Employee Wellness: The Gut’s Impact on Mental Health
The term “gut feeling” used to be just a saying. However, now it is widely understood that there really is a connection between our gut and the thoughts and feelings that we experience. In fact, your gut health can have a significant impact on your mental health. Recent studies have shown that the gut-brain connection is much stronger than we originally thought, and that improving gut health can improve mental health symptoms. In this post, we’ll explore the gut-brain connection and discuss some tips for improving your gut health. Stay tuned – it’s time to get digestive!
The Gut-Brain Connection
The gut-brain connection is a hot topic in health these days, and for good reason. Mounting evidence suggests that gut health can have a profound impact on our mental health. The gut-brain connection is a two-way street: not only can gut health influence brain function, but brain function can also influence gut health. This gut-brain connection is sometimes referred to as the gut-brain axis.
There are a few different ways that gut health can impact brain function. For one, the gut is home to trillions of microbes, which play a role in everything from immune function to nutrient absorption. Imbalances in the gut microbiome have been linked to conditions like depression, anxiety, and even autism. What's more, the gut produces neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which help regulate mood and sleep. When there's an imbalance in gut neurotransmitter production, it can lead to changes in mood and behavior.
Finally, the gut has a direct line of communication with the brain via the vagus nerve. This nerve runs from the brainstem all the way down to the abdomen, and its primary function is to relay information between the gut and the brain. When this communication is disrupted, it can lead to problems with cognition, emotion, and even physical movement.
Ways to Improve Gut Health for Better Mental Health
By now, it is probably clear that the connection between the intestines and the brain is a strong one. Luckily, there are several ways to enhance gut health to improve mental health. Some of them include:
Eating a healthy diet
Eating a healthy diet is essential for gut health (we will dive deeper into this soon!). Exercise also helps to promote gut health by reducing inflammation and increasing blood flow to the intestines. Reducing stress is important for gut health because chronic stress can lead to inflammation and changes in the gut microbiota. Taking probiotic supplements is another way to support intestinal health. Probiotics are live bacteria that can help to restore the balance of the gut microbiota.
Foods That Improve Gut Health
Making sure your diet is rich in foods that help improve intestinal health is one way to capitalize on the gut-brain connection. Here are some of the best gut-friendly foods to eat regularly:
Soluble fiber: Soluble fiber dissolves in water and forms a gel-like substance in the intestine. This helps to keep things moving along smoothly and can help to reduce constipation and other digestive issues. Foods high in soluble fiber include oatmeal, flaxseeds, and Brussels sprouts.
Prebiotic foods: Prebiotics are a type of fiber that feeds the good bacteria in the gut. They can be found in foods like onions, garlic, bananas, and whole grains.
Probiotic-rich foods: Probiotics are live bacteria that are beneficial for gut health. They can be found in fermented foods like yogurt, kimchi, and sauerkraut.
Colorful fruits and vegetables: Antioxidants boost collagen production. They are found in abundance in colorful fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, pink grapefruits, and papayas. Collagen can help to heal the gut lining, which is why it is great to consume these foods regularly.
By eating these gut-friendly foods regularly, you can help to improve your gut health and keep your digestive system running smoothly.
So, what does all this mean for our mental health? Well, there is still more research to be done, but the evidence so far suggests that maintaining a healthy gut can help promote a healthy mind. So, if you're looking for ways to boost your mental well-being, start with your gut!
Learn more about improving your gut health and mental health, as well as other wellness programs offered by Wellness Workdays.
Written by: Carley Bowering, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern
1. PLOS Biology