Does Mental Health Start in the Gut?
Have you ever heard someone say they had a “gut wrenching” experience? Have you ever had a gut feeling, or felt sick to your stomach? Have you ever felt butterflies or had your stomach flip?
Fear, anger, disgust, disappointment… we really feel things in our guts. And it actually makes sense that we do, because our gut contains an extensive network of neurons often referred to as “the second-brain”.
This second brain in our gut communicates closely with our brain in our skull. We all know that fear and anxiety can trigger gut reactions. Anyone who has experienced the fear of public speaking can attest to this! However, just as our gut receives messages from our brain, a two-way communication system also means our gut sends messages to our brain
In fact there are MORE nerve fibres carrying messages from your gut to your brain than the other way around. Which makes you wonder, just how much does gut health affect mental health?
So far, research is proving that gut health plays a big role in mental health conditions like anxiety and depression, and one of the key players is our intestinal microbiota. This is the bugs and critters that live inside your digestive system. Research is showing that the quantity and types of bugs living in our intestines can really shape our mood and brain function. You might even say that your gut bacteria are an extension of your brain!
Gut bacteria produce important hormones, immune substances, neurotransmitters and vitamins that all play a vital role in mental wellbeing. When we have healthy gut bacteria in the right proportions we tend to feel healthier and happier.
For example, healthy levels of beneficial bacteria like bifidobacterium and lactobacillus in our guts help us to produce an important neurotransmitter called GABA. GABA’s main role is to turn the volume down in our brains. It helps us to feel calm and relaxed and sleep soundly at night.
On the other hand, when our gut bacteria is out of balance, things can go haywire in both the gut and the brain. Unhealthy bacteria, and even overgrowths of normal bacteria, can damage the linning of our guts and send stress signals to our brain. This puts the brain on high alert and leaves us feeling more anxious and depressed.
A stressful modern lifestyle and unhealthy diet means that many of us suffer from poor gut health. These changes in gut health may also be one explanation for the large number of people now experiencing mood and anxiety issues.
But don’t despair! The good news is that we can change our gut. By improving gastrointestinal health, we can optimise mental wellbeing, and literally change our mind!
For more fascinating information and tips on how gut health and nutrition can influence your mood and mental wellbeing register for our upcoming "Gut, Food and Mood Connection" workshop on Tuesday 7th August at 7pm. Hope to see you there.