The Link Between Gut Health and Mental Health – Gut Brain Connection
We love all things health and wellbeing here at ULU. So, today we’d like to share with you an interesting current topic in the health and wellness industry. Today we’ll be talking about the link between gut health, gut bacteria and mental health, or the gut brain connection.
In this article, we’ll include some of the most interesting research around the link between gut health and mental health. We’ll look at the gut micro biome and mental health – the role played by bacteria in mental health disorders. Then, we’ll include some tips on how to get both your gut and your brain working together in your favour!
What is the gut brain connection?
The gut brain connection – it sounds like a strange concept, but according to scientists and researchers it’s very real. Essentially, people much cleverer than us here at ULU have identified a direct link between gut health and mental health.
Let’s look at this in more detail.
Have you ever been talking about food or thinking about food and suddenly your stomach starts to grumble? This is just one example of the gut brain connection. Your brain sends a signal to your gut to communicate that it might be time to eat as the two are intrinsically linked.
Or, think of a time when you’ve been really stressed or nervous about something and your stomach started to bubble unpleasantly – the so-called ‘nervous belly.’ If you’ve ever felt sick or bloated before an event such as public speaking or an exam, then you’ll definitely understand the connection between the brain and the gut.
However, this connection goes both ways. The gut and the brain are both in constant communication with one another. This means that stress, anxiety and low mood can be the cause or the product of intestinal upset. This is why mental health problems such as anxiety and depression are so common in sufferers of gut issues such as IBS.
How are gut health and mental health linked?
Aside from the feelings and sensations we talked about in the previous section of this article, there is a more direct link between gut health and mental health. The gut brain connection has been proved by the existence of the vagus nerve.
The vagus nerve offers a direct communication line between the gut and the brain. In fact, it has receptors in the lining of the gut which allow it to check on digestion. Through this gut brain connection, the vagus nerve is able to pick up on small signals triggered by bacteria fluctuation in the gut. This then directly alters brain activity and chemistry. So, if your gut bacteria becomes imbalanced or unhealthy, your brain is going to hear about it and likely become distressed.
Interestingly, this communication goes both ways. Changes in brain chemistry can also alter and affect what’s happening in the gut.
This is a really interesting topic, so let’s look in more detail at the gut micro biome and mental health.
Gut bacteria and mental health
So, if the gut and the brain are linked, then it’s natural that so are gut bacteria and mental health.
The bacteria in your gut is called your gut micro biome or gut flora. According to molecular biologist Joshua Lederberg, this is ‘the totality of microorganisms, bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and fungi, and their collective genetic material present in the gastrointestinal tract (GIT).’
So, let’s take a look at some of the most interesting findings surrounding the gut micro biome and mental health.
in Kyushu University in 2004, a team of scientists found that mice raised in sterilised conditions, entirely free from germs, showed greater fluctuations in the hormones corticosterone and ACTH – both of which are known to affect stress levels. Here, the mice had never developed a healthy gut bacteria, which in turn led to an imbalanced brain chemistry.
Moreover, gut microbes play important roles in the body’s production of natural ‘happy’ chemicals like serotonin and dopamine. In fact, researchers have found a link between taking antibiotics and depression. This is because antibiotics are known to wreak havoc on your gut microbiome, which then in turn affects your body’s ability to produce serotonin and other important brain chemicals. Interestingly, this effect isn’t shared by antiviral or anti fungal medications which are much gentler on the gut.
Inflammation, gut health and mental health
Before we go on to look at how you can get the gut brain connection working in your favour, it’s important to understand the role played by inflammation. Researchers are now recognising that inflammation actually plays a key role in both an imbalanced gut and also mental health.
Inflammation can play a dangerous role throughout the body. It leads to chronic pain, lowers our immune function and attacks our biological processes. However, more recently inflammation has been linked to mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression and even schizophrenia.
In the case of the gut, inflammation is the direct cause of painful conditions such as leaky gut, IBS and Crohn’s. It has also plays a key role in autoimmune conditions such as type 1 diabetes.
Interestingly, research is increasingly showing that inflammation in the gut causes the same negative effect on brain chemistry we mentioned earlier. So, researchers are currently trying to work out if our current antidepressants could be replaced by medication designed to target the gut micro biome.
How to capitalise on the gut brain connection
So, if there is an undeniable link between gut health, the gut micro biome and mental health, what can we do about it? Here are 3 ways you can get your gut and your brain working together, but also in your favour!
1. Take a daily probiotic
Due to the link between the gut micro biome and mental health, it’s important to keep your gut bacteria healthy. So, you could start by taking a daily probiotic. These come in many forms including fermented yoghurt, drinks such as kombucha or even tablets. So, there’s plenty to choose from.
Probiotics improve digestive function. They also help your gut play its role in the production of serotonin, dopamine, melatonin, and acetylcholine – all important for healthy, happy brain chemistry.
2. Avoid or cut down on inflammatory foods
We’ve already talked about the role of inflammation in gut health and mental health. So, how can you limit inflammation in the gut?
Well, according to The Arthritis Foundation, there are some foods that are key offenders when it comes to causing gut inflammation. Inflammatory foods include refined sugar, saturated fats, alcohol and refined carbohydrates.
There are also many foods which help the body to fight inflammation. These include tomatoes, fatty fish, nuts, green leafy vegetables and blueberries. In fact, a Mediterranean diet is considered anti-inflammatory.
Due to the gut brain connection, cutting down on inflammatory foods could not only aid digestion, but also improve mood.
3. Take a daily CBD product
Lastly, you could consider taking CBD to support gut health and mental health.
This is because CBD is a powerful, natural anti-inflammatory component. CBD also helps to regulate gut bacteria, reduce intestinal permeability and relax your digestive system. In addition, it plays a key role in helping to maintain healthy brain chemistry.
If you’d like to know more, we’ve recently written an article all about how CBD helps improve digestive health.
We’ve also written about how CBD can help to benefit your wellbeing
Gut health, gut bacteria and mental health – summary
In summary, when looking for support with poor mental health, it’s also important to consider the gut. Whilst traditional antidepressants look at altering brain chemistry (with varying success) they don’t actually address the gut. However, due to an undeniable connection between gut bacteria and mental health, this seems very much outdated.
In order to keep both your gut and your brain working optimally, you should consider foods and supplements which target the gut brain connection. After all, gut health and mental health are directly linked!
And of course, as always, make sure u love u!