Read on to learn about the amazing connection between your gut’s microbiome and your mental health.
If you’ve ever been hungry (pretty good odds there), then it should come as no surprise that your stomach can affect your mood. But the connection between your gut and your brain runs deeper than you might think.
The Brain-Gut Connection
Have you ever wondered how your body turns food into energy without you having to so much as think about it?
Well, the stomach and intestines have their own network of neurotransmitters called the enteric nervous system (ENS). These chemical messengers work independently from the central nervous system. In other words, your ENS doesn’t need any direct input from the brain as it performs tasks like moving food along the digestive tract, secreting digestive enzymes, and absorbing nutrients.
That’s why you don’t notice that digestion is happening.
Yet, while the ENS doesn’t need any direction from the brain, it still connects to the central nervous system through the vagus nerve. This nerve runs directly from the brainstem to the abdomen. For reference, your brainstem is where your amygdala lives, i.e., the part of the brain responsible for regulating emotions, motivation, and memory.
This connection is called the gut-brain axis. Remarkably, the communication along this axis is bidirectional, meaning that the brain can influence the ENS and the ENS can influence the brain. Hence, stress can cause feelings of hunger and craving even when you’re full.
Your Gut’s Impact on Your Mental Health
So, how does gut health affect mental health?
Imbalances in the gut microbiome have now been linked to a range of central nervous system disorders such as anxiety, depression, and stress-related disorders.
Here’s how it works:
First, your gut is home to trillions of tiny organisms (bacteria, viruses, fungi) which together make up your gut microbiome. These little workers help digest food and regulate your immune system. They also produce important vitamins and neurotransmitters that affect your mood and mental well-being.
For example, deficiencies in B, C, D, and E vitamins have been linked to cognitive disorders. These discoveries have led to prescribing supplements to help support mental health and manage psychiatric disorders.
The Right Diet For Your Gut (& Mental) Health
So how do you keep your gut happy?
A healthy gut diet includes plenty of fiber-rich whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. You may also include fermented foods like yogurt and sauerkraut, healthy fats such as nuts and fatty fish, and plenty of water.
The number one culprit of an unbalanced gut? Sugary and/or processed foods.
Our advice for shopping for your gut is to shop the outer rim of the grocery store. Stick to the fresh and frozen food areas. Avoid the boxes of cereal, Hamburger Helper, and condiments loaded with high-fructose corn syrup.
If you suspect a vitamin deficiency is affecting your mental health, try a dietary supplement that includes mood-support vitamins such as B-6 and B-12.
You might also try probiotics. Probiotics are live microorganisms you can find naturally in certain foods or take as supplements. Probiotics can help improve gut health by restoring the balance of beneficial bacteria.
While you don’t have more than one brain, you do have more than one nervous system.
Your enteric nervous system runs digestive processes autonomously and is separate from your central nervous system, but it’s still connected to your brain through the vagus nerve.
Because of this connection, an imbalance in your gut microbiome can affect your mental health.
You can support your gut and your brain by eating plenty of fiber-rich foods, supplementing with vitamins, or trying a probiotic.