Did you know that poor gut health can affect your mental health and wellbeing? Rosie Weston, Nutritional Therapist and CNM graduate explains.
Poor gut health shows in a wide variety of symptoms which may not appear related – from bad breath to skin rashes, foggy brain, forgetfulness and confusion, and even breathing problems can have a link to gut issues. The ones that would be instantly recognisable would be bloating, burping, diarrhoea or constipation, smelly and/or frequent wind, heartburn or undigested food in stools. Food intolerances can affect the heart rhythm – if you eat a food that doesn’t agree with you, your heart rate can go up (and stay up) for up to six hours after you’ve eaten it. So, if you go to bed having eaten something that disagrees with you, you may stay awake due to the reaction you experience to the food, without knowing it.
Inflammation in the digestive system can be caused by a range of factors such as medications, environmental toxins and pathogens. Research shows that intestinal inflammation is associated with depression-like symptoms and neuropsychological disturbances. Increased levels of bacterial endotoxins (toxins bacteria produce which provoke an immune response) can affect behaviour and mood and, in particular, increase anxiety levels.
Poor digestion and assimilation of food may lower the absorption of crucial nutrients which the body needs to help produce neurotransmitters. Not only that, but up to 90 per cent of serotonin (our ‘happiness hormone’) is produced in the digestive system with this process is controlled by gut bacteria.
Diet and mental health
Many people understand the connection between a poor diet and physical illness, but a poor diet also has a huge effect on our mental health. Many of our neurotransmitters are made from proteins which need to come from the diet. Serotonin, our happiness and wellbeing neurotransmitter, is made from tryptophan (found in nuts and seeds, cheese, turkey, bananas) and dopamine, our pleasure neurotransmitter, is made from tyrosine (found in beef, nuts and seeds). Research shows that a lack of such nutrients can cause lower levels of these neurotransmitters resulting in low mood and aggression.
There are numerous studies which outline the beneficial nutrients such as omega 3, B vitamins, magnesium and zinc have on our mental health. Including these as part of a balanced diet will go a long way to supporting our mental health.
Other factors to consider include foods that can negatively affect mental health; stimulants which are known to invoke anxiety and a diet high in sugary foods and refined carbohydrates can lead to an increased risk of depression.
To improve your gut health, eat a good organic diet, in season, hopefully locally sourced and free from toxins, taking time out to relax and enjoy life (a good ‘belly laugh’), improve your sleep hygiene. An environment supporting healthy living (free from EMF emissions, moulds, chemical toxins and polluted air) go a very long way towards repairing and maintaining good gut-brain health.