Gut Health Leads to Mental Wellness
How Taking Care of Your Gut Can Support Your Mental Health
In This Article
About the Author
Christa Rupar is a Christian Counselor specializing in Marriage Counseling, and Anxiety & Depression. You can schedule an appointment with Christa for online counseling or in-person at our Springfield, MO location.
The Connection Between Gut and Brain
You might have heard in recent health news a lot of buzz about your gut!
It might be kind of surprising to you that the part of the body that we usually associate with the job of digesting our food is now called the “Second Brain”. The connection between gut and brain is becoming more and more evident. While it may seem odd, the discoveries being made are helping to understand the source of many chronic illnesses.
Most important to this context, the research is helping us to gain better understanding of many mental health problems.
Two of the most common mental health struggles of anxiety and depression have roots in gut health.
Statistics tell us that approximately 15.7 million Americans over the age of 18 experience a depressive episode every year and 40 million have experienced anxiety, making it the most common mental illness.
These numbers inform us that these widely experienced mental health problems need our attention. But you may be wondering, what does gut health have to do with it?
Why is your gut called the second brain and how is it connected to mental health?
The lining of your gut houses a system of neurons called the Enteric System. This system works closely with the Central Nervous System and is connected, in what is called the Gut-Brain Axis (GBA), by a nerve called the Vagus nerve.
Your Vagus nerve is responsible for the effect of emotions in your body; for example, the feeling of butterflies in your stomach when you are nervous.
When thinking about your gut, it is important to know that the gut produces 90% of our serotonin and 50% of the body’s supply of dopamine. These two chemicals are the neurotransmitters that have the biggest impact on symptoms of anxiety and depression, explaining why the research is showing that an unhealthy gut can be a cause of depression and anxiety.
The exact response thought to bring on the mood disturbances of anxiety and depression, or other mental disorders, is another medical buzz word: “inflammation”.
When the body is being invaded by harmful processes, the immune system, another system that finds it’s home in the gut, activates a state of being inflamed to combat what is harmful.
What Causes Inflammation?
Inflammation can be caused by stress, poor nutrition, permeated gut, lack of sleep, lack of exercise, and more.
If you have struggled with anxiety or depression, then you know the importance of self-care. Taking care of your gut and reducing inflammation is really a matter of implementing those important tasks of taking care of yourself.
How do you take care of your gut?
Now that we know how important the gut is to mental health, it’s important to know how to take care of the gut. The three biggest ways to support gut health are:
Making sure there is plenty of good bacteria.
Making healthy food choices that fuel your body the way God intended.
Coping with stress and stressors in a healthy way.
Attention to these three areas along with other practical healthy living advice and self-care such as exercise, limiting or abstaining from the use of tobacco and alcohol, getting plenty of sleep, addressing emotional or traumatic feelings, and maintaining a healthy body weight all lead to a happy healthy gut, thus reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression.
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America – https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics#:~:text=Anxiety%20disorders%20are%20the%20most,of%20those%20suffering%20receive%20treatment.
- Axe, Josh. Eat Dirt. New York. Harper Collins Publishers. 2017
- Berk M, Williams LJ, Jacka FN, et al. So depression is an inflammatory disease, but where does the inflammation come from? BMC Med 2013;11:200
- Bullmore, Edward. The Inflamed Mind: A Radical New Approach to Depression. New York. Picador. 2018
- Clapp M, Aurora N, Herrera L, et al. Gut microbiota’s effect on mental health: The gut-brain axis. Clinics and Practice 2017;7:987