Your stomach and your mental health have a lot more in common than you might think. Research shows that your stomach can be thought of as your “second brain.” But what does that mean exactly?
Gut health and mental health connection.
Your gut health is connected with your brain through the gut-brain axis. More importantly, the germs in your gut could possibly send you straight into depression.
Before we dive in to gut bacteria and depression, it’s important to realize that you, in fact, have two brains. The second brain lives within your enteric nervous system (ENS), which is the part of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) that controls visceral functions, including the functions of the gastrointestinal tract, pancreas and gallbladder.
Unlike your central nervous system (CNS), your enteric nervous system doesn’t directly control your thoughts, and it isn’t involved in motor function, etc.
What your ENS does, though, is it helps regulate digestion. And in doing so, it communicates with your CNS, acting as a brain for your digestive health.
Earlier research believed that emotional health may influence gastrointestinal issues. But new evidence is actually indicating it may be the reverse: your gut health affects your mental health.
How your digestive health can influence your mood.
According to Jay Pasricha, M.D., director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Neurogastroenterology, irritable bowel syndrome and other bowel problems/gut problems that irritate the gastrointestinal lining like bloating, diarrhea, and constipation may actually send signals to your CNS. These signals trigger emotional responses and mood changes.
“Our two brains ‘talk’ to each other, so therapies that help one may help the other,” Pasricha explains.
She continues, “In a way, gastroenterologists (doctors who specialize in digestive conditions) are like counselors looking for ways to soothe the second brain.”
Furthermore, gastroenterologists looking to help patients with IBS may implement diet changes, stress-relief techniques, and even prescribe antidepressants because they have an effect on nerve cells within the gut.
With the connection between the “big brain” (CNS) and “little brain” (ENS), it is easier to understand how poor gut health can negatively communicate to your CNS and cause anxiousness and depression.
Research links poor gut health to depression.
In addition to the findings above, a recent study of over 2,100 adults produced some interesting results.
Published February 4, 2019 in Nature Microbiology, investigators examined the link between depression and gut microbes in thousands of study participants.
The study concluded that two specific microbes, Coprococcus and Dialister, were “consistently depleted” in those who suffered from depression. These microbes are involved in helping create neurotransmitters to facilitate the communication between the gut and the CNS.
It’s important to note that while researchers indicate this study was merely looking for a connection between depression and gut microbiome, they now have more human studies.
Raes, a professor at KU Leuven-University of Leuven, says, “After all the mouse studies; we now finally have robust human data that points to interesting target organisms that, in the future, may lead to drugs and novel probiotics."
How to create a healthy gut biome.
Since you have two brains that communicate with each other, it’s important to make sure you are taking care of both! So how exactly can you create a gut microbiome where good bacteria can thrive, multiply, and support your mental health and well-being?
Here are some simple tips to achieve a healthy gut biome:
Limit or remove artificial sweeteners from your diet.
No surprise here. Artificial sweeteners have been shown to be harmful to gut bacteria and also cause additional unwanted side effects.Opt for foods that don’t contain artificial chemicals. Lakanto uses monk fruit, as a natural sweetener to sweeten its products.
Eat more fiber. Fiber is super beneficial for a healthy diet. It helps keep us regular, and studies also show that fiber helps feed bacteria.
That’s right, certain types of fiber known as prebiotics–not to be confused with probiotics–help the good bacteria in your gut multiply and thrive. Focus on eating more vegetables and fruits for a healthy dose of fiber, as well as additional vitamins and minerals.
Here are some foods high in prebiotic fiber you can start incorporating in your diet:
- Jerusalem Artichoke
Add probiotics into your repertoire.
Where prebiotics help feed the bacteria in your gut, probiotics introduce new, live bacteria to your microbiome to help nourish your gut and increase its health.
While you can do a quick search online and find thousands of different probiotic supplements, the best kinds come from the food you eat!
Some rich sources of probiotics include fermented foods. Incorporate these foods into your diet to help strengthen gut health:
Diversify your diet—rotate new foods in regularly. Switch up your diet, and add more green and roughage. Research shows, “A healthy gastrointestinal microbiome is dependent on dietary diversity.”
The simplest way to do this is to add some color to your plate. Fill it up with low-fructose fruits, tasty veggies, and with Spring in session, now’s the perfect time to try out new produce!
Be cautious with antibiotic use. If you split up the word “antibiotic,” it literally means “against” “living things,” and in this case, “living things” means the living bacteria in your gut.
One study states, “Microbiome composition can be rapidly altered by exposure to antibiotics, with potential immediate effects on health, for instance through the selection of resistant opportunistic pathogens that can cause acute disease.”
While antibiotics can help fight off infections, frequently overusing them can destroy your gut microbiome, including your good gut health.
Consider intermittent fasting. That’s right, even when you eat can possibly influence your gut health. How?
By limiting yourself to certain eating times, you give your digestive system time to work properly. Research also indicates that intermittent fasting can have positive effects on metabolic syndrome.
Here's a helpful article that breaks down what intermittent fasting is, why it is beneficial, and an explanation of different methods you can try.
To support your mental health, focus on your gut.
It’s important to focus on all aspects of your chi, or life force, if you want to reach your highest potential in health and wellness.
We're passionate about bringing attention to emotional chi and mental health. The connection between mind, body, and spirit is undeniable.
As your second brain, your gut plays a role in helping balance your physical and emotional energy. Start making healthy changes today in order to optimize your digestive health, with a lovely side-effect of better mental health.
If you’re looking for emotional, physical or spiritual inspiration, follow #DiscoverYourChi. Lakanto is on a mission to bring chi to life and offer helpful resources that support your personal journey in finding your life energy. Learn more here!
P.s. Have any tips or tricks you live by that help support your gut health that we didn’t already mention? Leave a comment below, we’d love to hear!