The Gut-Brain Connection
Learn how your gut affects your mental health
The gut is known as the second brain, and there’s a good reason why.
Learn what the gut-brain connection is and how your gut health affects your mental health.
What is the gut-brain connection?
The gut and the brain are connected via the vagus nerve; this is a major nerve that carries chemical messages from the digestive system to the brain, and vice versa.
There has been much research into the gut-brain connection in recent years and how this neural pathway plays a role in mental health.
Studies have shown that compromised gut function and digestive complaints such as IBS and constipation can negatively impact mood and lead to depression.
How the gut impacts mental health
Your gastrointestinal system houses trillions of microbes (which are made up of hundreds of bacterial species) whose main functions are to protect the body from pathogens, digest food and extract nutrients (from food) for the body to use. An imbalance in the gut microbiome (the bacteria that lives in the gut) can lead to mood disorders, anxiety and mental health issues.
Serotonin, also known as the happy hormone, is the main hormone responsible for regulating mood and feelings of wellbeing. Up to 90% of our serotonin receptors reside in the gastrointestinal system, so if there are any imbalances in your gut bacteria, the serotonin receptors will be impacted.
As the gut and the brain are connected, when your gut bacteria are out of balance, a signal is sent to the brain to say something is not right. A healthy gut is vital for mood and brain health.
Factors that affect gut health
- Stress can cause so many problems in the body and it can wreak havoc with your gastrointestinal system, leading to poor digestion and nutrient absorption, inflammation and increased susceptibility to harmful bacteria.
- A low-fibre and sugar-laden diet is incredibly damaging to the bacteria in your gut. Processed and packaged foods, refined carbohydrates (bread, pasta, pastries, cakes, biscuits), sugar and trans fats (margarine, refined oils, fried foods) can imbalance your gut microbiome and cause bloating, constipation and a sluggish bowel.
- Alcohol and caffeine can aggravate the gut as they are very acidic and inflammatory. Caffeine also overstimulates the gastrointestinal muscles.
- Certain medication and drugs such as antibiotics can alter the bacteria in your gut and cause an overgrowth of harmful bacteria and yeasts.
5 ways to improve gut health
- Eat more fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kimchi. Fermented foods are a fantastic source of probiotics which are ‘good’ bacteria for your gut.
- Increase your fibre intake as it’s essential for maintaining healthy bowel motions and preventing constipation. When your bowel works optimally, you absorb more nutrients from your food. Eat more vegetables, fruit, lentils, beans, oats, nuts and seeds.
- Reduce your sugar intake as sugar feeds bad bacteria in the gut and can also cause a blood sugar imbalance which negatively affects mood.
- Avoid coffee as it can irritate the gut lining and stop your gut from absorbing nutrients efficiently.
- Add more gut-healing foods to your diet such as garlic, ginger, brussels sprouts, cabbage and These foods contain an abundance of antioxidants, antibacterial and antifungal properties to promote gut health and keep your gut bacteria balanced.
Healthy gut bacteria is key
The gut and the brain are inextricably linked, and in order to maintain mood levels and keep anxiety at bay, it’s essential to keep your gut healthy and your gut bacteria optimised. Eat a nutritious diet rich in fruits and vegetables, and include gut-healing foods such as sauerkraut, broccoli and garlic. Avoid gut-damaging foods and drinks including refined carbohydrates, fried foods and coffee. Make time for self-care and adopt relaxation techniques to keep your stress levels in check.
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