For many folks,
grains can cause inflammation in the body. And that inflammation can, in some ways, lead to other health concerns, such as feelings of anxiety, depression, insomnia — as well as other mental health issues. That's because, according to Eastern and Western medicine, there are some interesting connections between grains, inflammation, gut health, and mental health side effects. So if you've been suffering from any of the above, it may be worth looking into the likes of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to see what it has to say.
While grains certainly don't
cause mental health issues, it's true that your diet can certainly contribute to inflammation, which can in turn make symptoms worse. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, for example, "grains can cause muzzy thinking, called dampness," Elizabeth Trattner, a Chinese and Integrative Medicine expert, tells Bustle. "Dampness can be brain fog, [spaciness], even lethargy and ... [lack of] motivation." This has to do with "phlegm" in the body, gut health, and the vital energy "chi," which all play a role in how someone feels.
you experience signs of inflammation after eating grains, and feel a bit down, lethargic, or "out of it" as a result, it may be worth it to cut back on things like oatmeals, wheat breads, and pastas, to see if it makes a difference for your mental health. You can also visit a TCM practitioner, for advice on balancing out your body. Here are a few interesting ways grains can cause inflammation, and lead to mental health issues, according to Eastern, as well as Western, beliefs.
Eating too many grains can cause feelings of brain fog, which is, again, referred to as "dampness" in Traditional Chinese Medicine. "Although [small amounts of carbohydrates] build chi and blood, too much of anything can cause an imbalance," Trattner says. "Grains for some can make dampness worse."
In TCM, Trattner says it's often suggested that someone suffering from dampness steer away from grains, and switch to root starches instead — which can help balance out the gut.
Dampness can also lead to feelings of "worry, pensiveness, anxiety, [and] overthinking," Trattner says. And according to TCM, this is
connected to gut health, "because dampness can drain the digestive fire, and if someone isn’t taking care of their digestive system they can become damp; they [are] interrelated," Trattner says.
Dampness can also cause a "blah" spaced out feeling; one where you just can't seem to focus. As Trattner says, "If chi doesn’t move and there is dampness, a patient can become highly unmotivated to do anything."
And this is something that can be balanced with the help of a trained TCM practitioner. "Grains are not necessarily bad for people," Trattner says. "I have to stress that if someone is having symptoms, they may want to eliminate grains from their bodies, but under the care of a good doctor of TCM."
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, "dampness can impede the flow of chi in the body and that is where we see anger, depression, [and] mood wings," Trattner says.
Of course, there are a million and one causes of anger and mood swings, so it'll be important to speak with a doctor to get to the root of the issue. Hormone imbalances, lack of sleep, PMS, and other issues can all play a role in mood swings. But in terms of TCM, it may also have to do with inflammation, and the effects thereof.
"The root cause for dipolar depression in Traditional Chinese Medicine is also based on the concept of long standing qi [or chi] stasis that gave rise to dampness, which further became phlegm and ultimately severe phlegm fire,"
Dr. Michelle Eggenberger, a doctor of Oriental Medicine, Licensed Acupuncture Physician, and health coach, tells Bustle. This is TCM terminology for what's going on in your gut that is causing this issue.
To balance it out, TCM practitioners pay close attention to what someone is eating. "To give grains frequently to a person with these characteristics will further increase the deficiencies and stasis that occur in the body, which will finally give rise to a combination of phlegm stasis and phlegm fire," Dr. Eggenberger says. "When the person experiences phlegm stasis they will be in a depressive mood lethargic, dark, [and] when they are in the phlegm fire stage they will have insomnia, bouts of energy, manic behavior and even aggression. Avoiding grains, specially wheat and adding steamed cooked vegetables can be of great help, plus obviously looking to treat the basic root cause of the problem."
If you've been
having trouble sleeping, it may help to take a look at your diet, too. "There are nine different patterns in Traditional Chinese Medicine that can cause insomnia," Dr. Eggenberger says. "In TCM, although two people might be suffering from insomnia, the actual root cause of the symptom may be different for each person and it will be differentiated by its pattern in order to be treated successfully."
According to Dr. Eggenberger, "from these nine patterns, two are directly related to food. One being Phlegm fire and the other Food stagnation. In the case of Phlegm fire, irregularities in our eating, over exertion and eating the wrong foods — in the case of grains eating — too much of them in an already weak stomach and spleen system generates dampness." Which is, again, something you can balance out with the help of a TCM practitioner — and hopefully fix any issues you've been having with sleep.
In Western medicine, grains are believed to have a connection to mental health, as well. "Western Scientific Medicine has clearly established the connection between gut health and mental health,"
Gerrit Keferstein, MD tells Bustle. And since grains can cause inflammation in the gut for many people, the connection really does make sense.
"Components of grains can trigger an immune response that can break down the gut-blood barrier," Keferstein says. "This is called
Leaky Gut Syndrome. The blood-brain barrier is structurally and functionally very similar to the gut-blood barrier. Thats why this same immune response to grain components can also break down the blood-brain barrier. This can leads to all kinds of inflammatory conditions in the brain," such as depression, which Keferstein says has a strong inflammatory contribution.
There are so many things that can trigger mental health issues, or make them worse. Inflammation may play a role in that, so it never hurts to learn about these things from all angles, including what the beliefs of TCM might have to add to the conversation, in terms of gut health.