The Impact of Gut Health on Mental Health

You are what you eat is more than a common dictum, it appears to be the real deal when it comes to your mental health.

More and more scientific research is pointing towards intestinal bacteria playing an influential role in managing mental disorder symptoms.  Moreover, gut health and mental health are positively correlated. According to an article from Nature International Weekly Journal of Science, “there is hard evidence linking conditions such as Autism and Depression to the gut’s microbial residents, known as the microbiome.”

So if your gut isn’t balanced, and you already have a mood disorder or anxiety disorder, symptoms could be expected to exacerbate as your gut health declines.

Likewise, as gut health improves, some mental health symptoms may improve concurrently.

This information shouldn’t be that shocking – there’s already strong evidence that the mind/body connection is positively correlated, meaning the more balanced your physical health, the more balanced your mental health ought to be – but it’s important to know what one can do to use this information in their favor.

An article describing a study done in England explains that they saw that supplements that boost “good” bacteria in the gut (called prebiotics) could have a significant impact on the way people “process emotional information, suggesting that changes in gut bacteria may have anti-anxiety effects.”

They go on to emphasize the importance of regulating one’s gut bacteria through supplementation and diet.  And experts say both probiotics and prebiotics are important for boosting gastrointestinal health.

Probiotics are the “good” bacteria (live cultures) naturally occurring in the stomach. These active cultures help balance gut flora by reproducing more good bacteria. A good balance helps boost immunity and overall health, particularly the aforementioned gastrointestinal health. Additionally, probiotics can be used to treat stomach issues like IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), food allergies and lactose intolerance.

Prebiotics are the foods that help the probiotics along. They are good bacteria “promoters.” Prebiotics and probiotics work together to achieve gastrointestinal health.  So how does one get those probiotics and prebiotics into their gut?

For probiotics, consume:

  • Fermented dairy foods including yogurt, kefir products, and aged cheeses, which contain live cultures (for example, bifidobacteria and lactobacilli).
  • Fermented non-dairy foods containing beneficial cultures, including kimchi (spicy pickled cabbage), sauerkraut, miso, soy beverages and kombucha (fermented tea).

For prebiotics, consume:

  • Foods/supplements containing fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS), such as inulin and galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS).
  • Foods such as bananas, onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, artichokes, soybeans and whole-wheat foods.

Another interesting, and more recent, finding is that scientists have actually discovered a specific gut bacteria which relies on a brain chemical for survival.

The bacteria depend upon the brain chemical gamma-aminobutyric acid or GABA (a molecule that the brain uses to calm itself) to survive. GABA plays an important role in behavior, cognition, and the body’s response to stress.

Low levels of GABA is linked to depression and mood disorders, and this finding adds to growing evidence that our gut bacteria may affect our brains.

Identifying the relationship between the gut biome and human brain chemistry could give way to improved treatment for depression and other mental health disorders.

References

Ferguson, David,  “Scientists discover gut bacteria that influences mood by ‘eating’ brain chemical”  Raw Story,
01 Jul 2016, Accessed 10 Oct 2016.
http://www.rawstory.com/2016/07/scientists-discover-gut-bacteria-that-influences-mood-by-eating-brain-chemical/

Konkel, Lindsey, “What Is Gaba?”, Everyday Health, Accessed 10 Oct 2016.
 http://www.everydayhealth.com/gaba/guide/
Marchant, Jo, “How Happiness Boosts the Immune System”, Scientific American, 27 Nov 2013, Accessed 10 Oct 2013.
https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-happiness-boosts-the-immune-system/

Reardon, Sara, “Gut–brain link grabs neuroscientists”.  Nature News: Nature International Weekly Journal of Science, Springer Nature.  12 November 2014, Accessed 10 Oct 2016.
http://www.nature.com/news/gut-brain-link-grabs-neuroscientists-1.16316

Rettner, Rachael, “Gut Feeling? Probiotics May Ease Anxiety and Depression”, Live Science, 24 Dec 2014, Accessed 10 Oct 2016.
http://www.livescience.com/49248-gut-bacteria-mental-health.html

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