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Powerful Connection of Gut Health and Better Mental Health

Uncover the tremendous effects of the gut-brain relationship on mental and physical health. From influencing mood to shaping cognitive function, learn the most recent findings about the intriguing interaction of Gut Health and Mental Health and its significant implications.


Eating habits that are linked to enhanced mental health
Eating habits that are linked to enhanced mental health

Table of Contents


Gut Health for Mental Health


Calliope Holingue, a student, developed gastrointestinal symptoms severe enough that she had to give up running. She also noticed that she had quite a significant history of obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety. This led her to wonder whether there might be a connection between her mental health and the GI issues she was having.


There has been a significant lifestyle change over the past 50 years. Modern lifestyles with its urbanisation and technological advancements have contributed to the longer days (because of lights at night), long screen times and, the pressure of a competitive society.

Does this have anything to do with mental illnesses becoming more commonplace globally? If yes, then what does it take for us to guarantee holistic health? Let's investigate.

 

Have you ever gone through something "gut-wrenching"? Or do some circumstances make you "feel nauseous"? If you've ever decided by "going with your gut" or experienced anxiety-induced "butterflies in your stomach," you're probably receiving messages from an unexpected source, your second brain. There's a reason we use such idioms.

This "brain in your gut," is concealed within the walls of the digestive system and is transforming medical knowledge by showing connections between mood, health, digestion, and even thought processes.


The enteric nervous system (ENS) is a 500 million neuron network that is found in our gastrointestinal tract. This is five times as many neurons that make up the human spinal cord. So, you can imagine why the gastrointestinal tract is sensitive to every emotion. Feelings such as anger, worry, grief, and elation, among others, can set off sensations in the gut.


The gastrointestinal (GI) system and the brain are intimately related and their relationship is reciprocal. Understanding the gut-brain connection helps us see that a disturbed brain and a troubled intestine can communicate with one another through signals and in turn affect each other’s performance.


The Association between Gut Health and Mental Health


an infographics of Gut-Brain Bi-Directional Axis and its influences like mood, stress, cognitive, mobility etc

The Gut-Brain Bi-Directional Axis

Your gut and brain are connected by a bidirectional communication network called the gut-brain axis, which connects the enteric and central nervous systems. The principal connection that runs from the brain to your gut is the vagus nerve. The vagal nerve is the primary nerve of the parasympathetic neural system, which regulates mood, heart rate, digestion, and immunity.


For many years, doctors believed that individuals with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and functional bowel issues such as constipation, diarrhoea, bloating, pain, and upset stomach were more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety. Other research, though, suggests that it might also work the other way around.


Gut inflammation and dysbiosis have been connected to mental diseases like anxiety and depression. An increasing amount of research points to the gut linked to mental health. Serotonin, dopamine, and GABA—neurotransmitters essential to mental health are highly produced by the gut.


How Do Our Gut and Brain Relate?


The gut-brain axis is a bidirectional, intricate system. Your digestive system and central nervous system exchange signals with each other, so conditions affecting one can have an impact on the other. The gut-brain link is demonstrated to us in the following ways:


  • Serotonin Production:

The majority of the body's serotonin is produced in the gut. Enterochromaffin (EC) cells, specialised cells found in the gut wall, manufacture 95% of the serotonin in the body.

Gut and Anxiety:

The intimate connection between the gut and the brain makes it easy to comprehend why you could experience nausea and anxiety before a presentation or intestinal pain when under stress.


  • Depression and Quality of Life:

A growing body of research has revealed a connection between major depressive disorder (MDD) and altered enteric microbiota in recent years. For instance, research indicates that MDD is linked to lower numbers of bacteria that create short-chain fatty acids (like Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus) and butyrate (like Lachnospiraceae and Faecalibacterium).

It was also shown that a favourable correlation existed between the presence of a gastrointestinal microbiome that produces γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) or a metabolite of dopamine, two neurotransmitters, and mental quality of life.


Changes in the gut microbiome have also been connected to a number of other brain-based illnesses, including autism spectrum disorder (ASD), in addition to MDD and anxiety disorders.


  • Alzheimer's Disease and Digestive Disorders:

Numerous genes are shared between gastrointestinal diseases and Alzheimer's disease (AD). Studies show that the immune system, lipid metabolism, and cholesterol-lowering drugs have a significant role in treating both conditions.


  • Probiotics Boost Depression Medications:

In a set of patients with depression, when probiotics were added to their antidepressant medication, for 31 days, the number of lactic acid bacteria in the gut microbiota increased. As a result, they demonstrated a stronger recovery in depressed symptoms as well as a return to normalcy in brain activity in areas related to processing emotions.

 

Best Ways to Heal Your Gut Health


Lifestyle therapies including physical activity, stress management, and a Mediterranean diet are some interventions supported by available research on the connection between mental health and gut health. Here are some actions you may do to ensure enhanced gut-brain function:


  • Better Digestion:

Effectively digesting is important. It's critical to maintain a relaxed condition following a meal to produce the stomach juices required for food absorption. The absorption of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients required to maintain a healthy body and brain depends on gastric juice.


  • Mindful Eating:

Be mindful of what you consume and how. Eat wholesome meals and snacks; avoid junk food. Making meals ahead of time and keeping some fruits or granola bars on hand for when you're hungry, to help you be more prepared. Additionally, while you eat, give each mouthful of the food your complete attention.


  • Exercise:

Regular exercise might be difficult to maintain, but even 20 minutes a day goes a long way. Making time for fitness on your calendar can motivate you to work out. As an alternative, go for a stroll across your neighbourhood.

You can especially benefit from this by feeling less stressed and having better physical and mental health, due to the gut-brain bi-directional axis. (*wink*)


  • Water Intake:

Drink enough water. To aid in digestion, try to consume six to eight glasses of water each day.


Food for Mental Health


The connection between the gut and the brain has paved the way for the development of a brand-new field of study known as "nutritional psychiatry”. Understanding the kinds of meals that support both your mental and digestive health is essential to enhancing your overall health. Among these foods are:


  • Fiber:

Consuming fibre enhances mood and memory. By promoting microbiota, it also reduces oxidative stress and inflammation. Beans and legumes, oats, almonds, dark chocolate, fruits, and vegetables are among the foods high in fibre. 


  • Vitamin D:

Vitamin D lowers gastrointestinal inflammation and controls your microbiome. Vitamin D-rich foods include orange juice, salmon, tuna, egg yolks, and fortified milk.


  • Protein:

Nitrogen, which is found in proteins, reduces the number of pathogenic microorganisms in a microbiome. Because protein causes serotonin to be produced, which lifts your mood, eating protein may help reduce depressive symptoms. Eggs, milk, yoghurt, lean beef, turkey, chicken, fish, broccoli, oats, and almonds are all excellent sources of protein.


  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids:

Reduced sugar cravings, improved memory and cognitive function, and lowered cholesterol are all benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. Rich in Omega-3s are walnuts, flax seeds, salmon, sardines, and mackerel.


  • Prebiotics and Probiotics:

Consuming foods that have been shown to contain probiotics in scientific studies, such as yoghurt or fermented vegetable products, can also be good for the gut flora.


The Importance of Gut Microbiome


Our human body is a single, vast ecosystem. There is a vibrant community of trillions of bacteria, fungi, viruses, and archaea than there are present in the human body, containing at least 150 times more genes than the human body.


These microorganisms are not merely passengers. There's a reason they are there. Our microbiome and we have co-evolved and share a close symbiotic relationship in which we provide them with a home and they aid in our survival.


The intestinal microbiota carries out a variety of tasks, including ones that our human cells are unable to do. They break down and extract nutrients from meals, metabolise medications, control immunological responses, and offer health-promoting defences.


an illustration of gut microbiome inside out digestive system

Human Gut Microbiome

The word "dysbiosis" refers to an unbalanced and sick gut microflora, and it is closely linked to systemic inflammation and many chronic diseases of modern life. The gut microbiota is linked to numerous age-related and chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease.


Recent advances in neuroscience research have provided evidence that the growth and maturation of brain systems linked to stress responses depend on the microbiome. Exogenous prebiotics, probiotics, antibiotics, and microbial substrates, as well as alterations in the microbiome, are either linked to or modulate a variety of neuropsychiatric illnesses, including autism, depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia


The following are a few studies that demonstrate the significance and connection between diet and gut microbiome and mental health:


In a statewide cross-sectional study carried out in Spain, non-depressive individuals had a better diet quality than depressive individuals. (Cebrino et al.)


In Alberta, Canada reduced doctor visits for depression were linked to higher Healthy Eating Index-Canada scores. (Marozoff et al.)


In a cohort of older persons from southern Italy, those whose eating time was limited to 10 hours had a lower likelihood of cognitive impairment, suggesting that eating time may have an impact on cognitive state in addition to diet quality attributes. (Current et al.)


Clinical trial data on Passiflora incarnate (passionflower) therapeutic efficacy in neuropsychiatric diseases suggests that it may be used to treat anxiety symptoms without causing any untoward side effects. (Janda et al.)


For anxiety disorders, a ketogenic diet may be added to standard psychotherapy and medication. (Wlodarczyk et al.)

 

In Conclusion

Gut Health and Mental Health are intricately related. The gut-brain axis, a bidirectional connection, connects the brain's affective and cognitive regions to peripheral intestine activities. Your emotions, digestion, and cognitive processes are all impacted by this connection between the brain and gut.

Through neuronal, neuroendocrine, and metabolic pathways mediated by a variety of neurotransmitters and their precursors, hormones, cytokines, and bioactive metabolites, microorganisms can alter the connection between the stomach and brain. A compromised state of this relationship may result in the emergence of mental illnesses. Substance use disorders, emotional, psychological, and neurological imbalances, as well as cognitive, psychosocial, and intellectual deficiencies, are estimated to affect one billion people worldwide.

Pro-and prebiotics have the power to restore the natural microbial balance, which means that a healthy microbiota-gut-brain axis may be useful in the treatment and prevention of anxiety and depression as well as in maintaining general mental well-being when combined with a proper and healthy diet and improved lifestyle.


FAQs


1.  Where is the enteric nervous system located?

The enteric neural system (ENS) is one of the primary branches of the peripheral nervous system (PNS) It starts in the oesophagus, extends to the anus, and is embedded in the lining of the gastrointestinal tract.

 

2.  How is gut microbiota beneficial?

Through dynamic bidirectional communication along the "gut–brain axis," gut bacteria work with their animal hosts to control the development and function of the immunological, metabolic, and neurological systems in a notable example of trans-kingdom symbiosis. These processes could have an impact on human health because disturbances in microbial communities have been linked to several neurological illnesses, for example, the connection between intestinal microbiota and depression is very well-researched.

 

3.  What does it mean for the gut microbiota-brain axis to be bidirectional?

The enteric and central nervous systems are connected by a bidirectional communication network called the gut-brain axis. This means when the brain is affected, it affects the gut and vice versa.

This network encompasses not just anatomical pathways but also humoral, endocrine, metabolic, and immunological communication pathways. The brain can affect intestinal activities, such as the activity of functional immune effector cells, through the autonomic nervous system, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, and nerves within the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. The increasing evidence regarding the gut microbiome and mental health connection shows how the gut can also affect mood, cognition, and mental health.

 

4.  Is there a link between eating a lot of processed food and inadequate mental health?

Indeed. A high intake of processed carbohydrates may raise the chance of developing anxiety and depression, for example by causing blood glucose levels to rise and fall quickly and often.

 

5.  What are Psychobiotics?

Keeping in mind the connection between gut microbiome and mental health, the term psychobiotics came into form. When probiotics are being researched or utilised to enhance mental health, professionals employ this term. This is due to research linking probiotic foods to lower levels of anxiety and depression, as these foods are high in fibre, antioxidants, and other healthy nutrients. Among them are: kefir, yoghurt, tempeh, miso, natto, kimchi, sauerkraut, and pickled vegetables.

Although specialists agree that psychobiotics have the potential to improve mental health, they are not a cure-all. Reduced stress, restful sleep, consistent exercise, and a healthy diet all contribute to mental wellness.


Key Takeaways:

• Recently, research on the gut-brain axis has become increasingly popular.

• Brain-based disorders like depression, anxiety, autism spectrum disorder, and Alzheimer's have been connected to altered gut microbiota.

• It is hoped that novel non-invasive diagnostic biomarkers and treatments for mood and mental disorders can be developed by utilising changes in the microbiome.

• Eating habits that are linked to enhanced mental health include the Mediterranean diet.


Written by Laksh Rampal

Edited by Virginia Helzainka


 

References


Verma, H., Phian, S., Lakra, P., Kaur, J., Subudhi, S., Lal, R. and Charu, D. R. 2020. Indian Journal of Microbiology. Springer.


Grosso G., 2021. Nutritional Psychiatry: How Diet Affects Brain through Gut Microbiota. Nutrients. 13(4): 1282.


Morais, L.H., Schreiber, H.L. & Mazmanian, S.K. The gut microbiota–brain axis in behaviour and brain disorders. Nat Rev Microbiol 19, 241–255 (2021).


Clapp M, Aurora N, Herrera L, Bhatia M, Wilen E, Wakefield S. Gut microbiota's effect on mental health: The gut-brain axis. Clin Pract. 2017 Sep 15;7(4):987.


Limbana T, Khan F, Eskander N. Gut Microbiome and Depression: How Microbes Affect the Way We Think. Cureus. 2020 Aug 23;12(8): e9966.




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