Scientists sometimes refer to our gut as our second brain, and for good reason. Although it’s not capable of thought or reasoning like the one in our head (based on what we know so far) it’s composed of an entire network of neurons that control autonomic functions in our body like digestion and local blood flow. This network is known as our enteric nervous system, or ENS, and it starts in the esophagus and continues along the entire digestive tract.
The Gut-Brain Axis
Although research is still ongoing, scientists have found an undeniable link between the network of neurons in our gut and our brain: Our mental health can impact our digestion, causing an upset stomach. But, the connection also works the other way around, with imbalances in our gut affecting our mental health. This connection is known as the gut-brain axis.
Our Gut Biome
An important component of our gastrointestinal system is the trillions of bacteria that reside there, making up our gut’s microbiome. This community of thousands of different types of bacteria keeps our gut healthy by helping to control digestion and metabolism. While most of the bacteria are good, sometimes the growth of too much “bad” bacteria can lead to problems with our gut health, like inflammation, gas, bloating, and conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Bacteria and Depression
Research has pointed to the likelihood that an imbalance in our gut microbiome can lead to mood disorders like depression and anxiety. Some bacteria produce neurotransmitters (signals that our nerves send to one another), and one of these neurotransmitters is serotonin, which is mostly produced in our gastrointestinal tract! Studies in mice have shown that inflammation in the gut has produced anxiety, and when researchers restored their gut biome to normal, the anxious behavior subsided (referenced here). More research is needed to fully understand this connection, but it’s apparent that a diverse gut biome is linked to a healthy mind, as well.
Maintaining a Healthy Gut
A gut is a good gut if it is healthy, resilient, and diverse. This means that there are more gut bacteria types than just one species of microbe. The gut microbiome contains trillions of living organisms, including bacteria and microbes, which have an important role in human health. The more diversity of microbes, the better. If you want to support a healthy gut, a good place to start is your diet.
Some gut-friendly foods include:
– fermented foods, such as yogurt, kombucha, and sauerkraut
– prebiotic foods, such as asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, and oats
– whole grains
– lean protein
Additionally, you might want to add a probiotic supplement to your daily routine. Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are beneficial for gut health. They can also be found in food sources such as the fermented foods listed above. Probiotics have been found to have a range of benefits, including:
– aiding in digestion
– reducing inflammation
– boosting the immune system
If you’re struggling with depressed or anxious thoughts, consider boosting your gut health to boost your mood, as well. Contact our experts at WellCentric Health in Reno for more advice on managing your mental health, or visit our Reno office.