Does My Gut Health Affect My Mental Stability?
Struggling with mood swings, anxiety, depression, lack of focus, or memory problems? The reason may not be related to your psyche. The root cause just might lie in your gut. What does your gut have to do with your mental health? A lot! Emotional and psychological pain—nervousness, sadness, stress, and grief—are often expressed with gut distress. Here’s how it happens.
Meet Your Second Brain
Did you know that your gastrointestinal tract is lined with about 100 million neurons? That’s more neurons than you have in your spinal cord or in your peripheral nervous system, which is why the gut is often referred to as the “second brain.” This nerve tissue is in direct communication with the brain inside your skull, which explains why you get butterflies before a big job interview or feel queasy when you’re upset.
Gut Problems = Mental Health Problems
When you have problems with your gut, you’re more likely to have mental health problems. You have about thirty feet of tubing (including your stomach) that goes from your mouth to the other end. This tubing is lined with a single layer of cells with tight junctions that allows you to digest food in an efficient way and also protects it from foreign invaders. Big trouble happens when the cell junctions widen and the lining becomes excessively porous, a condition known as leaky gut.
Leaky gut is associated with a number of mental health issues, including depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, ADD/ADHD, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and Alzheimer’s disease. Leaky gut is also linked to chronic inflammation, along with a host of other issues—from autoimmune diseases (such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, and multiple sclerosis) and digestive issues (gas, bloating, constipation and diarrhea) to seasonal allergies and skin problems (acne, rosacea).
Good Bugs vs. Bad Bugs
Considering all the neurons in your GI tract and the direct communication it has with the brain, the health of your gut is tightly linked to the health of your brain and mind. In large part, the health of your gut depends on bugs. That’s right, your GI tract is host to an estimated 100 trillion micro-organisms (bacteria, yeast, and others), about 10 times the total number of cells in the rest of the human body.
This community of “bugs” is collectively known as the microbiome. The microbiome plays a vital role in the synthesis of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, which has a strong influence on mental well-being. Keeping your gut microbiome healthy is essential to keeping your mind healthy.
Some of these bugs are beneficial to your health and wellbeing while others are harmful. And in a classic “good guys vs. bad guys” scenario, they are all trying to wrestle for control of your microbiome. When the ratio of good bugs to bad bugs is about 85 percent good guys to 15 percent troublemakers, it creates a healthy gut. When the ratio is tipped the other way, the bad bugs cause trouble that can lead to a leaky gut, as well as mental (and physical) problems.
How to Breed More Bad Bugs
Many everyday things can kill off the good bugs in your gut and tip the balance in favor of the bad guys, such as:
- Medications (antibiotics, oral contraceptives, proton pump inhibitors, steroids, NSAIDS)
- Low levels of omega-3 fatty acids
- Sugar and high fructose corn syrup
- Artificial sweeteners
- Allergies to the environment or food
- Insomnia (especially among soldiers and those involved in shift work)
- Toxins (antimicrobial chemicals in soaps; pesticides; heavy metals)
- Intestinal infections (H. Pylori, parasites, Candida)
- Low levels of vitamin D
- Excessive high-intensity exercise
- Excessive alcohol
Tips to Boost the Good Bugs
By avoiding the things that fuel the growth of bad bugs, you can enhance the health of your gut and improve your mental well-being. Other strategies to grow the good army of bugs in your gut include:
- Consume prebiotics: Prebiotics are dietary fibers that promote gut health, such as apples, beans, cabbage, psyllium, artichokes, onions, leeks, asparagus, and root veggies (sweet potatoes, yams, squash, jicama, beets, carrots, and turnips)
- Add probiotics: Eat more fermented foods that contain live bacteria, such as kefir, kombucha, and unsweetened yogurt (goat or coconut); kimchi, pickled fruits and vegetables; and sauerkraut. You can also take probiotic supplements.
At Amen Clinics, we take a comprehensive approach to diagnosing and treating our patients. Through our brain imaging, lab work, and extensive assessment of your personal history, we are able to identify biological, psychological, social, and spiritual factors that may be contributing to your symptoms. With this information, we can help you optimize areas of your life to nourish overall brain and gut health to help decrease your symptoms.
If you would like help finding integrative solutions for your symptoms, call 888-288-9834 today to speak to a specialist or schedule a visit online.