I am all about mental health. That's what I advocate, that's what I'm passionate about, and that's what I do as a career. I preach it, I practice it, and I share it as much as I can with others. For awhile now, scientists (and us ordinary people) have been realizing the connection between our gut health and our mental health. Anyone ever heard of the gut-brain connection, or the gut as the second brain? Well, there's a reason for that.
The gut is the epicenter of our body. Sure, our brain is the executive center and the heart is what pumps our blood, our lungs allow us to breathe... yes, all very important functions. But think about if all of those things are working perfectly, and our mental health is a mess and perhaps we're struggling with a mental illness? Chances are our lives will be pretty complicated and difficult and won't be as simple as having our bodies' functions in order.
So how do we ensure our gut is healthy so that it keeps our brains healthy? We focus on foods and nutrition that build up the gut microbiota to ensure things are performing at an optimum level.
WHAT EXACTLY IS THE GUT MICROBIOTA?
When we're referring to the "Gut" we're referring to the digestive tract. That includes the esophagus and stomach, the small and large intestines, the gallbladder, the liver, and the pancreas.
Gut microbiota is the bacteria that lives in your tummy and your digestive tract. These little guys are also known as gut flora. Some of the gut functions are: help to digest food, create a healthy environment to protect the stomach against toxins, "bad" bacteria, and helps to reduce inflammation.
Gut bacteria produces neurotransmitters, in fact regarding the happy chemical Serotonin, 95% is created in the gut. Serotonin and Dopamine are two neurotransmitters that lead to elevated mood when balanced, so that's a clear sign that the gut and brain are connected.
The gut microbiome also activates the neural pathways from the gut to the brain, specifically the vagus nerve. A gut-brain connection if you will, which is why the gut is sometimes known as the second brain. Seeing that healthy gut bacteria also protects against and reduces inflammation and that many mental illnesses are caused by or worsened by inflammation of the brain - the gut brain connection is even more apparent.
There is an apparent and scientifically proven relationship between having mental health issues and illnesses and having gastrointestinal symptoms like heartburn, indigestion, acid reflux, bloating, pain, constipation, and/or diarrhea. Scientific research done in animals has shown that changes in the gut microbiome and inflammation in the gut can affect the brain and cause symptoms that look like Parkinson’s disease, autism, anxiety and depression.
In order to create a healthy team of bacteria to aid your body in elevating mood, you can eat foods that feed the good bacteria and help them grow, and actually eat the bacteria themselves! Eating a healthy diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables also contributes to a healthy gut.
The live bacteria that live in foods.
- Unpasteurized sauerkraut
- Live cultured yogurt
- Tempeh (fermented soy product)
- Apple Cider Vinegar
The foods that feed the bacteria. The dietary fiber that we can't digest.
- Unripe bananas
OTHER NUTRIENTS TO PAY ATTENTION TO:
Your brain is literally FULL of Omega 3's, so eating more of them is obviously a good thing for your brain. When your brain is healthy, your mental and emotional wellbeing skyrockets! Fish oil can improve symptoms of depression as shown in a study against antidepressants. Both were shown to improve symptoms. Fish oil is a healthy, natural method.
Vitamin B has a neuroprotective affect, meaning it protects your brain from degeneration. Things such as dementia and Alzheimers are also affected by Vitamin B, as well as symptoms of mental illness. A study done on young schizophrenic patients concluded that it reduced the likelihood of a repeat episode of psychosis.
Magnesium is known to have a calming affect on the nervous system, reducing feelings of anxiety. Magnesium melatonin is a perfect example of this and is known to improve sleep.