Written by: Jordan Briggs – Personal Trainer
How gut health can impact mental health:
I’m not a gut health expert but I have gathered learnings from experts, from my studies, and from my personal experience helping myself, my partner and my clients improve their gut health and overall health. From this I will give you my understanding of the gut and its link to the mind.
Gut health plays an important role in our overall body health including digestion and permeability (nutrient absorption), hormone regulation, immune system and overall metabolism. But the one we are going to talk about today is the role it plays on the mind.
First, I want to introduce you to what the makes up the gut.
The body hosts trillions of bacteria, fungal and other living organisms. Though many are on our skin, the gastrointestinal tract hosts most of these. They’re called the microbiota.
The microbiota and the gut is like a finger print within all of us. We all have different compositions. This means we have different amounts of good and bad bacteria.
It’s important we have a healthy ratio of good and bad bacteria. Generally, when the bad outweighs the good we start to get problems which include;
- leaky gut
- weight Gain
- excessive bloating
- acid reflux
- skin conditions
- autoimmune issues
- inconsistent bowel movements
- and list goes on.
This all influences our body in different ways but ultimately all has a similar effect on our mental health. This effects our mood, our ability function and can impact certain parts of our brain that controls our gut.
Is the brain is connected to the gut?
Yes. The gut has a direct relationship with the central nervous system via the vagus nerve (the controller of your autonomic nervous system). According to studies, the relationship of “good bacteria” in the gut increases hormone serotonin (your happy hormone) which activates the vagus nerve and creates a stronger signal to the brain. People suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or people who have a disrupted gut microbiota have increased likely hood of producing low levels of serotonin and producing unhealthy amounts of cortisol – which is a cocktail for depression and anxiety. For more information on this please see article; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4734998/
What determines if you have a healthy gut and unhealthy gut?
An unhealthy gut can be caused by:
- Poor mood
- Inability to poo or runny stool (inconsistent bowels)
- Cloudy mind
- Poor energy
- Stomach cramps or pains
What could be causing it?
- Food: Can create inflammation and irritability in the gut due the natural plant chemical compounds such as lectins and phytates. These natural chemical compounds are there as a protective mechanism for the plant and can be avoided if food prepared properly i.e. soaked or sprouted. Additionally, products like highly processed foods – i.e. junk food, sugar, alcohol or plant embryo foods particularly grains and sometimes nuts, seeds, coffee etc. can cause issues.
- Stress: Emotional and physical stress regulates stress hormone cortisol. Excessive levels of cortisol is said to create inflammation in gastrointestinal tract and create a leaky gut. This can circulate toxins through blood stream causing you too to feel quite lousy and sick. Additionally, and more importantly, stress can affect your sleep. Not getting enough sleep in general will also help to raise these types of stress hormones while decreasing brain productivity and function. Watch the video in the link to learn more from expert Mathew Walker. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y-8b99rGpkM
- Environment: Being exposed to poor hygienic environments (i.e. dirty working environments, dirty houses, partners, family) can cause you to pick up bad bacteria and fungals.
How do you promote a healthy gut so you have a healthy mind?
- Food: Eating good quality, clean, real food that works for you and your bodies composition. May include;
- Good quality meats (organic grass fed – land grown if possible) or wild caught
- In season fruits and vegetables (increasing your vege intake to 6-8 serves per day)
- Healthy fatty foods (i.e. avocado, nuts and seeds)
- Good quality saturated fats sourced from land raised animals or pasture raised animals/products
- Fermented foods with live bacteria (i.e. kraut, kefir, kombucha)
- Hydration with filtered water or hard (mineral) water if you do well on it
- Herbs/foods (i.e. oregano, wormwood, ginger and garlic) that are anti parasitic/anti-fungal can help regulate a healthy gut flora.
- Rest: Think quality rather than quantity. 6-8 hours is what you want to be aiming for of quality sleep. If you aren’t a good sleeper trying meditating before bed to dump things that may be on your mind. A great app to use is headspace or calm. You can track your sleep quality using sleep cycle app. This will help you track the depth of your sleep. Additionally, setting your bedroom for a mild temp where you’re not too cold and not too hot (16-20 degrees is a good temperature) can help you get quality sleep.
What’s important to remember is that all our body systems including the gut work together to give you the energy and clarity you need to tackle day. When you feel low or lack energy, look at what is fuelling your body and you may find some answers.