How gut health helps mental health

How gut health helps mental health

We all recognise the physical feelings of anxiety and worry: butterflies in the stomach, a sinking feeling in the gut and awkward feelings of nausea. Maybe we have an important interview or a big social event with people we don’t know well. And just the very thought of these activities evokes a wobbly tummy. The same thing happens in reverse. When you think happy thoughts, or get excited about an upcoming event, you might feel your stomach is doing somersaults inside your body.

These phenomena are well-known, relatable examples of the incredible connection that exists between the gut and the brain - a relationship commonly known as the gut-brain axis. This vital link has huge implications on how we approach our mental strength, with the digestive system playing a crucial, often misunderstood role.

What is the Gut-Brain Axis?

There has been a lot of research on the close connection between the gut and the brain. This bidirectional communication network links the central nervous system (CNS) and the enteric nervous system, the network of nerves that supplies the gastrointestinal tract.

Your gut and your brain communicate via a large nerve known as the vagus nerve. They also interact via the endocrine and immune systems, which is why digestive issues can disrupt your hormonal functions and immunity. Your gut health can also influence your cognition, emotions, mood, mental health and pain perception, and vice versa.

The Gut and Mental Health

Your gut contains trillions of different microbes, including bacteria, viruses and other types of microorganisms. They live in your gut and perform a range of beneficial functions for your body.

In order to stay healthy, the species of bacteria in your gut need to be well-balanced. You need to have enough good bacteria and very little of the potentially harmful bacteria to keep your digestive tract happy. You also need to have a diverse range of microbes as they all have unique functions that contribute to your overall health. 

Dysbiosis in the gut bugs has been linked to poor mental health, with an increased risk of mental health disorders, such as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, and autism. Digestive health conditions that impact the diversity and numbers of microbes in the gut have been shown to cause changes in mental health and cognition.

The Gut and Neurotransmitters

It is thought that the gut has the ability to impact the mind and mental health through the effects of the gut microbiome on neurotransmitter production.

For example, the microbes in your gut can change the amount of serotonin and Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in your brain, both of which are responsible for controlling your thoughts, feelings and emotions.

GABA has been shown to reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression and Serotonin is the main ‘happy hormone’ responsible for regulating your mood and emotions.

Did you know that 90-95% of the serotonin in your body is produced in the gut? Yes, that’s right - almost all of your serotonin is made in your digestive tract, which explains why when your gut is happy, so are you!

Keeping Your Gut Healthy

With all of this in mind, let’s cover some of the key ways to boost your gut health and hence your mental health too! Here are some simple, affordable things that you can start doing today to feel better physically and mentally:

  • Eat a high-fibre diet, with lots of veggies, fruit, nuts and legumes
  • Stay well hydrated and well rested
  • Reduce intake of sugar and processed fats
  • Eat or take pre & pro-biotics
  • Take a gut health supplement which includes digestive enzymes

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