Gut health affects mental health

Have you ever felt butterflies in your stomach? Did you immediately feel a pep when something bad was about to happen? Or did your stomach feel a contraction when you were about to get into trouble? Those feelings are a result of your gut and nervous system (including your brain) working together, and research has shown that gut health and mental health are closely intertwined.

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What is the gut-brain axis?

Your gut — the primary home of your gut microbiome — is lined with nerve cells that constantly communicate with your central nervous system, and vice versa, creating a two-way connection between these important body systems known as the gut-brain axis.

“Think of the gut-brain axis as a communication highway connecting the two,” says Nathan Price, PhD, chief scientific officer at Thorne HealthTech and author of The era of scientific wellness. “The gut and brain are connected in several ways. A clear example is serotonin, an important neurotransmitter that is mainly made in the gut. There have also been recent studies showing that microbes in the gut actually make connections that go to the brain and cause things like hunger for nutrients that the gut microbes look for.

Although the scientific and medical communities are still in the early stages of fully understanding the exact Why And How behind this link, a large and growing body of research has yielded more fascinating insights in recent years. Price says healthy guts have a major impact on healthy brains, and it’s become clear that they are strongly connected and often communicate with each other.

“For example, we now know that microbes in the gut make and modulate a variety of important neurotransmitters in the brain, such as dopamine, glutamate, GABA and serotonin,” he explains. “The gut microbiome also influences immune signaling and the central nervous system, so the gut can influence brain function as well as immune function in the brain.”

In other words, the emotional and cognitive centers of the brain can connect to different parts of your gut and send out good or bad signals (via chemicals called neurotransmitters) depending on the health of your gut.

The role of inflammation

Inflammation can have a major impact on this relationship. Inflammation is often caused by an imbalance in the gut bacteria, known as dysbiosis, that allows bad bacteria to enter the bloodstream. A 2020 review published in the journal Frontiers in Immunology suggests that dysbiosis also alters the blood-brain barrier, which can lead to brain matter inflammation, and these inflammatory pathways have been linked to neuroinflammatory conditions such as multiple sclerosis, the disease of Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s disease.

Megan Hilbert, MS, RDN, a registered dietitian who specializes in gut health nutrition at Top Nutrition Coaching, says this inflammation may come from ultra-processed foods that tend to contribute to a less diverse microbiome. “There are also nutritional additives found in these ultra-processed foods that have been linked to poor gut health outcomes, such as artificial sweeteners and emulsifiers such as guar gum, soy lecithin, and carrageenan,” she says.

The gut microbiome and cognitive health

Research has found several associations between the health of the gut microbiome and brain health, neurological function, behavior and emotions, including connections to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. A small study found that patients with Alzheimer’s disease who received probiotic supplementation for 12 weeks showed significant improvements in mental status examinations (decreased before and after the supplementation period) compared to a control group.

Certain chemicals metabolized and produced by gut bacteria can affect brain function. For example, research shows that the molecule phosphatidylcholine, which studies suggest is important to help prevent dementia, can be converted to the toxic compound trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO) if the wrong bacteria are present in your gut. Individuals with this bacteria may miss out on the brain benefits while also creating a molecule in TMAO that can negatively impact your heart health. A 2022 study published in Alzheimer’s Research & Therapy found elevated levels of this gut bacteria-derived TMAO metabolite in subjects with mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease.

The gut microbiome and mental health

An increasing body of research is also beginning to show a link between gut health and brain function, behavior and mood, including several mental health disorders such as bipolar disorder, anxiety and depression. A 2021 review published in the journal Pharmacological Research found that in patients with higher levels of Enterobacteriaceae And Alistip (types of harmful gut bacteria) suffered from depression at higher levels. While those with lower levels of Faecalibacterium (or good bacteria), had fewer depressive or depressive episodes.

A 2022 study published in the journal Nature Communications looked at the associations between gut bacteria composition and levels of depression symptoms in more than 3,000 people across six ethnic groups, one of the largest cohort studies to examine this connection. After adjusting for factors such as smoking habits and age, researchers found that “consistent associations between the gut microbiota and depressive symptom levels were confirmed across multiple levels of analysis,” according to the study paper, which supports further research into the link between gut health and mood disorders. .

Why is gut health so important?

There are over 40 trillion bacteria in your body, the majority of which live in your gut. Some studies show that there may be over 1000 species of bacteria in the human gut microbiome alone, which is why your gut microbiome plays an important role in your overall health by controlling digestion, benefiting your immune system and preventing chronic prevent diseases.

“Having greater diversity in your microbiome is generally associated with better health,” says Price. “Individuals would like to see an abundance of health-promoting bacteria and low numbers of the bacteria known to cause disease.” He adds that looking at what your gut microbiome accomplishes metabolically is critical, because many of the microbiome’s health effects come from compounds it produces or alters, which eventually show up in your bloodstream.

Nutrition plays a huge role in your overall gut health. Hilbert explains that what we eat also feeds on these microbes that live in us. “The gut is connected to so many parts of the body,” she said. “Our brain, skin, immune system, hormones can all be affected by the balance of microorganisms that live in them. These microbes play a role in defending against pathogens, supporting and regulating metabolism and influencing the absorption of nutrients from food passing through our digestive system.”

Easy ways to take care of your gut health

Probiotics and prebiotics

If you’re looking for an easy way to take charge of your gut health, Dr. Price to take a prebiotic and probiotic supplement, but you can also naturally introduce more prebiotics and probiotics into your gut through certain foods. Probiotics are the live, healthy bacteria in your gut. Certain fermented foods also contain these microorganisms, adding and replenishing the supply of probiotics in your gut. Some fermented foods with probiotics include sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir, cottage cheese, kombucha, and miso. PreBiotics are basically a type of non-digestible fiber that serves as food for these microbes, allowing them to grow and thrive in your gut. Many fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes high in specific types of fiber provide prebiotics to feed your gut flora, including alliums (garlic, onions, and leeks), asparagus, and apples.

There are also many pro and prebiotic supplements available, but it’s always best to talk to a health care professional if you’re considering adding a new supplement. Following a diet rich in probiotic and prebiotic foods is always a good start to improving gut health.

Check for food intolerances

Food can be medicine, but for some people, certain foods can cause an imbalance or inflammation in their gut. If you are experiencing symptoms such as acid reflux, extreme fatigue, gas, nausea, or bloating, you may have a food sensitivity or intolerance. You can try eliminating common foods like dairy, gluten, or caffeine to see if your symptoms clear up. If you’re not sure how to navigate this, be sure to consult your doctor or a registered dietitian with expertise in gut health. And if you’re not sure which foods are best for improving gut health, Hilbert recommends eating a wide variety of plant foods and adding more fermented foods to your diet.

Test your gut health

If you’re curious about your gut health, there are several ways to test it. The simplest thing is to check your stool after you go to the bathroom. If it looks yellow, red, or black, you probably have an infection or an imbalance in your gut.

Another indicator can be how often you go to number two. Everyone is different, but if you find yourself running to the bathroom after every meal or only going a few times a week, it could be a sign to take a closer look at your digestive system and look for ways to improve it with the help of your doctor. or another specialist.

And finally, testing your gut health through home or office tests is an easy way to get instant answers. They can range in price from $200 to $600, but talking to your doctor is a smart place to start.

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