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Heal your gut, heal your brain

Every part of our bodies is interconnected, so it should come as no surprise that if you take care of your gut, it will have an impact on your brain. But how much?

GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. — You've probably heard the saying, "You are what you eat," and we all know that eating better makes us feel better. But did you know that the health of your gut can have a real effect on your brain?

We sat down with a neurologist, neuroscientist and expert in the practice of Ayurvedic medicine for her thoughts and advice on the topic.

“Your gut has so much more to do with how you think and feel than you ever could imagine,” says Dr. Kulreet Chaudhary.

The idea that having a healthy gut can help you have a healthy brain might seem like a strange statement coming from a neurologist.

“This whole paradigm that you're sick because you're just missing the right pill, the right pharmaceutical solution, that whole concept is falling apart,” she says.

“Now physicians and scientists, we’re all kind of scratching our heads, going “Why isn’t our big, shiny, fancy, approach to medicine working?” and it’s because we forgot just the basics of health. And I think there is a way to combine all our fun, sexy, technology with what our grandmothers were saying.

And for Dr. Chaudhary, what her grandmother was saying, involved Ayurvedic medicine. An ancient Indian practice around for thousands of years, it involves things like herbs, diet and meditation. She says she turned to Ayurveda when she was unable to heal herself with traditional western medicine.

“I always say the universe has a sense of humor, so I was a neurologist with horrific migraine headaches, and I couldn't treat my own headaches, and I had been trying for a year,” said Dr. Chaudhary.

It worked for her, so she started treating her own patients with Ayurvedic medicine. The idea behind it is to improve your gut microbiome or gut flora — those microorganisms that live in our digestive tracts — and by doing so, we help our brains. There is growing research on the connection between the two. Dr. Chaudhary says to start small by adding a few herbs to your daily routine, like ashwagandha to help fight stress and reduce inflammation; brahmi to support overall brain function; and Triphala.

“That helps to reestablish a healthy gut flora, repair the mucosa and help to support a healthy brain in the gut and that's your neoteric nervous system."

She also suggests a tea made out of items you probably already have in your pantry; cumin, coriander and fennel. Add ½ teaspoon each of coriander seeds, cumin seeds and fennel seeds to about 4-5 cups of boiling water. Let it steep for a few minutes, strain the seeds and pour into a mug to keep it hot while you sip on it all day. Watch Dr. Chaudhary make the tea here

The hard part, she says, is changing your inner dialogue.

“What research has shown us is that the majority of our inner dialogue is negative. That breaks my heart that most of us are telling us bad things about ourselves,” says Dr. Chaudhary.

But she says you can change it over time with a few helpful practices. Try telling yourself good things — but it’s important when you do it.

"Those first moments when you wake up and get out of bed, just thinking of five things that you are grateful for; just five things that are going really well in your life. And the reason why that's so important is because that starts a neurocircuitry, so it's like a new dialogue erupts in your brain,” she explains.

Repeat it again at night before bed. And if you can, try meditation.
And don't overthink this one or be intimidated by it.

"In the beginning, if all you have is five minutes, that's five minutes more than you had yesterday, and that's fantastic," she adds.

Dr. Chaudhary says the herbs she recommends are safe for most people. Pregnant women and those who are breastfeeding should skip this, but like with anything, even herbs, you should talk with your doctor before you take them.

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