How Gluten Affects Neurotransmitters & Anxiety with Beverly Meyer
This week’s Gluten Free School Podcast episode will cover these topics:
01:17 – Introducing clinical and holistic nutritionist, Beverly Meyer. Learn how she took charge of chronic, severe anxiety, leading to her life’s work of helping others attain optimum health through diet.
04:08 – What are neurotransmitters, how they work and what it means for people with gluten sensitivity.
05:27 – Symptoms, other than anxiety, pointing to neurotransmitter imbalance.
06:50 – The role diet plays in brain imbalances and supplements to regain balanced neurotransmitters.
09:21 – The foods that create and trigger anxiety in our body.
12:31 – How antibodies from gluten impact the brain, especially for people with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity.
14:45 – The gut-brain connection and how neurotransmitters are influenced.
16:23 – Natural supplements to ease anxiety issues.
18:40 – Foods to avoid, if you want to feel more calm and peaceful.
21:55 – Symptoms associated with low GABA and/or low Serotonin.
22:20 – Inflammation-causing food, resulting in neurotransmitter imbalances.
23:48 – How a lab test can show if gluten antibodies are attacking your brain.
24:46 – Is neurotransmitter damage reversible? Can gluten antibodies be removed?
28:23 – Learn how to cook once and have gluten-free meals all week.
Then take a moment and leave a review on iTunes sharing what you’ve learned and why others would benefit from subscribing as well!
Jennifer: Welcome back to the Gluten Free School Podcast. I’m your host, Jennifer Fugo. Today we’re going to talk about how gluten directly impacts not only your gut, but as well as your neurotransmitters and how that ultimately affects your sense of daily well-being. Whether you feel stressed all the time or depressed, it is just amazing how gluten can actually impact the feelings that we feel throughout our life.
Now I’ve invited Beverly Meyer to join me and talk about her experience in this area. She’s a clinical and holistic nutritionist that has practiced since 1985 beginning as a natural health practitioner in the 1970s and traveled extensively seeking help for her own health concerns.
Beverly is the host of the Primal Diet, Modern Health Podcast and has a global following. She’s been teaching and eating gluten-free for 15 years.
Now we did record this podcast some time ago. I’d like to dive right in so you that you can really get a sense of what Beverly is up to and what she does.
Hi, everyone. We have Beverly Meyer with us. Thank you, Beverly for joining us. I know I gave a very short bio, but could you tell us a little bit about your take and where you’re coming from with all this information.
Beverly: Absolutely! And thanks so much for having me on, Jennifer. It’s my passion to share what I know with people. I’m 61 and I’ve been a client in this field since the early ‘70s. So I’ve been a natural health client for a really long time and had a career in big business, but my body was always falling apart and I was always sick and crazed and depressed and would have to stop and then start again. Eventually, I just sold all my companies and took a couple of years off to work on my own health. And that’s when I started to find out, “Oh, gluten! No wonder I’m so sick and have so many different types of health problems.”
And I’ve been a health practitioner since the mid-80s here in San Antonio. I blog, I podcast, Primal Diet, Modern Health. I have my great DVD, which teaches how to eat without starches and grains and sugars and all of that.
So that’s my passion, to share information with people in bulk, but also one-on-one as clients.
Jennifer: Awesome! So I want to just dive in because this is a big topic. I know that you can break this down well, but I think we really have to start at the beginning because I think people are going to hear anxiety, “Okay, I know what that is,” but what exactly is a neurotransmitter?
Beverly: Let me back up a second because you say people say, “Anxiety, I know what that is,” but I did not realize until I finally got diagnosed with some really interesting brain scan work that’s very unusual. Once I got a diagnosis, they said, “You have obsessive-compulsive disorder.” I do? But I run five businesses. Well, that’s a little obsessive-compulsive right there, anxiety and this and that. And I started to re-frame my whole life, “Oh, my gosh. I have been an anxious person all my life and I never realized it until my fifties.”
So right off the bat, if people can hear that living on the edge, “Oh, oh! This comes next. What happens with that?” that we need to acknowledge, “Whoa! I am worrying right now. I am obsessing right now. I am anxious right now and I am in charge of my body and mind and I’m going to take charge of what I’m thinking now.”
So I thought I’d just better throw that in because it fooled me for forty years, so it might have gotten other people too.
Let me briefly explain what a neurotransmitter is. They basically are amino acids which help transmit information from one neuron in your central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) to the next neuron. They’re ‘neuron transmitters’ if you will. They send an electrical impulse across a little gap from one neuron to the other, a little miniature grand canyon there and that’s called the ‘synapse’.
So a neurotransmitter simply carries an electrical impulse across a gap between two neurons.
Jennifer: And so in that sense, it’s helping what’s going on in our brain, they’re sending the messages out to all the extremities – the fingers, the toes and every little part in between.
Beverly: Well, it’s sending messages to every cell of the body. This is your central command system. The messages carried electrically on your nervous system is how information gets shunted around, “Hey, liver, do this. Hey, thyroid, do that.” It’s a complex wiring system that works obviously 24 hours a day and can be imbalanced in a variety of ways.
Jennifer: And how would that look? I mean, obviously, we’ve mentioned anxiety, but what are some ways in which the system can become imbalanced?
Beverly: Here’s the briefest and best way I know to think about it. Some of the neurotransmitters are what we call ‘excitatory’. They make the nerve impulse transmit powerfully and speedily. So there are things like dopamine and acetylcholine where we’re alert and focused and energized and thinking and planning, which we need.
And then there are ‘inhibitory’ neurotransmitters. The primary of those is GABA and serotonin. These two neurotransmitters help the body say, “Yeah, that’s fine, but let’s rest to just make love, grow some new skin cells and live.”
So it’s a yin-yang, light-dark, up and down balance that those four key neurotransmitters have to have. It’s like tires on your car. You could have a brand new Jaguar, but if it’s only got three tires on it, you’re not going anywhere.
Beverly: Or if one is flat and one of them is too big for the car, you could drive the car, but it’s not going to perform efficiently or well. And that’s what our poor brains and bodies are struggling with.
Jennifer: I think a lot of people struggle, you hear more and more that so many people are on anti-depressants that it’s been handed out by primary health doctors because people come in and they just don’t feel like themselves or they feel a little depressed and they have the blues and then it’s like, “Here, here’s the pill. Let’s just fix this.” Do you believe that your diet can play a role in these brain imbalances?
Beverly: Absolutely! Diet plays a huge part in this, but let me go back one step.
Beverly: And that is the term ‘depression’ or our thought, “Oh, I’m so depressed,” actually what’s really true for most of us is that we’re tired and we’re sick (which is depressing when you think about it), but that ability to make that distinction of, “I’m tired and I have probably some low grade chronic health problems with my hormones and my immune system and yet I’ve got 42 things on my to-do list and… and… and… and…” And so we get that ‘depression’ and ‘anxiety’. The adrenals get tired. The brain gets tired. The whole body gets tired and these low grade infections, we just can’t quite shake them off.
So yes, the anti-depressants such as serotonin can be useful because remember we said serotonin and GABA are inhibitory neurotransmitters. That means part of their job is to keep us from racing around mentally or physically and to get us to slow down. They’re like bricks. “No, you do not need to go to that party or that meeting tonight. No, you really aren’t going to host that bridesmaids event” or whatever. We just stopped saying no in this culture and we over-do and we burn out our brakes.
It’s like having Volkwagon brakes on a semi-truck. They’re only designed to be lightly tapped, our brakes because that’s really how we kind of grew up in history. We weren’t racing around crazy planning, over-stressed working with alarms ringing all the time. So our brakes are burnt out.
Jennifer: I understand that tremendously because I’ve already come back from adrenal fatigue and I do have to be very mindful of how many commitments that I make. I notice that tendency to over-commit in many of my clients as well. It’s reminding them really, they are their own priority in their life and it always begins with food.
So what are some of the foods that are going to affect and maybe even create anxiety in the system?
Beverly: Great! Well, let’s go back there because on my podcast on Primal Diet, Modern Health, ‘food first’ is my motto. I absolutely believe that we’re going to take charge of our chemistry first through our food and second, through our environment (what we breathe, the electromagnetic fields around us that are exhausting us even though we can’t tell) and then how to manage our thoughts and thinking. So food first.
But probably the biggest promoters of anxiety and fatigue and feeling badly and not sleeping well (and then the cycle repeats) is not managing our blood sugar. I spent many years being gluten-free and teaching my clients gluten-free, but it took me a while to figure out that for me, the gluten-free was not cutting it. I had to go grain-free, starch-free, get the cornstarch out, the fruit, the smoothies.
All that stuff needed to go too because our adrenals help regulate our blood sugar. And given that we’re tired and crazy and running around and don’t sleep enough, our adrenals are tired.
I’ve run hundreds of saliva hormone diagnostic tests for adrenals and 90% of them are low-normal or low. It’s very rare to find a normal or ‘high’ one. Adrenals help manage blood sugar. So getting that blood sugar under control is absolutely mandatory.
This is why I now go completely grain-free, starch-free, sweet-free. I can only tolerate a small amount of fruit. When that blood sugar crashes, we start to pump adrenaline because from the body’s point of view, it’s like a little bit of an emergency. So instead of creating cortisol, which is a happy, strong, strength, stamina hormone, we start pumping adrenaline, which is an anxious flight-or-flight emergency hormone. That makes us feel anxious.
So the hunger leads to low blood sugar, which starts that adrenaline going – and your pulse. If you take your pulse, you’ll see, “Wow! My pulse is up. It’s not just my imagination that I’m feeling weird.” And then you eat a really solid meal – lots of proteins, lots of fats, lots of veggies. And about 40 minutes later, “Wow! My pulse really did settle down.”
Jennifer: Now what happens if you, say, have celiac disease or gluten-sensitivity – for whatever reason, you have to be gluten-free – but you continue to cheat or you’re not careful and you let things slide that you shouldn’t let slide? Can this have an effect? I mean, obviously we know now this can affect the endocrine system or the hormonal balance, but can it affect the brain’s ability? The brain is the command center. Can it affect the brain’s ability to function normal?
Beverly: Yes, absolutely. And I have several podcasts and several blog posts on this topic. So for people who want more information, go to my website, On Diet and Health, and then just search ‘gluten’ or ‘GABA’ or ‘anxiety’ or ‘passion flower’, which is the herb that we sell in my store that we really like, a particular one that helps us have some GABA in our system without being so sedated like the valium or something.
Wow, big question. The damage to the gut is one of the first areas we have to look at. When we have gluten antibodies – and I know this is going to sound strange, but in the labs that I have run from Cyrex Labs, every lab test I’ve ever run on people have come back positive with some gluten antibodies. They’re test is different than a standard doctor test for celiac, but really only test two to three antibodies. The Cyrex test has 20-25.
You might be making antibodies to wheat germ. You might be making them to glutamine. You might be making them to gliadin. You might be making them to your gluteomorphine as well as to gluten. It’s all coming from the same bite of cookie that you just put in your mouth, but it’s an antibody to a different part of that cookie, if you will.
So all these antibodies to the food in the gut, they are creating havoc in the intestine. This is a key point right here, our intestines manufacture the vast majority of our neurotransmitters. I’m going to say that again:
Our intestines make our neurotransmitters.
They also make up most of our immune system.
Jennifer: So if you have a problem in your gut, you could actually end up with a lack of neurotransmitters if the gut isn’t functioning properly?
Beverly: Yes, and then of course you add on the antibiotics that we’ve had and the things like the artificial sweeteners and the food colors and all the things that are in sodas and all these other junk stuff that we throw down there plus the antibiotics and who knows what else – prescription drugs or laxatives or whatever. Our poor guts are so sick and they don’t make good neurotransmitters.
But for sure, when it’s inflamed from these antibodies to different proteins in wheat and oats and rye and barley and so on, it’s definitely an inflammatory problem down there. But the neurotransmitters that are going to go down first will tend to be those brakes, the GABA and serotonin because we’re already in shorter supply of those.
We never live in high-stressed, busy society until we started a high-stressed, busy society. So our bodies aren’t evolved that way to handle the amount of physical, emotional, mental, chemical, environmental, electromagnetic stress that we have.
Jennifer: And actually, Beverly, I think it would be poignant for me to just share with everyone so that they understand that they’re not alone. I appreciate you having shared your story, but I as well have had issues growing up. Since I was a kid, I had been diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder at a very young age. I had a lot of I would say anger issues, like outbursts of anger, a lot of depression, a lot of anxiety through school. And eventually, at about 19, I was finally put on – oh, goodness! I think it was on three or four different serotonin re-uptake inhibitors or happy pills as some people like to call them and it actually made my problems worse. I did not get better.
Beverly: That’s probably from having GABA problems and gluten antibodies, not necessarily a serotonin a problem. I’m so glad you brought that up. I know I just interrupted you, I’m sorry.
Jennifer: That’s okay. That’s totally okay.
Beverly: The prevailing wisdom in psychotherapy for the last 20 years has been serotonin, serotonin, serotonin. They never talk about GABA because the prescription side of GABA are things like Valium and Xanax and Klonopin, and the seizure meds. When I got first diagnosed here with, “Wow! You have no GABA in your brain,” they actually put me on low dose anti-epileptics.
That’s why I go back to passion flower because it’s a non-patented product given that it’s a weed basically and an extract made from that (and so there’s no money in it).
Nobody wants to put their patients on, “Oh, just take Valium for the rest of your life.” Doctors aren’t going to do that and we’re not going to do it as patients. But they don’t educate us that even the well-known herb like Valerian (which is nasty and stinky, but it does help come you down), passion flower and thiamine, the amino acid taken away from food, that these things – that, as well as resting and getting your life under control are going to help more than just pumping yourself with high-dose serotonin, which is too much.
Jennifer: Well and I also wanted to add to this that – and this kind of goes back to how your diet can really affect you is that at the time when I was in college – I mean, I was in college, I ate macaroni and cheese and pasta and pizza and whatever else college students tend to eat that’s quick and easy and cheap, as I’ve gotten older (I’m now over ten years out of that college situation), my diet is so different now and when I started changing my diet, I started to notice huge changes.
And when it changed even more, especially when I took gluten out and other foods that were causing problems and inflammatory issues in my system, it improved even more.
So I think that that is a testament to realizing – and what you’re saying is true – these foods that we put into our body that are overexciting and burning it out definitely play a role on your ability to feel calm and peaceful throughout the day.
Now it’s like let’s take it a step further with these other things that you’re mentioning. I’d love for you to mention St. John’s Wort because that’s another option for people as well. There’s all these other natural alternatives out there from the more pharmaceutical cocktail.
Beverly: Well, let’s go back to the GABA side of things because again, yes, St. John does work to help your body make some serotonin as those five HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan), which you do not take if you are on prescription SSRI’s – people, if you’re on prescription SSRI’s, do not, DO NOT tinker with 5-HTP and St. John’s.
But whether you are on SSRI’s or not, you can tinker with some passion flower and/or thiamine. This is because again, they’re different neurotransmitters. One is GABA, one is serotonin.
We like to tell people, the passion flower we sell in my little online store, which has only ten items in it – I have a $40,000 pharmacy on my clinic, but I put ten items on my little supplement store because they’re so useful – it’s a passion flower that’s in glycerin and it tastes interesting.
And being that it’s in glycerin, you can take it without water. You know like an alcohol tincture. It has that sharp, “Whoa!” and you need to chase it water. But this lets you learn how to take your children and yourself and how to dose (it’s very safe). Okay, start at ten drops and see how you feel after one dose in 45 minutes. And then tomorrow take 15 drops and see how you feel after 30-40 minutes. And the next day, take 30 drops… and 35.
And so you learn, “Yes, twice a day, I need 15 drops, but if I have a boss at the meeting, I better take 30. I have to take the kids to the doctors, they’re getting 20 and I’m getting 40.” It lets you really precisely support that GABA side.
And like I said, obsession and anger, sweating, cold and clammy hands, carb cravings, restlessness, tachycardia, heart palpitations, blurry vision, TMJ, pain, irritable bowel for sure is not just a gluten problem. It is also a GABA and/or serotonin problem.
Jennifer: So there’s a lot of issues that we might – and I guess this goes hand in hand with even people that are not diagnosed with celiac disease. A lot of times, the symptoms are all over the place. It goes to show you that this is more than just a brain issue. This is a systemic problem that can actually start in the gut and it’s really important to start there.
Beverly: Yes. Well, anything with the word ‘inflammation’ attached to it, we know it’s something that’s going to be bad for us. The corn and genetically-modified food and rice, corn, they’re all grass seeds – wheat, rye, oats, barley, rice, corn. They’re all the seeds of grasses. They’re incredibly hybridized. And our body attacks them. It says, “I don’t know what that is, but I’m sending out a little immune marker just to let the immune system know I’m not really pleased. You give me a really nice chunk of an animal that’s not been hybridized…” – I was going to say squirrel, but I don’t think too many people would be eating squirrel.
Jennifer: Probably not.
Beverly: I don’t know where that came from. That one just flew right in front of the window. That’s what made me think of that. But chickens of course are also manufactured genetically to make them have bigger breasts and so on, but there are heritage breeds and – okay, that’s a whole other topic.
But I want to mention, GAD65 and that Cyrex Lab test for the 20-some gluten antibodies, they have another test – and I don’t work for Cyrex, so this is not a promo thing. They have another test for antibodies against organs or tissues, parts of your bodies. And one of the items on that test is GAD65. This is a marker that gluten is attacking the temporal lobes of your brain and that’s where your GABA is utilized.
I know that was a huge thing I just said. We could spend a whole hour on that, but there’s a class of gluten antibodies that literally attacks the part of your brain that helps you keep calm and stable and digest and rest and sleep and happy and that’s on that Cyrex autoimmune panel that they have.
Jennifer: This is great! If you can get this test done, can you at least reverse some of the effects? Is this something that’s ‘fixable’ or could there be damage that’s been done over the years that you might be stuck with and just left to manage?
Beverly: Alright. Yes, no and maybe.
Beverly: Again, I don’t mean to harp on Cyrex. I just think it’s one of the single most useful things I’ve ever done personally in my own health. As I say, I’ve been gluten-free for 15 years. I’m teaching this stuff. I know not to handle cat food and lipstick and all this other stuff, but I don’t run any kind of test that I don’t do first before I ask my clients do them, right?
I did their whole gluten antibody panel, which as I say has 20-some items on it. And of course, I was very smug. I knew it would come up with no results at all – I mean, obviously. And when I got the test results back, they were terrible! I mean, half of them were out of range. I was just shocked. I was angry. I was like, “You stupid company, you’re a fraud,” whatever. I spent days and days and days trying to figure out what is it?!
Well, I finally figured it out that it was handling the horse feed. I had a cute little pony and a cute little donkey that are my children that live here with me. Feeding them, just that tiny bit of dust coming off swinging their horse kibble, if you will, into the bucket, that tiny bit of dust and the air of the barn was enough to send half of my antibodies into overload.
And at the same time, I had done their cross-reactivity test which says that certain foods such as dairy and coffee and millet and there’s chocolate – there’s a whole bunch of things on there – can react as if they were gluten. I know that sounds really bizarre, but when you understand the science on it, you’ll realize, “Oh, my God! This is amazing!”
So I came back with a very high score on the dairy cross-reactive to gluten and I was 95% off the dairy already and these very high gluten scores.
So to answer your question, I took six months, I changed my feed and how I handled feed and I went 100% for dairy except for ghee. I eat gallons of gee because I was certain that ghee would not be a problem as it has no dairy protein – even butter has some, but ghee does not.
In six months, I re-ran both of those tests and they were both zeroed out.
Beverly: Which was just staggering! And of course I felt better within two weeks of not handling the horse feed. It was a miracle!
So yes, the antibodies can be removed, but of course the body has still got its inflammation and its damage and a big area that we have to take under control are our electromagnetic fields because they create a lot of damage to our neural systems and our neurotransmitters and our brains too.
I don’t allow WiFi in my house. I don’t allow WiFi in my office building. I don’t have a cellphone. I have the power off in my bedroom, so that the wiring on the walls isn’t radiating out.
So there’s many more things you can learn about this. People can go to my website, sign up for my newsletter and find more about that.
Jennifer: Yeah, you have a great ebook called Planning & Preparing Multiple Meals at One Time that people can download when they go and sign up for the newsletter, correct?
Beverly: That’s right! It’s how I have learned over the years to cook. A lot of proteins, a lot of fats, a lot of vegetables all at one time and I’m done for the week. It just makes things so much easier to know you’ve always got – you can pull the next thing out of the refrigerator and recombine it in some kind of a different order and you’ve got a fresh new meal.
Jennifer: I love that. I love easy, efficient ways to prepare meals. People think I cook all day long and that is certainly not the case. It’s usually once or twice a week. I have the same kind of mentality of, “How can I just cook as much as possible now and reuse or reformulate it later so that it’s a different meal and I don’t get bored eating the same thing for four or five days in a row.”
I think that’s a really important and valuable lesson for many people out there. So go check out Beverly’s website. Again it’s www.ondietandhealth.com.
Beverly, you also have a great DVD as well. Do you want to just share what that is?
Beverly: Yes, you know after being a clinician here for 25 years and jumping up and down with every single client about how to eat better, how to eat better, how to eat better, I said, “Oh, nuts. I’m going to just make a DVD. I’m going to film this,” which I did and I did it over three times – of course being obsessive-compulsive as I am, but I wanted it right.
It’s just a little more than an hour. It’s very watchable. It’s very professional. It lets people know exactly, “Here’s what I want you to eat… here’s why” and it breaks every two or three minutes with a slide so you can automatically just pause it right there, read what’s on the slide, make some notes and then immediately, rewind. You say, “Wait a minute! Mom,” – who’s watching it with you, “…did you catch that part about canola oil. Let’s rewind that part right now.” You can stay on the same section if you want until you’re done. And then maybe you’re done for the day and you come back tomorrow and watch a couple more sections. It works really well.
It’s only $20 and it’s really helpful to pass on to people about why you’re eating differently than they are and not having Cokes and cookies with jelly on it.
Jennifer: Great! Great! Well, I love that kind of stuff. This was super informative and I really appreciate it, so thank you.
Beverly: Thank you so much. It was so great to be on your show. You’ve done such a great service for people. It’s just wonderful to share the world with passionate people that want to help others not suffer and to be able to have their children and their family get a clue at a younger age and to change the course, the trajectory of their entire mental and physical life. It’s so important. Thank you for your work.
Jennifer: Stay in touch with Beverly by visiting her on the web at www.ondietandhealth.com. From there, you’ll be able to access her podcast as well as her thriving Facebook page.
And remember, you can also sign up for her really awesome newsletter and download Planning & Preparing Multiple Meals at Once. It’s an ebook she’s created to help people create easy, efficient meals that you can freeze for use later.
Remember, I love hearing from you, guys. So head on over and subscribe. Rate and review this podcast and then join me over on Gluten Free School and leave a comment as well as any questions you may have for myself or Beverly about this podcast. I definitely would love to answer them for you.
So thanks so much for joining me. I look forward to seeing you guys the next time. Bye bye!
The links referred to in this episode are:
Beverly’s Website — www.ondietandhealth.com
Follow Beverly on: