You Are What You Eat: The Link Between Gut Health and Mental Health
At Fody, we’re all about improving gut health and making sure you live your best life while participating fully in the world around you, all while feeling great! But feeling great isn’t just a matter of digestion; it involves your entire body, from your head to your toes. May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and today, we’re exploring the surprising link between gut health and mental health.
The Science of Gut Health and Mental Health
Though our guts and our brains are pretty much as far apart as human organs get, they’re intimately linked. To understand the link between gut health and mental health, we first have to understand a concept called the gut-brain axis.
According to the National Library of Medicine, the gut-brain axis involves interactions of the “emotional and cognitive centers of the brain with peripheral intestinal functions”; simply put, this means that a series of signals travel from the gut, through the central nervous system, and to the brain. These signals can take a variety of forms, from the release of hormones such dopamine and melatonin, which are partially produced by the gut, all the way to chemicals which control satiety, sugar cravings and even mood.
The presence or absence of certain types of gut bacteria is believed to alter and change these signals, and an imbalance in gut bacteria and gut function may have wide-reaching effects on overall health and mental health in particular. IBS is one of the most-cited conditions associated with dysfunction in the digestive system, and in scientific studies, people with conditions such as anxiety or depression were actually shown to have different populations of gut bacteria than people without these conditions.
An Important Note on Mental Health!
That being said, there are hundreds of species of bacteria in everyone’s gut (yes, even in yours, right now!), and everyone’s specific gut bacteria populations are a little bit different. Gut flora make-up varies across populations and even between entire societies, depending on their traditional diets. There is no exact formula for gut health or for which specific bacteria you should have in what amount, nor is this a simple factor for individuals to control.
An important note from Fody: The science of gut health and mental health is still developing, and if you are experiencing mental health struggles, it’s important to talk to someone you trust or reach out for help. Remember, you’re not alone, and you can talk about what you’re feeling and going through! Mental health is just as important as physical health, and taking care of it is an essential part of taking care of yourself and staying healthy.
De-Stress Your Gut Bacteria!
If you want to improve your gut health overall, there are many things that you can do. Consuming probiotics and prebiotics is one of the most well-known ways to give your gut a bit of TLC; trying an elimination diet can also help you determine if certain foods are causing you to feel bloated, tired or causing digestive issues, and can help you determine switches you can make to improve your overall well-being. A diet rich in leafy greens, fibers, and fermented foods (like kimchi, miso and tempeh) is beneficial for gut health; you can check out more foods that are great for gut health here!
What’s more, the gut-brain axis may be a two-way street! Stress (and particularly chronic stress) is an important factor which can aggravate conditions such as IBS, and reducing your stress has been shown to have positive effects on certain gut-related conditions. Exercise such as yoga, and mindful practices such as meditation, also have benefits which extend beyond the brain right down to gut function. So why not treat yourself to a little relaxation?
Enjoying Life While Improving Gut Health
Throughout the month of May and beyond, we’re wishing everyone good health–whatever that means to you! You can access more resources and education on mental health and learn more at these links. And remember: you don’t have to be perfect to be great – you just need to be yourself.
Eating foods that feel great from the first bite right down to digestion doesn’t have to be complicated, and it doesn’t have to mean missing out on the foods that you love! At Fody Foods, we’re all about cooking up a storm and enjoying every minute of life!
Check out our recipes to find gut-friendly dishes you can whip up in a few minutes, and five-course feasts that won’t leave you feeling bloated. Head over to our products for gut-healthy staples that you (and your gut!) will love!