The link between poor gut health and your mood
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Unless we’re physically injured or in immense pain, we tend to ignore the signals our bodies sends us.
This is true for gut health too. Since most of the symptoms are unsuspecting and easy to bear, they are ignored.
After all, if a painkiller or antacid can fix the problem, how bad could it be?
For comparison, a healthy gut entails having regular bowel movements that are void of symptoms like diarrhoea, constipation and loose stools. Other common indicators that your gut is in good health include no rectal problems like haemorrhoids, fissures and abdominal symptoms such as gas, bloating ,and cramps. In short, for your gut to be healthy it needs to function without hassle.
Health experts have referred to the gut as our body’s “second brain”. According to the Cleaveland Clinic, this is because “the enteric nervous system (relating to or occurring in the intestines) relies on the same type of neurons and neurotransmitters that are found in the central nervous system (controls most functions of the body and mind).”
The connection is so apparent, it can explain why nerves before an exam or public speaking make the stomach twist, and the feeling of elation is often paired with a fluttering in the abdomen, also known as butterflies.
The gut contains 500 million neurons that connect to the brain through nerves. The vagus nerve is one of the main connections.
From breathing to digestion, its role is to assist the autonomic nervous system with involuntary bodily functions like respiratory and heart rate as well as digestion. This nerve is made up of motor and sensory fibres that are embedded in the lining of our stomach and gastrointestinal tract, serving as a two-way path for communication to the brain.
According to an article by Atlas, “The vagus nerve fibres are connected to cells in the gut lining. They use these cells to collect information on activities in the gut and those of your microbiome and transfer this information to the brain so it can make important decisions about your digestion.”
However, certain medication, poor diet, and high stress levels can reduce microbial diversity and cause the loss of beneficial bacteria and inflammation of the gut. This has been linked to causing several mental health issues including anxiety and depression.
A review of studies published in the journal General Psychiatry suggests that those dealing with anxiety symptoms may benefit from taking measures to restore the microorganisms in their gut. These include a good diet consisting of probiotic and non-probiotic food and supplements.
To get good bacteria back into the gut, a diet that is sufficient in fibre and fermented foods that contain probiotic bacteria helps reintroduce beneficial bacteria and enzymes into the intestine, increasing the health of your gut microbiome and, in turn, your moods and immune system health. Foods like sourdough, yoghurt, kombucha and pickled vegetables are good examples of fermented foods that aid in breaking down food, making them easier to digest.
However, it is important to always consult your doctor about diet and mental health treatment.