Cindy Pearson Garcia
How the gut microbiome impacts our mental health
Hippocrates is famous for saying that “all disease begins in the gut.” Most of us interpret this to mean physical ailment. However, a building amount of evidence is beginning to suggest that mental/emotional ailments might also be traced back to the gut.
Within each of our digestive tracts live trillions of microorganisms that form what is known as the “gut microbiome.” Composed of bacteria, archaea fungi, and viruses, our gut microbiomes are largely shaped by the foods we eat and the lifestyles we lead. They also have a variety of functions. In a healthy individual, these microorganisms work with our bodies to support digestion and metabolism, contribute essential nutrients, form new blood vessels, strengthen the immune system, synthesize amino acids and vitamins, and promote enteric nerve functioning.
In contrast, when the body experiences a disturbance, such as stress, sickness, poor diet, or antibiotic use, the flora becomes out of balance (dysbiosis), and creates a variety of health conditions. Cancer, obesity, autism, inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, sleeplessness, and decreased immunity are all linked to dysbiosis of the microbiome. An abundance of research also indicates that dysbiosis and inflammation within the gut can cause mental health diseases, such as depression and anxiety.
An article published under the National Library of Medicine reported that people with a psychiatric disorder, including “depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and autism spectrum disorder have been shown to have significant differences in the composition of their gut microbiome. “
Furthermore, inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract is shown to increase cytokines within blood levels, that can impact brain functioning. Memory loss, anxiety, depression, and/or the release of stress hormones can result.
Probiotics, live microorganisms that promote gut health, are now considered to be an important supplement for daily health, specifically those suffering from mental illness. Studies are even suggesting that probiotics have a similar effect in treating anxiety and depression as prescription medications. Authors within the National Library of Medicine report that:
“In a 30-day study, healthy volunteers with no previous depressive symptoms were given either probiotics or antidepressants. Those given probiotics showed reduced cortisol levels and improved self-reported psychological effects to a similar degree as participants administered Diazepam, a commonly used anti-anxiety medication.52 Analogous studies found that probiotic therapy reduced depressive symptoms and improved HPA-axis functionality as well as Citalopram and Diazepam.53,54”
Probiotics can be consumed in pill form or through a variety of foods. Kimchi, sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir, miso, tempeh, and other fermented foods are also excellent ways to feed your gut.
Eating a fiber-rich, plant-based diet is also an essential factor in the health of our gut microbiome. Consuming a diverse mix of greens, herbs, vegetables, fruits, seeds, nuts, beans, and grains daily is key. These foods are made up of fiber that are eaten by microbes and then converted into compounds that decrease inflammation and offer a variety of other important health benefits. Getting enough sleep and exercise is also important for marinating gut health. In turn, eating a diet high in sugar, sodium, additives, and processed/artificial ingredients produces the growth of gut microbes that produce inflammation and other negative health impacts.
For many of us, our stomachs seem like the last thing responsible for our bad mood or psychological suffering. However, science is showing us just how connected all systems in our body are. By simply giving some extra attention to your gut, you may find a welcomed improvement to your mental state.
Nutritional support from a health coach and/or dietician can bring such positive transformation to health. Please check out Kylee Pedrosa if you would like to address dietary changes, learn about nutritional strategies for greater wellness, and get some great recipes for optimal health: https://www.kyleepedrosanutrition.com/