In my last article I noted the importance of keeping your gut microbiome in good health to improve your overall wellbeing. This article investigates the link between good gut health and your mental health.
The gut-brain connection
Your brain contains approximately 100 billion neurons. Your gut contains approximately 500 million neurons which are connected to your brain through the nervous system. One of the biggest nerves connecting your brain and gut is called the vagus nerve, and it sends signals in both directions.
Your brain and gut are also connected through neurotransmitters. These are chemicals produced in the brain that control feelings and emotions. This means that feelings such as anger, anxiety, stress and sadness can trigger symptoms in your gut, for example, butterflies in your tummy, the nausea you feel when you’re stressed, etc.
Can my gut biome impact my mental health?
On this subject research is still ongoing and not yet proven.
The Flemish Gut Flora Project, a major study in Belgium, led by Jeroen Raes of the Catholic University of Leuven and the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology, looked for links between quality of life, depression and gut microbes. Raes discovered two microbes, Faecalibacterium and Coprococcus that were higher in those people who claimed to enjoy better mental health than those suffering with depression.
A subsequent follow-up project also undertaken by Raes found evidence that gut microbes could ‘talk’ to the nervous system, producing neurotransmitters that were beneficial for good mental health. Upon analyzing the DNA of gut bacteria, Raes said: “We found that many can produce neurotransmitters or precursors for substances like dopamine and serotonin,” both of which are linked with depression.
Although current research hasn’t 100% proved that your gut biome impacts mental health, it is possible to suggest that your mental health impacts your gut biome.
How can I improve my gut health to improve my mental health?
There are three ways you can support your gut health, and at the same time improve and support your mental health:
A healthy diet is essential for keeping your gut biome healthy, and knowing which foods can potentially cause problems is always a great start.
As with any healthy diet it’s important to try and avoid foods that are high in sugar and/or fat and highly processed, and replace them with a variety of whole foods that will benefit your gut biome. These include foods that boost collagen, are high in fiber and high in omega-3.
2. Pro- and pre-biotics
Probiotic and prebiotic-rich foods both help influence the balance of good bacteria in your gut biome. Probiotics add diversity and prebiotics feed your gut’s good bacteria.
Probiotics foods include; apple cider vinegar, sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha and high-quality yogurt.
Prebiotics foods include; asparagus, chicory root, onions, garlic and leeks.
3. Good digestion
It’s no good having a healthy diet packed with whole foods, probiotics and prebiotics if we don’t encourage good digestion.
But what is good digestion? Simply put, it’s ensuring that your body absorbs all the goodness that you are putting into it.
So to encourage good digestion, when you eat you need to be in a parasympathetic state, also known as a ‘rest and digest’ state.
This is a fancy way of saying being mindful when you eat. Not to the extent that you stare at a raisin for 5 minutes before putting it into your mouth, but simply relax by taking a few deep breaths before you eat. This will help produce the gastric juices that help maximise absorption of all the nutrients, vitamins and minerals your food contains.
By making a few tweaks to your diet and taking care of your gut biome, it may be possible to improve and support your mental health.
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