Science is coming to understand the links between digestion, mood and health its influence on the way you think. It is commonly called the Gut-Brain Connection.
Digestive and bowel disorders are often correlated with poor mood; almost one-third of patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) are found to have anxiety or depression. What causes anxiety and depression is not yet well understood but disruptions in the neurons (nerve cells) and circuitry in your brain are believed to make a major contribution to mood disorders and other neurodivergent conditions. Your gut health plays an intrinsic role in how you feel; those with healthy and diverse gut microbes are less likely to suffer from poor mood.
Your gut is a second brain!
The gut has its own reflexes and senses and is called your “Second Brain”. Up to 90 percent of the cells involved in your gut carry messages to the brain, its not just receiving messages. Your gut is the emotive, “touchy feely” part of you and, as well as your brain, influences your mood. The bacteria in your gut communicate with your brain via neurotransmitters (chemical messengers). There are specific neurotransmitters known to have effects on mood:
- Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), is the “chill out” neurotransmitter that promotes relaxation, sleep and calms nerves. GABA is produced by some gut bacteria and some increase GABA receptors (where the neurotransmitter attaches). Some mood medications interact with GABA brain receptors to reduce anxiety.
- Serotonin supports self-worth, happiness and sleep. Good levels help to reduce depression and anxiety. Anti-depressant medications help to increase the circulation of serotonin. Ninety percent (90%) of your serotonin is manufactured in your gut.
- Dopamine is involved in your reward centre. It gives you pleasure get when you do something you like or accomplish a goal, it’s that fist pump feeling!
Good Gut: the Microbiome
Bacteria living in your gut can be regulated by your nervous system and are known to improve stress resilience and reduce anxiety. Dysbiosis is an imbalance of the “good” and “bad” bacteria in your gut, and that’s bad. Poor diet choices, food sensitivities, stress, antibiotics, illness, parasites and certain medications promote dysbiosis. Improving the balance of the good bacteria with nutrition and probiotics will promote positive mood.
Leaky Gut, Leaky Brain
If you have an allergy or sensitivity to a food it creates an immune response in the digestive tract which increases inflammation. Sensitivities can change/damage your gut and allows leakage from the small intestine to other areas of your body. Some call it Leaky Gut (or officially increased gut permeability). This leakiness releases cytokines (minuscule signaling molecules) are that travel from your gut to your brain, causing inflammation along the way. These cytokines can also pass through (leak) across the blood brain barrier (BBB) to affect your mood. Anxiety and depression are accompanied by chronic systemic (body-wide) inflammation and in particular chronic inflammation in the brain. People with anxiety and depression have a greater tendency to brain inflammation.
Ways to improve your gut health
- Diet: Your body is made from the foods that you eat. A well balanced diet that contains the right servings of fresh vegetables, good quality proteins, beneficial fats, moderate amounts of complex carbohydrates and eliminates highly processed foods will always be a good foundation for improving your health
- Increase fresh produce: at least 3 servings (1 cup = 1 serving) of vegetables is one of the easiest ways to help reduce inflammation and encourage good gut health. Choose highly coloured and eat the rainbow!
- Increase anti-inflammatory foods– turmeric, ginger, omega-3 foods, nuts, olive oil, leafy green veggies can all counteract inflammation.
- Highly processed foods and drinks contain refined sugars, trans fats and preservatives. These foods promote inflammation and blood sugar instability which can drive anxiety.
- Probiotics and prebiotics: Daily inclusion of prebiotic and probiotic foods help support good gut health. These two groups work together to establish a healthy and resilient colony of good gut bacteria.
- Prebiotic foods: are foods high in fibre and resistant starch and includes jerusalem artichokes, garlic, onions, asparagus, leeks, beetroot, fennel and many pulses and legumes.
- Probiotics foods: naturally fermented foods (sauerkraut, kimchi, Apple Cider Vinegar), Kombucha, Keffir, Kvass, Tempeh, Miso and quality whole-milk yoghurts are good sources of probiotic bacteria.
*It is interesting to note here that recent research has shown that artificial sweeteners have a detrimental effect on gut bacteria
- Reduce Gut permeability
- Bone Broth or collagen are foods that can help to repair the gut and reduce inflammation, 1-2 servings daily is recommended.
- Vitamin D: insufficient Vitamin D is linked with increased permeability. Check your vitamin D and talk to your Naturopath or other health professional about which is best supplement for you.
- Determine any food sensitivities or reactivities– keep a food and symptom diary or have food sensitivity testing. (The most common sensitivities I see are gluten, dairy and yeast)
- Work with a naturopath to address dysbiosis: informed and skilled support is the most successful way to address dysbiosis. The causes of dysbiosis can be complex and multi- faceted. A natural health professional will address your specific case in a detailed and skilled manner to explore all underlying causes and provide a unique and tailored health care programme just for you.
Contact Desley to see how you can work on improving your mood and your gut!