The incredible relationship between our gut health and mental health

by | Jul 30, 2021 | Combination Therapy | 0 comments

Photo Credit: Shutterstock, By MK Sharp

While it might seem like these two could not be further apart, gut health and mental health are more intertwined than you can imagine and together, have a major impact on your health and wellbeing. If you are someone who believes in “trusting your gut” then chances are that you know how important a “gut feeling” can be when it comes to your behaviour and actions.

Extensive recent literature and doctors often refer to the gut as the body’s ‘second brain’ and this is mainly due to the fact that the gut is the largest part of our endocrine and immune system and that it is made up of more than 150 million nerve cells with 70 trillion microorganisms living inside of it.

Previously, it was believed that neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine are made in the brain, however, recent studies have proven that these incredibly important mood stabilizing neurotransmitters are actually made in the gut as well, not only in your brain. As a matter of fact, the American Psychological Association notes that the bacteria in the gut produces “hundreds of neurochemicals that the brain uses to regulate basic physiological processes as well as mental processes such as learning, memory and mood” and that our “gut bacteria manufacture(s) about 95 percent of the body’s supply of serotonin, which influences both mood and GI activity.” It is largely due to this point, and many others, that the gut needs to be well cared for in order to have a stronger and healthier connection to one’s mental health.

Often, gut issues like IBS, trouble with digestion, reflux and stomach pain can be traced back to feeling anxious, stressed or overwhelmed. An easy way to understand this is by thinking about a time when you felt nauseous in a stressful situation or if you felt knots in your tummy when something sudden and negative happens – this is because the brain has an incredibly close connection with the gut and anxious feelings in the brain and body can very often be felt and mimicked by the gut.

Studies have shown that these kinds of feelings and the way that the brain and gut are so closely related is largely due to the microbes in our gut made up of both good and bad bacteria. Interestingly, researchers are noticing that this bacteria in our gut can contribute to mental health difficulties when the levels of these microbiomes are not on par. According to Psycom, “Studies have shown there is potential harm associated with an imbalance in the microbiome due to inflammation, intestinal permeability or lack of bacterial diversity, any of which may be associated with an overgrowth of unhealthy bacteria”. These kinds of issues in the gut can in turn leave one feeling sluggish, fatigued and mentally exhausted if not treated.

This is put into perspective by Dr Emeran Mayer who, when questioned about the gut and how it affects the brain, tells Goop that; “Whatever goes on in the emotional parts of our brain is mirrored in the gut, and whatever goes on in our gut influences our brain,” and “Even though these bidirectional influences happen in each individual, many people are not aware of them.” Dr Mayer notes that the gut interacts with the brain in various ways and sends signals to the brain through the immune, endocrine and nervous system, sending inflammatory signals, hunger signals and of course, vital gut to brain information. The gut not only sends signals when hungry or full, but can also send signals to the brain when the body is feeling out of balance.

Now that we understand that poor gut health can induce poor mental health, and vice versa, it is important to note that this small aspect goes a lot deeper than expected. Our gut is sensitive to our emotions which is something that all of us have experienced some time or the other. When feeling sad, anxious, depressed or when processing shocking news, quite often we might reach for comfort foods to help calm us down. Similarly, this connection between our gut and brain can also be seen when we have no appetite in times of high stress or when we feel overworked. However, it doesn’t stop there. Sometimes we might reach for junk food laden with sugars and carbs and then, for the next few days feel mentally sluggish, fatigued and have difficulty concentrating and this is all because our brain is getting signals from the gut. Harvard Health puts this in perspective and notes that;

“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”.

If you ever feel like you need to run to the loo before an important meeting due to nervousness or anxiety, then it is useful to remember that this is merely your brain sending signals of stress to your gut and not a mark on your ability to present.

Keep your gut healthy

If you have recently noticed an increase in stress, anxiety and stomach knots and pain and a decrease in energy levels, then chances are that your gut is out of sync. Eating a wide spectrum diet rich in vegetables and protein might help to alleviate the symptoms and help strengthen the gut-brain connection.

You could also benefit from a natural supplement like Avalife Stress Free which contains powerful herbal adaptogens to help manage stress and promote mental alertness. It works by reducing the level of cortisol in the body, assists in sharpening mental focus, decreases tension and boosts adrenal function.

References

Harvard Health. (19 Apr 2021), ‘The Gut-Brain Connection’, Harvard Health. Available at

https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/the-gut-brain-connection

(accessed: July 12, 2021)

Goop. (Date unknown), ‘How Our Gut Affects Our Mood’. Goop. Available at

https://goop.com/wellness/health/how-our-gut-affects-our-mood/ (accessed: July 12, 2021)

Psycom. (Date unknown), ‘The Gut Brain Connection: How Gut Health Affects Mental Health’, Psycom. Available at: https://www.psycom.net/the-gut-brain-connection (accessed: July 12, 2021)

American Psychological Association. (Sept 2012), ‘That gut feeling’, American Psychological Association. Available at: https://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/09/gut-feeling (accessed 29 July 2021)

Image: Shutterstock, By MK Sharp

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