How are Gut Health and Mental Health related?
How are Gut Health and Mental Health related? Have you ever had a gut feeling? A signal in your stomach that tells you whether something feels ok or not. Maybe even an impulse to do or to stop doing certain things. Same thing with the “butterflies in our stomach” or the nausea that comes when something feels wrong or we can't tolerate it. Understanding the Gut-Brain Connection is no joke; it can link anxiety to stomach problems and vice versa. The gastrointestinal tract is sensitive to emotion. Anger, anxiety, sadness, elation — all of these feelings (and others) can trigger symptoms in the gut.
The brain has a direct effect on the stomach and intestines. For example, the very thought of eating can release the stomach's juices before food gets there. This connection goes both ways. A troubled intestine can send signals to the brain, just as a troubled brain can send signals to the gut. Therefore, a person's stomach or intestinal distress can be the cause or the product of anxiety, stress, or depression. That's because the brain and the gastrointestinal (GI) system are intimately connected.
The gut and brain are connected by the vagus nerve, a major component of the autonomic nervous system which enables you to breathe, digest food, and swallow automatically. This nerve is able to send messages to your brain for your colon, and vice versa.
The connection between the two organs means that the gut-brain axis is becoming a vital player in mental health, illnesses that affect the brain, and even irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). It explains why stress can take a toll on your digestion, but also why digestive problems can make you unhappy.
To support your health, your gut microbiome needs to be diverse, and diversity helps keep it balanced. However, if it is not balanced — something called dysbiosis — opportunistic microbes can take advantage and proliferate, resulting in inflammation.
That’s because your body doesn’t want opportunistic bacteria, so your immune system is alerted, resulting in inflammation. Interestingly, inflammation can contribute to depression, and depression can cause inflammation. But a diverse microbiome can prevent inflammation.
So, controlling inflammation can help to improve both mood and anxiety levels. Diet is one way to increase the abundance of diverse microbes and reduce inflammation. Beneficial gut bacteria thrive on a natural, plant-based diet because fiber is an important source of energy for them.
More on Understanding the Gut-Brain Connection. So, you know that your gut microbes are pretty cool and transform food into short-chain fatty acids? Well, these SCFAs communicate with cells which produce serotonin, a neurotransmitter (and a hormone) that regulates your mood, as well as levels of anxiety and happiness. Basically, your gut microbes can help your body produce more serotonin.
Equally, another neurotransmitter, Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA), regulates and improves mood because it helps to calm the nervous system and switch off stress reactions. Amazingly, some probiotic gut bacteria can even produce GABA themselves for your body.
Fundamentally, your diet can help your bacteria protect your mental wellbeing because eating the right foods feeds happy bacteria. And when you have lots of different healthy bacteria, your microbiome is more diverse and produces substances which increase mood-lifting chemicals, like serotonin and GABA.
Balance is Key
It’s easy to think of each of the body’s systems as separate entities, and although they may be in some respects, they are also well connected and can influence each other’s activities. The gut and the brain are prime examples of how changes in one can affect the other.
An imbalanced gut microbiome, or dysbiosis, is associated with many diseases, including mood disorders like depression. Likewise, depression can cause inflammation which can affect the natural ecosystem in the gut. However, promising research shows that probiotics and prebiotics are having positive effects on depression, anxiety, and stress resilience.
Think you are good on Understanding the Gut-Brain Connection? Now that you know all this, it's time for you to take great care of your gut and really watch what you eat. A good example may be to drink a bottle of Waku a day. Every bottle of Waku is made with a powerful botanical blend that has anti-inflammatory and digestive benefits. And because it has 6gr of prebiotic fiber, it also feeds your gut microbiome in the best way. Want to learn more about Waku and its gut healing powers? Read all about it here: Introducing the New and Improved Waku.
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