Your brain and your gut are really closely linked. It might sound odd at first. But just think back to anytime you've been nervous and felt your stomach flutter. Or you got bad news, and your stomach dropped. There are clues in our language that suggest we know how our gut is linked to our thoughts and feelings. For example - 'going with your gut', 'getting a gut feeling' and 'gut-wrenching'.
Scientists are only just beginning to understand the full extent of how our gut can affect our brain. One thing that is certain, though, is that your gut health can have a direct impact on your mood. Here's the low down on what's going on, and how you can harness this information to improve your mental health and wellbeing.
How Does Your Gut Affect Your Brain?
Your gut communicates with your brain in two main ways: nerves and biochemical transmitters.
Your guts contain a surprisingly large number of nerve cells. The most important of these is the vagus nerve. This major nerve sends signals or messages in both directions between the gut and the brain.
If you have ever felt sick before a big presentation, then it is this nerve that sent a message from your brain to your stomach. But, that message can go the other way too. If your gut is a little inflamed, you might experience some gastrointestinal discomfort. On top of this, you may also experience feelings of anxiety.
The biochemical transmitters are really fascinating. Some of the chemicals that affect our brains and our mood, in particular, are made in our gut. Our bodies, however, do not make them. They come from the bacteria that live in our gut. There are as many bacteria in your gut as there are stars in the Milky Way. The name for this fantastic collection of life is your microbiome.
The makeup of your microbiome determines how much, and which chemicals are sent to your brain. Since your gut produces around 90% of your body's serotonin (the happy hormone), this is a big deal. A lot of factors determine the makeup of your microbiome. However, the one you can control is your diet.
Your diet choices can promote the growth of good bacteria. These bacteria produce calming and mood-elevating chemicals. Poor diet choices can encourage the growth of 'bad' bacteria, which can have the opposite effect.
What Foods Are Bad For Your Gut, And How Do They Affect You?
Any foods that have the potential to cause inflammation in your gut are going to promote the growth of the wrong sort of bacteria. Foods that are most likely to do this are highly processed foods. Examples of these are sugary drinks, savoury snacks, processed bread and pastry. In other words, what some would consider the main components of a Western diet.
A diet rich in highly processed food can leave you more vulnerable to lethargy and low mood.
What Foods Are Good For Your Gut And Your Mood?
The best foods for your guts are whole foods, fresh fruit and vegetables, and fibre-rich foods. Shifting your diet towards a sharper focus on these items can promote a healthy gut which can lead to the production of more serotonin in your body.
What Vitamins And Minerals Can Help To Keep Your Gut Happy?
Completely changing your diet can be a real challenge. This has never been more true, with everyone locked down at home, snacks are a little too close to hand. If you are struggling to cut back on the 'bad' foods, then there are some supplements you can take, which can help to promote a healthy gut.
L-Glutamine - This amino acid is important in the process of building healthy gut walls. Making sure that you have enough in your diet can keep your gut healthy and reduce the risk of inflammation.
Power Greens/Barley Grass/Wheat Grass - Any of these can provide you with an extra dose of fibre. Adding fibre to your diet is a good way to promote gut health. More fibre will keep everything moving. Which means, when you do eat something a little naughty, it doesn't hang around in your gut doing damage.
B12 Complexes - B12 is important for a healthy immune system. This relates to gut health because, when your gut gets a little inflamed, your immune system kicks into action. An abnormal reaction from your immune system can make things worse, rather than better. So keeping your immune system in tip-top shape is always a good idea.