From Belly-Brain: Understanding The Impact Of Gut Health On Mental Health

Have you ever felt tingling in your stomach when nervous?

Do you feel butterflies when happy?

Do you feel sudden dips in mood or experience unexplained anxiety?

Then it’s time to Gutcheck.

Why Gutcheck you ask?

Everyone’s gut contains an ecosystem of many kinds of microorganisms collectively named as the microbiome. It may be surprising to know the microbiome can influence mental health. To know how it happens we have to know more about the gut-brain connection, research over many years has proven that the microbes in our gastrointestinal (GI) tract (also known as gut microbiome) can directly affect brain chemistry and mood.

Any changes in the ratio of these microbiome leads to increased or decreased risks like depression and anxiety. In other words, improving gut health boosts your mental health, too.

So now the question is how does the gut hold such power over yourmental health?

The gut-brain axis, and how it functions.

Now we know what microbiomes are, but as a refresher- “It’s an entire ecosystem of bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms that we rely on for survival,” says Andrea Nazarenko the author of When Food Hurts. “These bacteria play a major role in almost all aspects of human physiology, mental processes included.”

The gut bacteria communicate with the brain and vice versa. Gut-brain is connected both physically and bio-chemically in different ways:

Vagus nerve: is the biggest nerve that connects the gut to the brain and serves as the pathway for signal transmission from the gut to the brain and vice versa. A study found that people with irritable bowel syndrome(IBS) or Crohn’s disease have a low vagal tone which reduces its functionality.

Neurotransmitters: neurons are a type of brain cell, which receives and sends a chemical messenger called neurotransmitters. They help execute all functions like movement, motivation, and emotion. Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), is a type of neurotransmitter produced by the gut microbiome which regulates anxiety and depression-like behavior.

Happy food for the gut-brain Axis

To have a healthy gut-brain axis it is necessary to maintain a diet balanced in prebiotics and probiotics.

Probiotics that affect the brain are often referred to as “psychobiotics”. Probiotics are live bacteria that impart health benefits if consumed. In order to reach the intestines alive, probiotics must be able to survive the harsh conditions in the stomach. Acids and digestive enzymes in the stomach are part of the normal digestive process, but they also constitute a barrier that kills many microorganisms ingested with the food.

However, not all probiotics are the same and have different stress tolerances. Some probiotics have been shown to improve symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression.

Prebiotics are a source of food for your healthy gut bacteria, unlike probiotics, prebiotics can travel to their destination location undisturbed and prepared for action because they are resistant to the severe conditions of the gastrointestinal tract.

Fermented foods are good source of probiotics that help to support a healthy gut. Some commonly consumed fermented food include:

  • kefir 
  • kombucha
  • kimchi
  • sauerkraut 

Prebiotics are in foods such as whole grains, bananas, greens, onions, garlic, soybeans and artichokes. In addition, probiotics and prebiotics are added to some foods and available as dietary supplements.