If you think mental health issues are all in your head, think again. I’m not a doctor, but I’ve come across a lot of research, including a 2017 review, that points to a strong connection between gut health, moods, and mental health.
Warriors aren’t afraid of a few bugs, which is a good thing because your gastrointestinal tract is packed with about 100 trillion microorganisms—bacteria, yeast, and other bugs—that are in constant communication with your brain. The connection is so strong, experts call it the gut-brain axis.
Some of the microorganisms in your gut can release neurotransmitters just like your brain’s neurons do. For example, approximately 90 percent of the body’s serotonin—one of the most important neurotransmitters impacting mental health—is produced in the gut. Studies show that imbalanced levels of serotonin have been linked to the following mental health issues:
- Major depressive disorder
- Anxiety disorder
When the gut’s ratio of good bugs to bad bugs is in balance, it provides a foundation for healthy neurotransmitter production. But when you have too many harmful microorganisms, it can lead to a condition called gut dysbiosis, which has been linked to the mental health issues mentioned above.
Some of the causes of gut dysbiosis include:
- Chronic stress
- Taking antibiotics, birth control pills, pain medication, or anti-inflammatories
- Consuming foods with pesticides
- High intake of sugar or food additives
- Consuming more than two glasses of alcohol per day
- Poor dental hygiene
Taking care of your gut is foundational for your overall health. And if you’re dealing with anxiety and depression or other mood issues, it’s so important to take a Warrior approach to eating. Some simple diet tweaks that support a healthy balance of gut flora include:
- Avoiding sugar and artificial sweeteners
- Avoiding processed meats
- Avoiding dairy
- Eating organic, pesticide-free foods
- Eating foods high in prebiotics (fiber-rich foods)
- Eating foods high in probiotics (sauerkraut, kimchi)
- Taking probiotic and/or prebiotic supplements
- Limiting alcohol to no more than two or three alcoholic beverages each week.
Scientific evidence has shown that probiotics and prebiotics may help support a healthy microbiome. In fact, some research has shown that probiotics can mitigate symptoms of depression and anxiety at levels similar to prescription medications
Find out more about the connection between gut bacteria, brain health, and mental wellness in our podcast with nutritionist Zoe Davis:
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