Have you ever thought about the connection between what’s on your plate and what’s going on in your brain? Although they may seem like two completely different anatomical structures, the gut and the brain are actually partners in crime.
There is a strong communication between our digestive tract and the brain and they are bi-directionally linked though the central nervous system, endocrine system, and immune system. Disturbances in any of these systems can dramatically influence a person’s overall wellbeing- especially their mental health.
We have bacteria in our gut (approximately 300-500 different species) and they deserve a lot of attention when we are talking about our mental health. If you’ve ever heard of the saying “having butterflies in the stomach”, this is a great example of how an exciting or nervous moment felt in the brain is then transferred right into our digestive system. Our gut is essentially our second brain. Think of the bacteria in the gut as the walkie talkie between our brain and gut. Disturbances in the bacteria in the gut which can be caused by things like diet, stress, and medications, can be thought of like missing batteries in the walkie talkies. That disturbance in the connection can be associated with mood swings, poor sleep, irritability, and overall symptoms of anxiety and depression.
You may have heard the term probiotic floating around at some point or seen them lining the shelves at every store. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that we can consume as a pill or in foods such as yogurt or fermented foods that have been shown to reduce anxiety or behavioral signs of distress as well as reduce inflammation. 1,2 A balanced diet that includes plenty of vegetables and fruits, fish, lean protein, whole grains, and healthy fats, will create a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut and therefore improved mental health. Food alone can alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression or in combination with certain medications.
Some foods to include in your diet to promote a diverse gut microbiome:
- Fermented foods (kimchi, sauerkraut, pickles, kefir, tempeh, no sugar added yogurt)
- Jerusalem artichokes (feeds the good bacteria)
- Cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts)
- Blueberries (can modify the bacteria in our gut to improve immune system)
- Beans (contain short-chain fatty acids that are good for the gut)
Try adding in one of these foods to your diet or supplementing with a probiotic. Here is my favorite probiotic brand.
At the end of the day diet, stress reduction, and physical activity are the best recipe to keep the gut and brain happy and healthy. Finding a balance and making small changes that are sustainable for you is what matters the most.
Tillisch K, Labus J, Kilpatrick L, Jiang Z, Stains J, Ebrat B, Guyonnet D, Legrain-Raspaud S, Trotin B, Naliboff B, Mayer EA. Consumption of fermented milk product with probiotic modulates brain activity. Gastroenterology. 2013
Messaoudi M, Lalonde R, Violle N, Javelot H, Desor D, Nejdi A, Bisson JF, Rougeot C, Pichelin M, Cazaubiel M, Cazaubiel JM. Assessment of psychotropic-like properties of a probiotic formulation (Lactobacillus helveticus R0052 and Bifidobacterium longum R0175) in rats and human subjects. Br J Nutr. 2011