Gut Feelings: How Your Gut and Mind are Connected
Have you ever thought about how your gut health may be affecting your mood? Research shows that digestive and mental health, including everyday mood, go hand-in-hand more than we may be aware. Now is a good time to better understand how to get more in tune with the connection between your gut and your mind.
The Gut-Brain Axis
The connection between your gut and your brain is so strong that it’s been named the gut-brain axis. The two work bi-directionally in the ways they communicate with each other about what’s going on in the body.
Given that it’s the start of digestion, your mouth plays a big role in this relationship through what’s called the oral microbiome. The health and activity of the bacteria here are connected to your brain and cognitive health.
Both your digestive and nervous systems are full of neurons, which are cells that send signals telling your body what to do. One of the main ways the brain and gut work together is through the production of neurotransmitters and other chemicals that tell the body what to do. This includes effects on your mental health.
If you’ve ever had an instant feeling of nausea when put in an anxiety-filled situation, felt “butterflies” when you’re nervous, or felt hungry as soon as you start thinking about food, these are great examples of the instant link between gut and brain. Prolonged stress may contribute to changes in the digestive system over time.
Gut Health and Mental Health
Serotonin — a neurotransmitter heavily involved in emotions like happiness — is produced both in the brain and the gut, with nearly 95% made in the latter.1 Bacteria in the gut also produce another neurotransmitter called GABA, which helps manage feeling like anxiety and fear.2
Furthermore, research suggests an association between gut and mood, such as feelings of sadness.3 Gut dysbiosis, or an imbalance in the diversity of gut bacteria, has been linked to many health concerns. As a result, scientists believe that honing in on gut health is key in supporting mental health.4,5
How to Support Your Brain and Gut Health
The gut-brain axis is innate, but fueling your brain well requires fueling your gut well. Below are some ways your diet can help support the health of both, so they can continue working well together.
Fermented Foods & Fibers
Most common fermented foods contain probiotics, the good bacteria that supplement your gut microbiome and populate the gut. Probiotics have been shown to alter brain activity, and some studies suggest that they may help improve mood.6,7
Probiotics can be found in fermented foods such as tempeh, sauerkraut, yogurt with live active cultures, kefir, and certain types of cheese.
Fiber is only found in plant foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Prebiotics are present in fiber-rich foods which are necessary for probiotics to thrive in the gut making them an important component to gut health. Most adults do not consume the recommended minimum amount of fiber. Research suggests that a high-fiber diet may alter neurotransmitter activity in a way that improves mood.10,11
Incorporating a wide variety of these types of foods in your diet to take in probiotics and prebiotics is important for a healthy brain and gut.
EPA and DHA are unsaturated omega-3 fats that may help support healthy gut bacteria as well as the nervous system. Getting enough omega-3s may be beneficial for supporting mental health.8,9
They are predominantly found in fatty fish and fish oil supplements, but also in nuts, seeds, and algae-derived DHA supplements.
Polyphenol Rich Foods
Polyphenols are naturally-occurring compounds in fruits, vegetables, herbs, teas, and dark chocolate. They may increase healthy gut bacteria and support healthy cognition.12,13
Some studies have found that a diet rich in polyphenols may help improve depressive symptoms as well as general mental health.14
Tryptophan Rich Foods
Tryptophan is an amino acid that converts to serotonin. Consuming foods that are rich in tryptophan, such as cheese and eggs, may help support serotonin production. Some research has observed a positive impact of tryptophan on anxiety and mood among healthy individuals.15
Your gut and brain are always working together in intricate ways to support the health and function of your whole body. Eating a variety of nutrient-rich foods is a great practice to fuel both your body and mind.
Ready to take the next step on your wellness journey?
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