Why a healthy gut is essential for mood and wellbeing
The gut and brain are connected via a network of nerves and they work in tandem to ensure the body functions efficiently. Gut health is not only important for the immune system, it plays a vital role in brain health too. Learn about the gut-brain connection and why a healthy gut is essential for mood and wellbeing.
How the gut and brain are connected
The gut and the brain are connected via a nerve called the vagus nerve. This nerve acts like a big wire, linking the brain and gastrointestinal system together. At one end, the vagus nerve connects into a part of the brain called the amygdala which is responsible for processing and expressing fear and anxiety-related signals. The vagus nerve travels all the way down through the gastrointestinal system and plugs into the adrenal glands.
The gut communicates with and sends signals and chemical messages to the brain and vice versa. What is interesting though is that the communication going downwards from the brain to the gut is around 10%, whereas signalling going upwards from the gut to the brain is 90%.
This is why a healthy gut is essential for brain health and mood regulation. If your gut bacteria are out of balance, you’re experiencing parasites or any kind of gastrointestinal issues such as IBS or constipation, your gut-brain connection will be negatively impacted.
The importance of gut bacteria
Your gut is home to trillions of microorganisms which comprise of different bacterial species and fungi such as yeasts; these microbes are also known as the gut microbiota or gut flora. Most of the bacteria in your gut are beneficial as they help support your immune system, protect the body against pathogens and assist with food digestion and vitamin production.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that stabilises mood and feelings of wellbeing. Even though serotonin is produced in the brain, 90% of the body’s serotonin supply is found in the gut. When your gut is not working optimally, it can lead to a host of issues including low mood and anxiety.
Symptoms of an unhealthy gut
- Brain fog, poor concentration
- Mood disorders, anxiety, depression
- Sugar cravings
- Fatigue, general sluggishness
- Skin conditions including acne, eczema and rosacea
How to improve gut health
- Cut out foods that compromise gut function including sugar, refined carbohydrates(bread, cakes, pastries, pasta), junk food and trans fats (margarine, rapeseed/canola oil, fried foods). Sugar in particular feeds “bad” bacteria in the gut and can lead to uncomfortable symptoms such as bloating and wind. Instead, eat an organic, whole food diet that is rich in fibre (vegetables, fruit, pulses, beans) quality protein (quinoa, nuts, beans, lentils) and healthy fats (avocado, olive oil, seeds). Include fermented foods in your diet as they are an excellent source of probiotics, providing beneficial bacteria for the gut.
- Avoid coffee and alcohol as they are inflammatory and acidic, often irritating the gut lining and preventing your body from absorbing nutrients efficiently. Try a coffee alternative such as a turmeric latte or chicory coffee (caffeine-free).
- Stay hydrated by drinking sufficient fluids throughout the day. Water is essential for every cell in your body and when you’re hydrated, your digestive system works better. It keeps your bowels regular and you absorb more nutrients. Add some fresh lemon to your water to help cleanse the liver and relieve constipation. Herbal teas are a great way to up your fluid intake, especially in winter.
- Reduce stress and make time for relaxation. Stress can negatively impact your gut and lead to inflammation and poor nutrient absorption. It can also make you more prone to infections and immune-related conditions. Learn how to relieve stress naturally.
- Get good quality sleep. Poor sleep can change the composition of your gut bacteria and encourage you to eat the wrong kinds of foods including sugar-laden snacks. Want a better night’s sleep?
- Move your body daily. Exercise has shown to have a positive impact on gut bacteria  as well as strengthen your gastrointestinal system, and improve constipation and digestion. Learn why exercise is important.
Healthy gut, healthy brain
Maintaining a healthy gut is vital for ensuring clear communication between the gut and brain. An imbalance in your gut bacteria can send a warning signal to the brain and lead mood dysregulation, anxiety and irritability. Optimise your gut health by increasing your intake of high-fibre and fermented foods, staying hydrated and getting good quality sleep.