stress.

Is Your Digestion Sabotaging Your Mental Health?

Stress, hard-to-digest foods, some medications and a toxic world slowly compromise digestive strength.

Stress produces stress-fighting neurotransmitters in the gut, which can overwhelm and inflame the intestinal mucosa (the skin lining the gut). Once the intestinal skin is inflamed, the ability to assimilate the nutrition needed for optimal mental health as well as the ability detoxify the body are both compromised. The lack of nutrient assimilation triggers cravings for those nutrients.

This leads to overeating because the mind over-stimulates hunger centers in the brain that don’t get satisfied through the proper digestion of food.

As a result, typical American portions have gotten larger and larger in an attempt to gratify the mind. This nutritional strain stresses the nervous system and decreases one’s overall tolerance to stress. S

ince we process stress through the gut wall, this symptom of “intolerance to stress” further inflames the intestinal wall, compromising digestive efficiency and mental health. Western medicine often overlook these digestive imbalances, when they can actually be underlying factors to stress intolerance.

Quiz: Identify Digestive Weak Spots That May Be Caused By Stress

Do you feel tired after a meal?
Do you regularly have a 2:00 to 4:00 pm drag?
Do you have trouble digesting wheat or dairy?
Do you tend toward looser stools?
Do you modify your diet or take supplements to keep regular?
Do you finish your day exhausted?
Do you crave sweets, coffee, chocolate, tea, chips or any other stimulating foods?
Do you feel terrible after eating a high fat or greasy meal?
Do you ever get heartburn?
Do you ever see mucus in your stool?
Are you not satisfied by a meal unless you over eat?
Do you feel the need to snack or graze throughout the day?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, this is an indication of a digestive weakness that might be affecting your ability to handle stress well.


Ayurveda’s #1 Stress/Digestive Herb

Brahmi (Gotu kola, latin name Centella asiatica) is touted as the most rejuvenating herb in Ayurveda. It has been used for thousands of years as the main herb for revitalizing the nerves and brain cells. According to The Yoga Book of Herbs, brahmi:

>> Increases intelligence (2)
>> Increases longevity (2)
>> Improves memory (2)
>> Promotes healthy aging (2)
>> Boosts immunity (2)
>> Strengthens the adrenals (2)

Clinically, brahmi is such a great rejuvenative that I recommend it for sleep issues. It can be taken in the morning for energy and mental clarity, and before bed for a good night’s sleep. It gives the body the energy it needs to sleep through the night. This is the sign of a true adaptogen—when an herb can give energy when needed and allow the body to sleep at the same time.

The Stress-Skin Connection

As I have written in past articles, we have skin all over the inside of our bodies. It is called epithelium. It wraps our body and lines our arteries, veins, heart, respiratory tract and the entire digestive system—and the waste processed through this inner skin is all drained by the body’s lymph.

If the skin on your body is sagging, it is likely that the inside skin is also sagging. As we age, we lose adequate blood supply to the skin and distal tissues inside and out. Stress also compromises blood supply to the skin and the drainage of the lymph. In addition, when we become tense, this tension cuts off optimal blood supply to the skin all over the body.

Without optimal blood supply and lymph drainage, the body naturally lays down fibrous tissue or scar tissue which can thicken the skin, leading to a lack of needed blood supply, and resulting in thinner, more fragile skin over time.

Prior to thinning skin, though, we often experience tough, wrinkled or weathered skin. Scar tissue is tough, non-elastic and thick tissue that doesn’t require much blood and is therefore a good Band-Aid created by the body for areas without adequate blood supply. This is most notably seen in conditions where the skin throughout the body (inside and out) thickens with scar tissue.

In numerous studies, brahmi has been shown to be an effective support for the body in the case of such conditions, as it remodels collagen production and thus reverses scar tissue production or thickening of the skin. (3) In numerous studies reported in alternative medicine review, brahmi has been found to boost micro-circulation and lymph flow, which naturally promotes the health of all of the body’s precious skin. (8)

As a lymph and skin agent, brahmi has been shown to be effective in supporting healthy oral hygiene and gum health for these same reasons. Brahmi is a lymph mover for the body, helping in such concerns as cold hands and feet, swelling and associated skin reactions. (4, 8)

Digestive Tract Scar Tissue

As we age, the intestinal skin endures emotional stress, toxic food, chemicals, pollutants and preservatives and reacts by producing scar tissue. This scar tissue can render the gut with a diminished ability to digest, assimilate and detoxify. If you were to flatten out all the villi of the gut, they cover an area as big as a tennis court, so one might think that we have many to spare—or do we?

Support for Acidic Digestion

Recently, brahmi has been found by one study to support the intestinal health of 64 elderly patients with occasional heartburn. (5) This study suggests that the brahmi may play an important role in the stomachs’ and intestines’ ability to heal itself. These recent studies indicate that brahmi may be an herb that supports the nervous system and brain function by helping to heal and restore optimal function of the skin that lines the intestinal tract. (8)

Brahmi Supports Healthy Arteries

In two 12-month-long clinical trials, brahmi stabilized both carotid (6) and femoral artery plaque, (7) measuring no increase in size over a period of 12 months as compared to the control group. In one of these trials, brahmi was shown to support healthy collagen (elasticity) production in the cerebral arteries, and to make plaque more stable via collagen modulation. Arterial plaque is another form of fibrous tissue or scar tissue proliferation.

At the end of the study, patients taking brahmi with carotid artery plaque had cerebral imbalances only in seven percent of the cases, where the control group had cerebral imbalances in 17 percent of the cases. (6) This may be due to brahmi’s traditional use as a brain tonic.


I believe we can all have the digestive strength and mental health of an 18-year-old.

This starts by reversing the cumulative damage of the skin and the lymph on the inside of the body. Research suggests that brahmi is a valuable agent to support the body’s natural impulse to avoid intestinal wear and tear and resultant scar tissue formation, while offering support to the nervous system and brain function.


For the protection of stress-induced scar tissue formation in the skin throughout the body, brahmi may offer useful support. I normally suggest that my patients take 500mg of the raw organic or wild-crafted herb 3 times per day after food.


Gershon MD. Curr Opin Gastroenterol 2000; 16:113-20.DO
Yoga Book of herbs, Frawley, Lad. Lotus Press. 1986. p-173
Bonte F et al 1994; Maquart FX et al 1999; Widgerow AD et al 2000
Guseva NG et al 1998
Rhee J, Choi KW. Korean J Gastroenterol 1981; 13(1): 35-40.
Cesarone MR, Belcaro G, Nicolaides AN et al. Angiology 2001; 52(Suppl 2): S19-S25.
Incandela L, Belcaro G, Nicolaides AN et al. Angiology 2001; 52(Suppl 2): S69-S73.
Alternative Medicine Review. Volume 12. Number 1. 2007. Monograph: Centella asiatica


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Author: Kathryn Muyskens

Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Christy McKenna/Flickr, Wikipedia

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