It’s not just messages about hunger or discomfort that the gut brain sends to your brain. There’s a fundamental link to mental health – between the health of your gut and mood.
What is the link between gut and mood?
On a very basic level poor gut health leads to inflammation, and research is showing that inflammation is intrinsically linked to anxiety and depression.
More importantly over 90% of our serotonin is produced by our gut. In the gut it stimulates peristalsis (muscle movement) and acts as a signal between the gut brain and the head brain. At the same time, in the brain serotonin acts as a vital mood regulating neurotransmitter. This is one of the reasons why a healthy gut is vital to maintaining good mental health.
What is the effect of an unhealthy gut on the link between gut and mood?
Let’s take the example of a moderately common problem – toxoplasmosis.
To combat toxoplasmosis our immune system produces an enzyme, indoleamine-pyrrole 2,3-dioxygenase, referred to for fairly obvious reasons as IDO. IDO combats the toxoplasma by breaking down the chemical it depends on, forcing it into a dormant state.
Unfortunately, the substance that IDO attacks is also an essential ingredient in producing serotonin – the vital mood regulating neurotransmitter. As our head brain relies on the gut for over 90% of its serotonin this widespread infection can have a direct impact on our mental health, even when physically it’s dormant.
To compound this effect the by-products of IDO’s activity lock onto the brain’s pain receptors. The result is the same as when we take pain killers – lethargy and blunted emotional responses. This is a state that the most commonly described anti-depressants, SSRIs, can struggle to address.
How can I promote good gut health and maximise the kink between gut and mood?
Firstly listen to your gut, and what your ‘gut brain’ is telling you. If something disagrees with you be mindful of how this might be impacting on your mood and mental health. If your gut is trying to manage a food intolerance then this might be a driver for any anxiety or depression.
Look at probiotic enriched foods that can successfully your gut, in addition to prebiotics such as onions, shallots, garlic, and artichokes. — as well as prebiotic dietary fibre rich foods and resistant starch rich foods are all going to be beneficial for overall gut integrity.
Take a look to at fermented foods too – kimchi, the Korean fermented cabbage, natural yoghurts, and sauerkraut – even if your taste buds don’t thank you, your gut brain and your head brain will.
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