The Gut-Brain-Axis: Anxiety, Depression & Gut Health
Does the size of your belly dictate your mood?
Do digestive symptoms take you on an emotional roller coaster?
Do you one day feel blissful and cured, and the next feel like you want to strangle someone with the extra material of your loose-fitting, bloat-disguising shirt?
Did you know that the persistence of negative emotions is actually a common symptom experienced by those with digestive disorders?
In other words, you’re not just a crabby pants, but rather a victim of your own biology.
Most individuals experiencing bloating and digestive symptoms seem anywhere from blissful to bipolar when it comes to their mood.
I get it – I used to be a raging, emotional mess. I couldn’t say the word cry without actually beginning to cry. Happiness turned sadness turned anger was all included in a typical afternoon. But the worst part about it was thinking that it was all me. Thinking that I was somehow a bad person, or an emotional mess of my own doing.
This couldn’t be further from the truth.
The Gut-brain-axis: How Digestive Health Influences Your Emotions
In reality, digestion is becoming increasingly recognized as the epicenter of health. It is where the external environment and our internal biology interact. The gut is responsible for breaking down food and taking up nutrients to be delivered to all systems of our body in order to allow them to function properly. So of course, if your digestive processes aren’t working properly and your nutrient absorption is hindered, there’s a massive probability that a breakdown of your other bodily systems will eventually follow1.
The processes which regulate emotions are no exception to the vast reaches of intestinal influence. In fact, scientific research is increasingly focusing on the signalling pathway between the gut and the brain, known as the gut-brain axis.
The gut brain axis is no more than streams of data about what’s going on in your gut, which are being sent to your brain. In other words, when your gut is healthy, desirable signals are being sent to your brain to report that everything’s A-okay! However, if you’re not digesting properly, if intestinal hormones aren’t being produced and secreted properly, if microbial imbalances are present, etc. this is all relevant information that is going to be sent to your brain2. Once these signals are received, they elicit a complementary biological response from your brain. So, if your digestive health is messed up and sending improper and unfavourable signals, this is going to influence how your brain responds.
In other words, the signals coming from your gut are altering the biological energy in motion – thus impacting your emotions.
These signals are sent from all parts of your body, and so, the longer digestive upsets are left alone, the more systems will be affected, and the more unfavourable signals are sent to your brain. This can often result in a perpetual state of negativity, frustration, and even lead to depression2,3,4,5.
Eating to Enhance Your Mood
Now that you’re educated on the interconnectivity of the brain and the gut, you can probably guess that a great place to begin regulating your emotions is through repairing the health of your gut.
Focusing on intestinal bacteria is typically a great place to begin, as microbes have shown to play particularly important roles in gut-brain-axis signaling and mood regulation2,3,4,5. Additionally, due to the major role of intestinal bacteria in nearly all of our bodily processes, the majority of individuals experiencing Bloating & Digestive Symptoms experience some form of dysbiosis1,6, and therefore intervening at the bacterial stage provides a solid foundation for rebuilding and maintaining your health – no matter what portion of your digestive system has been thrown out of balance.
So today I’d like to present you with some easy nutritional interventions to create a healthier gut and send balanced signals to your brain, in order to achieve an overall happier you!
3 Easy Ways to Balance Bacteria for Improved Mood1. Eat a variety of plants – Eating a variety of plants is one of the best ways to increase the diversity of your gut bacteria naturally. This is a significant factor in regulating mood, as bacterial diversity is becoming recognized as an important part of healthy cognitive and emotional processing5. Intestinal bacteria is incredibly malleable, and has shown to begin responding to dietary changes within 24 hours of altering your dietary pattern7. This is one of the reasons eating a variety of plants is so essential – it promotes growth of a vast array of species, creating a healthy and diverse environment and ultimately contributes to regulating the signals of the gut-brain-axis5.
2. Increase dietary fiber – Increasing dietary fiber has shown to support the growth of healthy microbes and regulate intestinal hormone production8, which normalizes signals being sent to the brain and reduces the amount of emotional and energetic fluctuations you will experience throughout the day. Additionally, fiber is well-known to regulate bowel frequency, which is an essential mechanism for balancing detoxification and nutrient absorption, while playing an important role in your overall bloating and comfort9,10,11,12,13. I once had a professor who spent two hours lecturing on how most people don’t empty their bowels correctly, and constantly feel horrible because they are literally “packed with crap.” Increasing dietary fiber to a minimum of 35g per day from whole-food, plant-based sources (Nilsson et al., 2013) is one of the easiest and most effective ways to tackle digestive issues underlying bloating and low mood.
3. Decrease sugar consumption – high sugar diets have shown to promote a bacterial profile associated with increased inflammatory processes14,15. Inflammation is a critical element in disease, and is capable of disrupting biological processes and signaling in detrimental ways. In fact, a necessary component in the clinical diagnosis of depression is the presence of inflammation. Without inflammation, you cannot be clinically depressed16,17,18. By catering your diet to support the growth of a healthy microbial environment and minimize the presence of inflammation, biological processes will be able to function more efficiently and send healthy, regulated signals to your brain. The visible responses can include less bloating and digestive symptoms with a lifted overall mood. Try eliminating all sources of processed sugar and foods with a high glycemic load, and remember to count the sugar in fruits as part of your recommended daily intake.
Huzzah! Easier than you thought huh? Try out these all-natural, scientifically-proven dietary alterations for a few weeks, and let me know how it improved your mood in the comments below!
Say bye-bye to your bad mood and hello to a happier you!
Health begins in the gut,
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