The Link Between Gut Health And Mental Health Disorders

The Link Between Gut Health And Mental Health Disorders

Do Away With Depression And Anxiety By Improving Gut Health

While there is no single cause for mental health conditions, researchers have long suspected a link between gut health and mental well-being. Depression and anxiety are two of the most common mental health disorders in the world, affecting millions of people. Brand new research has finally confirmed the connection between depression and anxiety with gut health.1

The gut microbiome is the collection of microorganisms that reside in our gastrointestinal tract. These microbes, primarily bacteria, play a significant role in digestion, nutrient absorption, and immune system function. The gut microbiome also plays a critical role in regulating our immune system by producing essential vitamins and hormones, as well as modulating our response to pathogens and foreign substances.

Our gut is often referred to as our “second brain”. The gut-brain connection is a bidirectional communication pathway between our central nervous system and the enteric nervous system found in our gut. This means that what happens in our gut can directly affect our brain, and vice versa. Therefore, maintaining a healthy gut is essential for a sound mind.2 3

The gut microbiome has the ability to produce neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine, that are essential for regulating mood and emotions. Furthermore, the gut is responsible for producing a significant portion of our body’s serotonin which is often referred to as the “happy hormone”. This means that any disruptions in the digestive system can have a direct impact on our emotional state.4 5

The Link Between Gut Health And Mental Health Disorders

Fermented Food

In recent years, there has been growing interest in the role of fermented foods in promoting gut health. Fermentation is the process by which bacteria and yeast break down carbohydrates and convert them into compounds that are beneficial for our bodies, such as probiotics and short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). These substances have been shown to support healthy digestion and immune function, but recent studies suggest they may also play a role in protecting against mental health disorders.6

A study has shed light on how fermented food bacteria may help to guard against depression and anxiety. The research, led by scientists at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, explored the connection between gut health and mood disorders by investigating how probiotics interact with the body’s immune system.7

Lactobacillus Bacteria

Researchers found that a specific strain of bacteria commonly contained in fermented foods, Lactobacillus, influences mood disorders through the modulation of the immune system thereby reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety in mice.7

While further research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms behind this connection, the findings suggest that incorporating fermented foods into our diets may be a simple and effective way to support both gut and mental health.

Gut Health And Mental Health - Fermented Food

Fermented Food

Fermented foods have been consumed for centuries as a way to preserve food and enhance its flavor. However, recent studies have shown that these foods not only taste good but also offer many health benefits.

When our gut is not functioning properly, it can lead to various health problems such as bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhea, and even more serious conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). This is where fermented foods come into play, as probiotics can help improve the health of our gut microbiome.8

In addition to providing probiotics, fermented foods also contain enzymes that aid in digestion. These enzymes make it easier for our body to break down and absorb nutrients from the food we eat. This is particularly beneficial for people with digestive issues or those who have trouble absorbing certain nutrients.9

Some of the most popular fermented foods include yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, tempeh, and kombucha. These foods can easily be incorporated into our diet and can provide a wide range of health benefits. However, it is important to note that not all fermented foods are created equal. Some may contain added sugars or preservatives, which can outweigh the potential benefits.

To ensure we are getting the most out of our fermented foods, it is best to make them at home or carefully read labels when purchasing them from the store. It is also important to note that fermented foods should be consumed in moderation, as they can cause digestive issues if consumed in excess.

Fiber

One of the key factors that contribute to maintaining a healthy gut microbiome is dietary fiber. Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that cannot be digested by the human body. Instead, it passes through the digestive system and serves as food for the beneficial bacteria in our gut.

Eating a diet rich in fiber has numerous benefits for gut health. Firstly, fiber helps to regulate bowel movements and prevents constipation. Since it adds bulk to stool, it makes it easier to pass through the digestive tract, promoting regularity.

Moreover, fiber also acts as a prebiotic which is a substance that promotes the growth of good bacteria in the gut. By providing a food source for beneficial bacteria, fiber helps to maintain a healthy balance of microorganisms in the gut microbiome. This is important because imbalances in the gut microbiome have been linked to various health conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease and obesity.10

Additionally, fiber also helps to reduce inflammation in the gut. Chronic inflammation in the digestive tract can lead to various gastrointestinal problems, which can be alleviated by including more fiber in our diet. Fiber has been shown to increase the production of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) by beneficial gut bacteria. These SCFAs have anti-inflammatory properties and can help to protect against conditions such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.11

Avoid Processed Foods

Processed foods have become a staple in the modern diet, but they are also one of the main culprits for poor gut health. These highly processed and refined foods not only lack essential nutrients and fiber, but they also contain harmful additives that can disrupt our gut microbiome.

One of the biggest concerns with processed foods is their high sugar content. This includes added sugars such as high fructose corn syrup, which can wreak havoc on our gut bacteria. Studies have shown that a diet high in added sugars can lead to an imbalance in the gut microbiome, causing inflammation and digestive issues.

In addition to sugar, processed foods also contain unhealthy fats and artificial ingredients that can be detrimental to our gut health. These include trans fats, preservatives, and food colorings, which have been linked to digestive problems and chronic diseases.12

Read more about consuming a healthy diet.

Cellular healing diet

Manage Stress

Chronic stress can negatively impact our gut health so finding ways to manage stress through activities like yoga, meditation, or therapy can be beneficial. Research has shown that practicing mindful eating techniques can also improve gut health by reducing stress and promoting healthier food choices. This involves paying attention to the physical sensations and emotions associated with eating, rather than mindlessly consuming food.13

Sleep

Poor sleep has been linked to an imbalance in gut bacteria, so aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night. To improve your sleep quality, try to establish a consistent bedtime routine and avoid caffeine and electronic devices before bed. Also, make sure your sleeping environment is conducive to rest, with a comfortable mattress and pillows, cool temperature, and minimal noise. Additionally, incorporating stress-reducing activities like meditation or yoga can also improve your sleep.14

Exercise

Regular exercise has been shown to improve gut health and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. Exercise releases ‘feel-good’ hormones called endorphins, which can boost mood and reduce stress. It also helps to increase blood flow and oxygen to the gut, promoting a healthy digestive system.

Exercise has also been linked to improved cognitive function and brain health. Physical activity increases the production of proteins that help create new brain cells and connections, leading to better memory, concentration, and overall brain function.15

Gut Health And Mental Health - Exercise

By taking care of our gut health, we not only improve our physical well-being but also support our mental health. The connection between gut health and mental well-being is becoming increasingly clear. Incorporating fermented foods and fiber-rich foods into our diets is a simple, natural way to support both our gut and mental health. As more research is conducted in this area, we may uncover even more ways that our gut bacteria can influence our mental well-being. 

Read more about improving the microbiome.

References

1 University of Virginia Health System (2018, June 4). Scientists uncover how fermented food bacteria guard against depression & anxiety. Retrieved from https://newsroom.uvahealth.com/2023/11/28/scientists-uncover-how-fermented-food-bacteria-guard-against-depression-anxiety/

2 Gwak MG, Chang SY. Gut-Brain Connection: Microbiome, Gut Barrier, and Environmental Sensors. Immune Netw. 2021 Jun 16;21(3):e20. doi: 10.4110/in.2021.21.e20. PMID: 34277110; PMCID: PMC8263213.

3 Cole, M., Gaultier, A., & Kasper, D. (2017). Gut microbiota–brain axis: How gut microbiota influence behavior. Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

4 Potter K, Gayle EJ, Deb S. Effect of gut microbiome on serotonin metabolism: a personalized treatment approach. Naunyn Schmiedebergs Arch Pharmacol. 2023 Nov 3. doi: 10.1007/s00210-023-02762-5. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 37922012.

5 Hamamah S, Aghazarian A, Nazaryan A, Hajnal A, Covasa M. Role of Microbiota-Gut-Brain Axis in Regulating Dopaminergic Signaling. Biomedicines. 2022 Feb 13;10(2):436. doi: 10.3390/biomedicines10020436. PMID: 35203645; PMCID: PMC8962300.

6 Markowiak-Kopeć P, Śliżewska K. The Effect of Probiotics on the Production of Short-Chain Fatty Acids by Human Intestinal Microbiome. Nutrients. 2020 Apr 16;12(4):1107. doi: 10.3390/nu12041107. PMID: 32316181; PMCID: PMC7230973.

7 Andrea R. Merchak, Samuel Wachamo, Lucille C. Brown, Alisha Thakur, Brett Moreau, Ryan M. Brown, Courtney R. Rivet-Noor, Tula Raghavan, Alban Gaultier, Lactobacillus from the Altered Schaedler Flora maintain IFNγ homeostasis to promote behavioral stress resilience, Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, Volume 115, 2024, Pages 458-469, ISSN 0889-1591, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bbi.2023.11.001.

8 de Castro MM, Pascoal LB, Steigleder KM, Siqueira BP, Corona LP, Ayrizono MLS, Milanski M, Leal RF. Role of diet and nutrition in inflammatory bowel disease. World J Exp Med. 2021 Jan 20;11(1):1-16. doi: 10.5493/wjem.v11.i1.1. PMID: 33585174; PMCID: PMC7852575.

9 Stiemsma LT, Nakamura RE, Nguyen JG, Michels KB. Does Consumption of Fermented Foods Modify the Human Gut Microbiota? J Nutr. 2020 Jul 1;150(7):1680-1692. doi: 10.1093/jn/nxaa077. PMID: 32232406; PMCID: PMC7330458.

10 Fu J, Zheng Y, Gao Y, Xu W. Dietary Fiber Intake and Gut Microbiota in Human Health. Microorganisms. 2022 Dec 18;10(12):2507. doi: 10.3390/microorganisms10122507. PMID: 36557760; PMCID: PMC9787832.

11 Portincasa P, Bonfrate L, Vacca M, De Angelis M, Farella I, Lanza E, Khalil M, Wang DQ, Sperandio M, Di Ciaula A. Gut Microbiota and Short Chain Fatty Acids: Implications in Glucose Homeostasis. Int J Mol Sci. 2022 Jan 20;23(3):1105. doi: 10.3390/ijms23031105. PMID: 35163038; PMCID: PMC8835596.

12 Shi Z. Gut Microbiota: An Important Link between Western Diet and Chronic Diseases. Nutrients. 2019 Sep 24;11(10):2287. doi: 10.3390/nu11102287. PMID: 31554269; PMCID: PMC6835660.

13 Konturek PC, Brzozowski T, Konturek SJ. Stress and the gut: pathophysiology, clinical consequences, diagnostic approach and treatment options. J Physiol Pharmacol. 2011 Dec;62(6):591-9. PMID: 22314561.

14 Matenchuk BA, Mandhane PJ, Kozyrskyj AL. Sleep, circadian rhythm, and gut microbiota. Sleep Med Rev. 2020 Oct;53:101340. doi: 10.1016/j.smrv.2020.101340. Epub 2020 May 13. PMID: 32668369.

15 Mailing LJ, Allen JM, Buford TW, Fields CJ, Woods JA. Exercise and the Gut Microbiome: A Review of the Evidence, Potential Mechanisms, and Implications for Human Health. Exerc Sport Sci Rev. 2019 Apr;47(2):75-85. doi: 10.1249/JES.0000000000000183. PMID: 30883471.

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