Gut and Mental Health

Better Gut = Better Health

– By Leigh Hawkins –

An estimated 40 million adults and 1 out of 8 children are suffering from anxiety and $42 billion is being spent annually on mental illness in America.

I always knew there was a connection between our gut and our brain, hence the term gut instincts, but now this connection is becoming more widely researched and publicized. Poor gut health is actually a disruption in the balance of the bacteria in our gut and recent studies are now connecting it with multiple sclerosis, autism, Parkinson’s disease, and even to Alzheimer’s disease. With an alarming number of people suffering from heartburn, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, and related issues, researchers are recognizing the importance of the communication between the gut and our brain. The impact the gut can have on our mental well-being has psychotherapy exploring treatment of some mental health issues through the gut. An estimated 40 million adults and 1 out of 8 children are suffering from anxiety and $42 billion is being spent annually on mental illness in America. The good news is much of this can be cured by addressing our gut. Our gut needs our attention.

So, for those of you that thought the gut was just for digestion, think again. There are the same amount of neurotransmitters in the gut as the brain. In fact, neurons in the gut are thought to generate as much dopamine as the brain and about 90% of our serotonin. Dopamine is involved in preventing depression and regulating moods, sleep, appetite, and body temperature and serotonin stabilizes our mood, helps reduce depression, regulates anxiety, as well as aids with sleeping, eating, and digestion. Multiple animal studies have shown that manipulating the gut microbiota (microbe population living in the intestine) in some way can affect behaviors related to anxiety and depression. Just that information in itself is enough to make me take better care of my gut.

Our gut is also a key player in regulating inflammation and increasing our immunity, with 70-80% of your immune system aimed at the gut which can expel and kill foreign invaders. Any disturbance in the gut can cause a subtle shift in the immune response around the body, which if prolonged, can affect brain health.

  • Our gut sends far more info to our brain that the other way around
  • Bacteria, fungi, and viruses that make up your body’s microflora outnumber your body’s cells by 10-1
  • A gut microbiota imbalance has been implicated in various chronic illnesses, including obesity, insulin resistance, and cardiovascular disease
  • Since your liver gets 70% of its blood flow from the intestines, an imbalance in gut bacteria can adversely affect your liver
  • Our healthy gut bacteria helps absorb nutrients, synthesize certain vitamins, as well as help regulate our metabolism.

Here are a few ways that our gut bacteria can get out of balance-some are more in our control than others.

  1. Excessive or unmanaged stress
  2. Overuse of antibiotics
  3. Prolonged use of steroids or NSAIDS
  4. Intestinal infections
  5. High sugar/low fiber diet
  6. Overconsumption of alcohol
  7. Long term use of antacids for heartburn/reflux

I cannot express the importance of our gut, especially with all the toxins that are getting into our food and drinks. Many foods that are deemed “healthy” or “natural” still contain preservatives and other chemical ingredients that adversely affect our gut bacteria. You can easily discover this by looking at the back of a “Healthy Choice” product and find ingredients that you can hardly pronounce.

Changing your diet will have immediate positive effects for those who eat more whole foods, fruits and vegetables and less highly refined foods, as is common in western diets.

The following is a list of some foods for a healthy and diverse gut:

  1. Chicory root, Jerusalem artichokes, sugar beets, asparagus, leeks, onions. These contain inulin, which feeds the bacteria already present in our gut-referred to as prebiotics.
  2. Bananas-restores health of bacterial community and may reduce inflammation.
  3. Polenta-insoluble fiber travels directly to colon where it ferments into multiple strands of gut flora.
  4. Broccoli, kale, cabbage, cauliflower contain glucosinolates, which reduce inflammation and lower the risk of certain cancers.
  5. Blueberries-modify microbiota to enhance immune function.
  6. Beans-any legume helps release short-chain fatty acids that strengthen your intestine cells and improve absorption of micronutrients.
  7. Fermented plant-based foods-tempeh, miso, sauerkraut. These enhance your immune system with healthy live micro-organisms that force out bad bacteria and improve the absorption of minerals.
  8. Take a probiotic (at least 30+billion living organisms from various strains)
  9. Greek yogurt or kefir (low sugar/organic)-if you can tolerate dairy

Now when you hear the words gut instincts, maybe you will hear them in a whole new way. The gut is responsible for a lot more than just helping you sense something, it has a much more important role to your overall health.




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