Learning about the significant connection between gut health and mental health is continuous; I’m excited to see an ever-increasing devotion to study around this important relationship.
Gut health is determined by your microbiome, which consists of trillions of microorganisms (also called microbiota or microbes). These include not only bacteria but fungi, parasites, and viruses. In a healthy person, these “bugs” coexist peacefully, with the largest numbers found in the small and large intestines.
The microbiome is even labeled a supporting organ because it plays so many key roles in promoting the smooth daily operations of the human body, impacting both your mental and physical health.
As more research comes to light, the connection between gut health and depression is undeniable. Here’s part of the reason why.
Serotonin and dopamine are our feel-good neurotransmitters. About 15% of our intestinal lining consists of enteric endocrine cells, which produce over 90% of our serotonin and over 50% of our dopamine.
This means your gut is the major player producing them (not the brain as long-thought). Damage to our gut health (microbiome) and lining is commonly linked to anxiety and depression.
Circling around, stress can alter your gut flora and throw off the balance of essential good bacteria levels needed. Your intestines have a tight barrier that helps protect bad bacteria from entering the body.
Prolonged stress can cause your gut intestinal barrier to weaken and allow bad bacteria to get by. Stress can also impact gas production, which is tied to nutrient absorption.
Signs Your Gut Needs Health Support
A number of signals may indicate a gut microbiome imbalance:
- Gas, bloating and constipation.
- Unintentional weight fluctuations
- Skin issues (rashes, breakouts)
- Moodiness, irritability
- Trouble with concentration and brain fog
- Unexplained fatigue or insomnia
- Sugar cravings
- Weakened immune system (70% of our immune system is in our gut)
Find a summary of “Eating for a Healthy Gut” tips and our sample One-Day Gut-Health Meal Plan here.
Another resource I want to share with you is a podcast featuring guest Dr. Mark Hyman. I found several important learnings and a reminder on two things: how much what we eat matters when it comes to how we feel (not just physically, but mentally also) and how big positive health changes can happen quickly.
Let’s put it this way: do you want cells made out of Doritos or nutrient rich foods?
Five Key Takeaways From Dr. Hyman:
- Our bodies are designed to self-heal. When you understand what to do, feeling better is often days (not months or years) away.
- The foods we eat change everything in real time: energy, mood, mental focus, digestive issues/symptoms, inflammation and tons more.
- What goes on below the neck hugely impacts what goes on above the neck ie. your gut health impacts your mental health. Fixing gut health (having a healthy gut) has proven to significantly improve mental health.
- When you don’t have enough healthy gut bacteria, inflammation is caused (body and brain). Inflammation fuels everything from bloating, swelling, poor skin and hair health, bowel issues to mental focus, anxiety, depression, brain fog and tons more. Inflammaging: around 15 min into the podcast – if you don’t listen to the whole podcast, grab this part.
- 70% of our immune system is in the gut. When your gut health (microbiome) is weak, it cannot properly process even healthy foods. Fixing your gut health is the first necessary step.
- Too many of us are used to feeling ‘not great’. We’ve forgotten what it feels like to feel really really good.
For more information and tools, take a listen to Dr. Mark Hyman on the Mel Robbins podcast.
Check with your health care practitioner before making significant changes to your diet and/or adding any supplements to your routine.
Deanna Embury, Founder of Blended For You, is a regular contributor to The Health Insider. She is passionate about nutrition, wellness and helping people reach their personal health goals. Blended For You provides ready-to-blend (or eat) gluten-free, plant-based, all-natural and complete nutrition smoothies, soups & chia bowls.
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