Pierre Pallardy, the French alternative therapist, is certain that the roots of depression lie in the stomach. In his 2007 book Gut Instinct: What Your Stomach Is Trying to Tell You, he outlines his belief in the power of the stomach to cause or cure a wide range of physical and mental ailments.
His radical approach has its origins in a troubled childhood in which hunger and other challenges led to an almost permanent stomachache. Attempting to feel better, he found relief in a combination of deep breathing, self-massage, and a well-informed choice of food.
After successfully helping clients with all manner of complaints, Pallardy became increasingly convinced of strong unconscious emotional links between the ‘first brain’ and the ‘second brain’, in the stomach.
This assertion that everything relates back to the abdomen may not appear particularly logical or even defensible, as Pallardy states himself. “I recall the skepticism with which some of my patients — and, indeed, my colleagues — greeted this notion,” he writes. But he “clung stubbornly” to this view, and years later was gratified to find his beliefs confirmed when scientists discovered that the abdomen produces large numbers of immune cells and neurotransmitters, including serotonin.
The 1998 publication of Michael D. Gershon’s The Second Brain brought this idea to a wider audience. Confident of a strong evidence base, Pallardy decided to publish his advice, based around seven easy steps to health and healing.
So how can taking care of your stomach help alleviate depression? Pallardy states that although depression is first and foremost a state of mind, “it is also an abdominal condition.” He believes that scientific evidence points to a symbiotic relationship between the two brains. When the ‘first’ brain is distressed, the abdomen suffers, he writes. Disappointments, disagreements, or any form of emotional upheaval will “tie the abdomen in knots.” Negative thoughts weigh heavily on the abdomen and disrupt its proper functioning. Restoring equilibrium between the two brains will one day form the basis of psychotherapy, he believes.
Pallardy recommends eating to “modify the brain chemistry” because depression can induce anarchic eating habits.
- Carbohydrates help lift depression by calming the body down and imparting a sense of well-being. But choose carefully, as pastries, cakes and biscuits can lead to weight gain
- Fats, in sensible quantities, can be pleasurable to eat
- To benefit from extra magnesium, go for whole-grain cereals, green vegetables, fresh fruit, certain mineral waters and dark chocolate
- Selenium, another vital mineral, is available in eggs, seafood, nuts, dairy products and poultry
- A “natural tranquilizer and mood-enhancer,” calcium is found in dairy products, eggs, spinach, almonds and tinned fish
- Vitamin B6 can aid depression. It is present in whole-grain cereals, bananas, fish, green vegetables and lean meat.
Pallardy also recommends physical exercise for its powerful anti-depressant effect including the release of endorphins. Running, swimming or walking for 30 minutes every day will trigger the beneficial effects of endorphin release, he believes, although he realizes that trying to start exercising can feel like “having a mountain to climb.”
He also advises regular sessions of abdominal breathing. By slowing down the breath and relaxing deep into the abdomen, we relax and simultaneously take more oxygen into the body.
Pallardy says his technique of self-massage will help you take the battle against depression into your own hands. Gently massaging the abdomen will help establish two-brain harmony. This can involve either a clockwise movement with the flat or heel of the hand, or heavier pressure with the fingers. This should be done while breathing to relax, that is, breathing in gently through the nose for seven to ten seconds, then pausing for a second or two before exhaling from the nose or mouth.
Pallardy’s final piece of advice for depression is to carry out “abdominal meditation.” In this process, thoughts are directed towards the abdomen to develop a fuller awareness of its level of comfort or discomfort. He says that like the upper brain, the abdomen “files” our emotions. Childhood experiences are stored and can be released by a process of sitting calmly with hands on the stomach, and breathing slowly, while detaching yourself from your immediate environment and purely focusing on your abdomen. This will generate a feeling of warmth and a sense of well-being at the level of the upper brain. It also can help open the floodgates to the unconscious and “release memories, emotions and trauma lodged in the early brain since early childhood.” Pallardy recommends this meditation for ten minutes four or five times each day for several weeks to bring about “significant therapeutic results.”. After this time, you will break free from the vicious circle of negativity and you should find your depression lifts, he concludes.
Pallardy, Pierre. Gut Instinct: What Your Stomach Is Trying to Tell You: 7 Easy Steps to Health and Healing. Rodale International Ltd., 2007.