For better mental health, think good thoughts and take care of your gut. There’s no question that the gut and the brain share a special connection. You brain is directly affected by what you put in your digestive system. Your brain needs energy to function, and your gut helps turn food into energy. But the connection goes beyond that, because like the brain, the human gut (a.k.a. the gastrointestinal system, comprising of the esophagus, stomach, and intestines ) contains an entire nervous system of its own, with nerves, neurons, and neurotransmitters.
These two systems are linked by hormones and nerves, especially the vagus nerve, a kind of communication superhighway. These two systems are on a constant feedback loop, sharing info and triggering chemicals that can influence emotions.
Your gut health can affect how anxious or depressed you are, how you handle stress, even how mentally sharp you feel in the afternoon. A key player in the gut is microbiome where billions of bacteria reside. These bacteria produce neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine and GABA, which has the power to impact brain and body function What you eat feeds these neurotransmitters and your diet determines which type of bacteria thrive.
Yes, gut inflammation can affect how you think and behave. It can be linked to stress levels and mood conditions. ”There is compelling work in the field of nutritional psychiatry showing that changing the diet is very effective in decreasing depression and anxiety symptoms,” says Christopher Lowry, PhD, associate professor in integrative physiology at the University of Colorado Boulder.
Small and steady habit changes will move your gut health in the right direction and can improve your mental health along the way.
Start with simple steps:
Pack in fresh produce
Choose berries and fruit instead of pastries and sweets
Let go of sugared drinks
Drink more water
Eat less red meat
Eat more fish
Find ways to increase omega fatty acids
Less processed foods
Eat a variety of fresh fruits and produce
Embrace fermented foods
After following a Mediterranean diet for 12 weeks, 32 percent of the study experienced some relief from their depression symptoms, compared with 8 percent in the control group. For those who are not clinically depressed, a Mediterranean type diet may still boost mood by improving the microbiome and reducing inflammation.
I invite you to continue to focus on your mental health by making improvements with your diet. I have recently started doing food prep on the weekends so that the choices I make in the middle of my busy week are already sitting in my refrigerator, packaged as little mini-meals that I can take on the run. It has decreased my need to eat out, I have saved money, there is less food waste, and I am making healthy choices with food. If I can do it, YOU can too!
Here's to eating our way to a happier and healthier life!