In more recent years, studies have been emerging that focus on the possible connection between gut health and mental health disorders, including anxiety and depression. The microbiome makes up all microorganisms in the human body. The microbiota encompasses all the microorganisms in a particular location, such as the GI tract. These together are developed while in the womb. During this time, early nutrition can play a role in shaping the developing gut microbiota. This helps with the development of various healthy bacteria.
Gut Health and Mental Health, What’s the Link?
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghNovember 10, 2022 anti-inflammatory diet, anxiety, depression, dietician, dietitian, dietitian nutritionist, dietitian nutritionist near me, gut health, gut health and mental health, healthy eating, healthy food, intuitive eating, keto diet, mental health, nutrition, Nutrition Counseling, Nutritionist, registered dietitian, registered licensed dietitian0 comments
The Science Behind Gut Health and Mental Health
As solid foods are introduced to infants, the microbiome is exposed to many different energy substrates, creating and developing our metabolism along with new variations of bacteria that make up the gut. It is difficult to determine what a normal microbiome consists of given the environmental, seasonal, and health status of an individual. Although, what we eat can determine what type of bacteria are predominantly present. This can also be directly linked to inflammation of the GI tract, placing stress on the microbiome. This can result in the release of cytokines and neurotransmitters. Elevated blood levels of these pro-inflammatory markers increase the permeability of the blood-brain barrier. Their release influences brain function, leading to anxiety and depression.
Pro-inflammatory cytokines are also important stimulators of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA). The hypothalamus releases various hormones, one in which stimulates the adrenal release of cortisol, a known stress hormone. Cortisol stimulates a pro-inflammatory response, leading to a dysregulation of the HPA axis, resulting in symptoms of depression and anxiety.
When the human microbiome is challenged with dietary changes, coupled by stress, or maybe a course of antibiotics, the physiology of the normal microbiome changes. When there is a loss of beneficial bacteria, this can trigger a pro-inflammatory response and weaken the intestine. This can lead to increased intestinal permeability and allow bacteria to leak through, leading to detrimental effects on our bodies, which can be demonstrated in diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression.
Probiotics, living microorganisms of yeast and bacteria, have been utilized as supplements for aiding in reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression. Primarily, they have been studied in the suppression of cytokines, noting improved intestinal barrier integrity. This promotes a decrease in inflammatory response. As a result, adding a probiotic to your daily regimen could help reduce pro-inflammatory hormones, especially in individuals suffering from chronic inflammation.
Although, there is no FDA regulation pertaining specifically to probiotics, and ultimately, no dosage recommendations. Until more research behind the use of probiotics as therapy for anxiety and depressive disorders is available, probiotics cannot be considered a reliable treatment method as compared to psychiatric medications.
When it comes to diet, various components in food can help reduce inflammation. Consider foods that are high in fiber, omega-3s found in fish, oils, and leafy greens, polyphenols (plant chemicals) found in fruits such as berries, and unsaturated fats found in almonds and flaxseeds. All of these foods can be incorporated into your daily diet to help reduce inflammation and promote a healthy gut and microbiota!
- Yogurt: containing live bacteria cultures, yogurt can help support a healthy gut by keeping the microbiome healthy. The probiotics in yogurt can help reduce inflammation and symptoms of bloating, gas, constipation or diarrhea. Many yogurt varieties contain added sugar, so look for plain options and add your own flavoring with fruit, nuts, and seeds to avoid excess sugar intake.
- Fermented foods like Kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir and miso are rich in probiotics. The good bacteria grow during the fermentation process. Add fermented foods to your diet for a healthy dose of probiotics.
- Dark Green Leafy Vegetables: Packed full of vitamins like A, K and magnesium, dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, kale, bok choy, mustard greens, and collards, are crucial for brain function and gut health. Swiss chard is a great example of a food that is loaded with fiber, feeding the healthy bacteria in your gut, preventing inflammation.
- Omega-3s: Omega-3 fatty acids also support brain health. Fatty fish such as salmon and tuna, are great sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Foods containing fatty acids can help reduce inflammation, and support healthy digestion. This can help you feel less bloated and sluggish.
- Healthy Grains: Whole grain foods, such as oatmeal and bulgar wheat, are high in fiber, which plays an important role in stabilizing blood sugar levels. This helps restore a potential imbalance to the gut that can happen when blood sugar levels are challenged. Most whole grain products contain beneficial prebiotics that help increase healthy bacteria in the gut microbiome.
- Berries: Berries are rich in antioxidants, which can help keep your gut healthy by reducing inflammation. They are also a great source of prebiotics, which promotes healthy gut motility. One of the highest vitamin C foods, which can improve the gut barrier and enhance nutrient absorption.
This article was written by our Registered Dietitian, Kali Alrutz
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What is Sex Therapy and How Can it Help?
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghNovember 2, 2022 sensate focus, sex therapist, sex therapy, sexual chemistry, sexual wellness, sexuality0 comments
Sexual intimacy plays an important role in our lives. The benefits of a healthy sex life have been linked to stress reduction, improved sleep, immune health, pain reduction, increased self-esteem, and increased closeness to a sexual partner; all-important aspects in living our happiest best lives! Sounds easy enough, have sex and be happy, right? Unfortunately for many, it is not that easy! Myths and misconceptions surrounding sexual intimacy have caused great personal and interpersonal suffering among us for hundreds of years; while stigma, shame, and socialization have created barriers to seeking professional guidance. This detrimental cycle can repeat itself causing conflict in relationships, increased stress, resentment, shame, mental health illness, and poor self-esteem in those who wish for sexual connection with others. Sex therapy can help.
What is Sex Therapy and How Can It Help?
But what is sex therapy and how can it help? Sex therapy provides a compassionate safe space to explore and address medical, psychological, personal, interpersonal, and systemic factors impacting sexual satisfaction. It is a type of talk therapy that helps individuals and/or couples move past physical and psychological challenges and develop fulfilling and pleasurable sexual relationships. Sex therapy addresses your beliefs, experiences, feelings, and concerns using evidence-based techniques in collaboration with the client to help you reach your goals and decrease stress. Some of the sexual concerns addressed in sex therapy include erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, delayed ejaculation, paraphilias, desire/interest/arousal concerns, and pelvic pain disorders. Sex and porn addiction are other concerns often addressed by sex therapists. Sexual preferences, kink, and poly communities and those with ‘non-traditional’ relationships can find a safe space to share with sex-positive, compassionate and accepting practitioners.
While disagreements about sex are common and normal phenomena, the following may indicate the need to seek professional help from a sex therapist:
- Escalating and recurring conflicts about sexual frequency or preferences.
- Feelings of not being a priority to your partner.
- Distress, or a decrease in the quality of your life and relationship due to your sexual concerns or dysfunction.
- If you are experiencing a lack of communication, arguments that seem to go in circles, and a loss of connection with your partner.
- Feelings of guilt and shame surrounding sexual preferences or activity.
- Performance anxiety.
Tips to decrease sexual anxiety:
- Make an appointment with your PCP to discuss possible physiological causes. Also, talk to your doctor about any medications you are currently taking and possible side effects that may impact sexual function.
- Be open with your partner. Having an open honest conversation with your partner can help decrease anxiety and increase support and connection.
- Learn to be intimate without sexual intercourse. Give and receive sensual massages, warm baths together, and cuddling without the expectation of intercourse can help reduce anxiety and build connection.
- Progressive muscle relaxation and mindful meditation can help relax the body and mind.
- A sex therapist can help you learn the differences between male and female sexual responses which can help greatly reduce anxiety.
- Most importantly, practice self-compassion. Don’t beat yourself up! NO ONE has the sexual prowess being pushed by the media and in porn, and these expectations are unrealistic!
Interested in Sex Therapy?
If you are interested in Sex Therapy, please fill out the form below or call us at 412-322-2129.
Written by: Autumn Walsh (she/her), MSW
Center for Women’s Health. (2021). Center for Women’s Health. OHSU. https://www.ohsu.edu/womens-health/benefits-healthy-sex-life#:~:text=Better%20immune%20system,Decreased%20depression%20and%20anxiety
Hertlein, K. M., Gambescia, N., & Weeks, G. R. (2020). Systemic sex therapy. Routledge.
Holland, K. (2018, June 27). Sex therapy: Couples, techniques, and what does a sex therapist do? Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/sex-therapy#how-to-know-if-youneed-it
Stritof, S. (2022). How important is sex in a relationship? Verywell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/why-should-you-have-sex-more-often-2300937#:~:text=Sex%20can%20have%20a%20variety,immunity%2C%20and%20better%20cardiac%20health.