Since gut health is receiving considerable attention for its link to nutrition and mental health, we thought it’d be helpful to explain the connection between gut and mental health.
All of the organs that are linked to producing waste and digesting food are classified as the “gut”. These organs are the pancreas, gallbladder, liver, small and large intestines, stomach and the oesophagus. The gut is often referred to as the second brain and can in fact speak to our brains.
The brain and the gut are connected in two ways: chemically and physically. Chemically, they are connected through neurotransmitters and hormones which send messages. Physically, there is a direct link to the brain, known as the vagus nerve. This nerve monitors the messages between the gut, lungs and heart as well as other crucial organs. Fungi, viruses and bacteria that live in the gut can affect these messages. These messages are referred to as the gut microbiome.
How The Gut Microbiome Affects Your Mental Health
- Research highlights that changes in the gut microbiome can influence the brain; in addition, symptoms related to anxiety, autism, depression and Parkinson’s disease have been linked to
- Suffering with depression or anxiety can change your gut microbiome. This is the result of our bodies react to stress.
- Symptoms such as bloating, acid indigestion and heartburn are all gastrointestinal symptoms. There is a clear link between these symptoms and mental health issues.
The Production Of Serotonin
Often called the happy hormone, serotonin plays the role of a neurotransmitter and a hormone. Mental health conditions such as autism, anxiety and depression are often linked to a change in serotonin levels. It’s often believed the majority of serotonin is found in the brain, but this is not actually the case. It’s the gut that contains the majority of our serotonin. For this reason, it’s clear to see why our mental health is heavily linked to our gut. Currently, it’s also believed that our gut bacteria can affect the levels of serotonin within our bodies.
Steps You Can Take To Improve Your Gut Health
Take A Close Look At Your Diet
Ensure that your diet is rich with plant based and whole foods. It does not take long for your body microbiome to change once you alter your diet.
Exercise is not only the best medicine for stress, it can also alter your microbiome. It only takes around six weeks of exercise for your microbiome to change.
According to Laila Charlesworth, a registered nutritionist:
“Research on the gut/brain axis is still in the very early stages and it could be that new products, “Psychobiotics”, could be developed over time to treat a whole host of conditions including depression, stress, cognitive function and sleep disorders. Bearing this in mind, it is important to nourish the beneficial bacteria in the intestines to ensure that they remain plentiful, which can be achieved by consuming probiotics such as those found in fermented products such as live yogurts and kombucha, and eating foods on which they flourish, such as onions, garlic and asparagus.”
To add to this, be mindful that cooking or preserving these food at high temperatures can alter the effects of probiotics.
Prebiotics improve the health of the microbiome as they contain fibres which cannot be digested and that ferment in the GI tract. Unlike probiotics, prebiotics don’t contain any living organisms. Examples of prebiotic foods include asparagus, oats, garlic, bananas (which aren’t fully ripe) leeks, onions, cabbage and artichokes. These foods work best when they are raw. If you cannot bear the raw taste of these foods, steam them lightly to get the full benefit of them.
Stay Clear Of Antibiotics
Antibiotics are great for eradicating bad bacteria, however they also wipe out our good bacteria. For this reason, only take antibiotics when absolutely necessary.
Sleep is vital to help us feel alive and energized, and critically necessary to reduce our stress (cortisol) levels. Research has also discovered that sleep loss can create small changes in our gut microbiota.
Nutrition plays an enormous role in the health of your microbiome, and thus your mental health.
To explain it simply: 1) gluten-heavy foods (processed grains) produce and release cytokines, which are players in neurodegenerative disease. 2) the release of cytokines inflames the GI tract. 3) An inflamed GI tract places stress on the microbiome. 4) inflamed and stressed microbiome= poor mental health.
So, poor nutrition = higher likelihood of poor mental health.
It’s always important to take time out for yourself. Try out yoga, mindfulness or meditation to create a balance in your life. This will help to maintain and emotional and mental well-being. In turn, your general health and your gut health will thank you.
Having low levels of certain probiotic strains (“good bacteria”) in your gut creates a dangerous breeding ground for bad bacteria to multiply in your gut. High levels of bad bacteria in your gut are associated with various conditions, including drastic weight changes, skin irritation, and upset stomach, among others.
Probiotic supplements have proved to balance bacteria levels in your gut and help improve the symptoms of mental health conditions such as anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder and depression. Some of the probiotic strains you should look for include:
- Saccharomyces boulardii
- Lactobacillus brevis
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus
- Lactobacillus casei
- Lactobacillus bulgaricus
- Lactobacillus acidophilus
- Bifidobacterium infantis
- Bifidobacterium longum
- Bifidobacterium bifidum
- Bacillus subtilis
- Bifidobacterium breve
- Bacillus coagulans