Gut Health and Mental Health
It may surprise you to know, but your gut can do more than tell you if you’re hungry – It communicates with our brain through nerves and hormones, and can directly affect your mental health. The gastrointestinal tract has trillions of microbes that aid the body in digesting the foods we eat, but it’s also a delicate balance that can be thrown out by changes to and around us. What we eat and how we maintain our health can alter our gut bacteria, which can then lead to inflammation of the gut, mental health issues, and general poor health.
The gastrointestinal tract has an enteric nervous system that interacts with the body’s central nervous system to communicate with the brain, and holds over 100 trillion bacteria that form a gut microbiome. The microbes in the gut contribute to and affect:
- Sleep schedules.
- Weight and metabolism.
- Immune function and response.
- Digesting the foods we consume.
- Moods and cognitive functions.
A study conducted in 2015 discovered that 90 percent of the body’s serotonin is produced in the gut, and continuing studies have found links that people who suffer from anxiety and depression also tend to have altered or lower levels of certain gut bacteria. This connection between the brain and the gut can also contribute to diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), obesity, type 2 diabetes, and even Alzheimer’s.
There is an intricate cycle between sleep and gut health, too, as a lack of sleep alters your diet through increasing hunger hormones and sugar cravings. This then affects the gut bacteria balance, sometimes leading to inflammation, high sugar levels, and overall fatigue as the body lacks the correct balance of bacteria to break down food into energy properly.
Since the gut plays such a pivotal role in our health, it’s incredibly important to maintain the balance of your gut biome. You can do this by:
- Taking prebiotics and probiotics.
- Getting enough sleep.
- Avoiding junk food and reducing sugar intake.
- Exercising regularly.
- Reducing stress.
- Practicing mindful eating and taking time to eat slowly.
- Drinking water rather than alcohol.
- Visit your GP for regular check-ups.
Foods that are rich in fibre, like oats, bananas, berries, apples, lentils, beans, and broccoli all benefit your diet as gut bacteria break these down into short-chain fatty acids which colon cells use for energy (which then improves the efficiency between the gut-brain communications). Other foods like garlic, onions, and sauerkraut can also aid with inflammation and probiotic intake - all of which contribute to the balance of gut bacteria.
Overall, our gut health and microbiome vary depending on a number of things, from genetics, age, weight, lifestyle choices, and even external stresses and environments. What matters, however, is how you look after your body and gut to stay healthy.