The correlation between the food we eat and our moods and emotions has not always been completely acknowledged by the medical field. However, several connections between good nutrition and its impact on our mental health and wellbeing are now undisputed.
The dynamics of the digestive system were once regarded as being very simple for many years, focusing on digestion and waste excretion for the most part. However, the presence of hundreds of millions of neurons in the gastrointestinal tract, and serotonin hormones, dramatically affect our moods, sleep, and general wellbeing.
All this also affects our mental health and emotional balance and wellbeing. The production of serotonin is very much influenced by the presence of specific bacteria within the gut microbiota.
What is Gut Health?
Having a healthy gut is important. The billions of microorganisms that are found inside our gastrointestinal tract are composed of about 1,000 variety of bacteria, fungi, yeasts, and viruses that creates an entire ecosystem of their own.
This ecosystem is known as the gut flora or microbiota. Maintaining a good balance of this ecosystem is very important because it is greatly responsible for several bodily functions.
- It aids in the production of vitamins B and vitamin K.
- It helps the immune system combat viruses.
- It digests food that did not get fully digested in the small intestines or stomach.
- It kills carcinogens (which are responsible for cancer).
- It communicates with the brain to regulate metabolism.
The Link Between Gut Health and Mental Health
There is an apparent link between our gut and our brain which is known as the gut-brain axis. It is defined as the biochemical signaling between the gastrointestinal tract and our central nervous system, which means that there is a direct link between mood and food.
Consequently, it can establish the connection between anxious feelings and stomach problems, or emotional stress and bloat. This notion is not entirely new, yet it supports the logical explanation of expressions such as, “feeling butterflies in the stomach.”
With the gut-brain axis, it is very reasonable to think that the GI tract can also sense our emotions and thoughts, and this connection goes both ways. Intestinal processes are very much linked to the emotional centers of the brain.
With the connection of the brain and the gut, maintaining a healthy gut can ultimately impact the quality of our mental health too.
Here are simple yet effective ways to maintain a healthy gut that can help to promote a healthier and better sense of wellbeing:
Intake of Prebiotics and Probiotic Supplements
Prebiotics supply food to promote the growth of good bacteria in the body. Probiotics are good bacteria that directly add to the healthy balance of the microbiota when taken as supplements. Some foods are great natural dietary sources of probiotics.
Eating fermented foods like kimchi, yogurt, sauerkraut, miso, and kefir can benefit the flourishing of good bacteria in the gut microbiome.
Mindful Eating – Eat Slowly, Don’t Rush
It may not be enough to eat foods that promote a healthy microbiota. The pace at which you normally eat can also affect your digestive system. Eat more slowly or mindfully to allow chewing of food, to aid with proper digestion and nutrient absorption in the body.
Sleep Enough Hours
Insomnia or experiencing sleep disorders may sometimes indicate a problem with the gut, and can also contribute to them. Getting adequate rest and at least 7-8 hours of sleep every night can help keep the gut healthy.
Completely avoiding stress may not be possible, but managing it can be done, and can dramatically aid gut health. Not only is chronic stress hard on your entire body, but it can also significantly affect your gut health. There is no one effective way to stress less, but there are many ways to alleviate it through beneficial activities such as exercise, meditation, yoga, massages, finding ways to get a good laugh, spending time with family, friends, or a pet, etc.
Staying adequately hydrated has been shown to positively affect the gastrointestinal tract’s mucous lining and help promote a healthy balance of good bacteria in the gut. Water is important for good health and life!
The gut-brain connection is very real. Take care of your gut and you will also be taking care of your mental health and helping to live a happier life.