Pre-interview jitters that make you lose your appetite.
Game-day anxiety and nausea.
A bloated tummy after a stressful day.
These are all examples of your powerful gut-brain connection.
Is gut health impacting your mood?
But can gut health actually affect your mood?
Science says that your gut is your second brain. This is because the gut and brain are in constant communication with each other via the gut-brain axis.¹
So, by balancing your gut, you may indeed be able to improve your mood.
Today we’re going to explore the gut-mood connection and give you simple steps to support your mental health with your gut health.
How does gut health affect your mood?
It’s well-known that a healthy gut impacts your energy, skin, and of course, your digestion.² Today we’re going to focus on how your gut impacts your brain chemicals.
Your gut and brain communicate with each other through hormones, neurotransmitters, and immune cells. This explains why mental stress can impact your digestive system, and – conversely – digestive triggers can impact your mental health.³
For example, a first date might cause tummy trouble because you’re nervous, and existing tummy trouble might make you want to skip your date and hide out at home instead.
Why is there such a strong connection between what’s going on in your digestive system and what’s going on in your brain?
It mostly comes down to chemicals. You’ve heard of serotonin, which is also referred to as your “feel-good” hormone? Well, 95% of your serotonin is produced by and lives in your gut.⁴
When you have a healthy gut and the right amount of serotonin, your mood is likely to be balanced. But too little serotonin can lead to a low mood.
If you have indigestion, bloating, or another gut imbalance, your serotonin may decrease, leaving you feeling sad, anxious, or apathetic – like nothing really matters.⁵
Can a healthy gut improve serotonin levels and mood?
Your body is always seeking balance. When you get a cut, your blood clots, and your immune cells rush in to help you heal.
Similarly, when you eat something you’re sensitive to, allergic to, or something that’s spoiled, your gut works hard to eliminate it. This important task can place an extra burden on your gut and get in the way of its ability to produce enough serotonin. And that can translate to a low mood.
Knowing this, here are some steps you can take to balance your serotonin, gut, and mood.
SEVEN Ways to improve your gut health and your mood
1. Manage stress
When your gut is stressed, your brain is stressed. The two are always in communication.
Stress can increase or decrease contractions and fluid secretions in the digestive system, leading to symptoms like diarrhea, constipation, and abdominal pain.6 Chronic stress can even cause irritable bowel syndrome and ulcers.⁷, ⁸
When your gut health is compromised, feel-good hormones like serotonin and dopamine can get wiped out, leading to a low mood.
How can you manage stress to improve your gut and mood?
Quality sleep is foundational. While you sleep, your gut has a chance to rest and repair. Without that crucial downtime, digestive issues can flare up.
Whole foods play a large role in stress management too. Anti-inflammatory foods like vegetables, beans, wild fish, and healthy fats can help reduce stress, improve gut health, and balance mood.⁹
Finally, if you’re stressed, you may want to look at the role of caffeine and alcohol in your life. Both are stimulants and have an impact on the central nervous system, which plays a large role in stress levels and, therefore, gut and mood.¹⁰,¹¹
2. Identify Allergens
Allergens are a trigger when it comes to gut and mood imbalances.¹² And many of us don’t even know that we’re allergic to certain foods.
When you eat something your body can’t tolerate, your digestive system becomes irritated. That can easily translate to an unbalanced mood.
The most common allergens are wheat, milk, eggs, tree nuts, peanuts, fish, shellfish, and soybeans. Through testing with your physician, you can identify allergens. When you remove allergens from your diet, you might notice improvements in your gut health and mood.
3. Emphasis on Whole Foods
Your microbiome is the community of organisms and healthy bacteria – or probiotics – living in your gut. Balancing your microbiome is key for gut health and a good mood.
As a key source of probiotics, whole foods are the foundation of your microbiome.¹³ Probiotic-rich foods include ferments like sauerkraut, kombucha, yogurt, and miso.
It’s also important to get enough prebiotics. Prebiotics are what feed your probiotics, helping to maintain your gut health. Prebiotic-rich foods include bananas, asparagus, garlic, and onions.
A wide variety of whole foods can help grow and maintain your healthy bacteria and improve your gut and mood.
4. Limit Processed Foods
While whole foods offer all those great probiotics and prebiotics, processed foods can do the opposite, increasing unhealthy bacteria in your gut.¹⁴ And those unhealthy bacteria can lead to gut and mood issues.
Processed foods include commercial cookies and cakes, chips, soda, fast food, and anything made with refined flour or sugar. Limiting these foods may help improve your microbiome, overall gut health, and mood.
5. Focus on Fiber
Eating a fiber-rich diet has been linked to increased healthy gut bacteria.¹⁵
Here’s how it works: your healthy bacteria feed on fiber. When they don’t have enough fiber, they may turn to your gut lining for nourishment, increasing the risk of gut lining damage and mood struggles.¹⁶
Fiber-rich foods include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, and complex carbs like sweet potatoes. Eating enough of these healthy fiber sources helps keep your gut bacteria happy, your digestive system moving at a healthy pace, and your mood balanced.
6. Reduce Sugar Intake
Sugar can throw your microbiome off balance. It’s been shown to increase unhealthy bacteria and decrease healthy bacteria.¹⁷
This can lead to leaky gut syndrome, where your intestinal lining gets damaged, and toxins from your digestive system enter your bloodstream.¹⁸ Leaky gut syndrome has been linked to anxiety and depression.
Based on blood tests, around 35% of depressed patients show symptoms of leaky gut!¹⁹ The reason? Leaky gut syndrome depletes serotonin and can allow toxic substances into the brain.
Reducing sugar plays a role in supporting a healthy gut, decreasing the risk of leaky gut, and improving your mood.
7. Incorporate Probiotics
You know that probiotic-rich foods are important for good gut health, but in some cases, supplements make the biggest difference.
A high-quality probiotic supplement can improve your good gut bacteria – your microbiome – and therefore improve your digestion and mood.²⁰
Quality is everything when it comes to supplements. If you’re curious about probiotics, speak to your doctor or another licensed professional about which brand is best for you.
The Bottom Line
Gut health is complex, and your situation will most likely differ from your best friend’s. What we know for sure is that gut health does indeed affect mood.
If your gut is dysregulated, you may be more likely to feel sad, anxious, or even depressed.
The good news is that there are so many ways to improve your gut health. Even if you focus on just one through three of the steps we’ve shared today, you may notice improvements in your digestion and mood.
Always speak with your physician before making changes, and get individualized guidance.
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