Scientists are learning more and more about the connection between the gut and the brain all the time. We now know that the signalling between these systems goes both ways, which means that you may be able to affect your mental wellbeing by taking care of your gut.
The gut-brain axis
Scientists call the physical and biochemical connection between the gut and the brain the gut-brain axis. This two-way signalling system connects the gastrointestinal tract (GI tract) and the central nervous system (CNS).
It was previously believed that the communication was more one-way, from the brain to the gut. So although it was clear that mental states such as depression or anxiety, and functional conditions in the GI tract such as constipation or bloating, were connected, it wasn’t clear which way the connection ran. New research suggests that it may be chiefly imbalances in the gut that signal the central nervous system and trigger mood changes.
“Our two brains ‘talk’ to each other, so therapies that help one may help the other,” says Jay Pasricha, M.D., director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Neurogastroenterology.
Here are 4 good ways to affect your mental wellbeing by improving your gut health:
Beside the feel-good endorphins and stress release that exercise gives you, it’s also been scientifically proven to improve the composition of your gut microbiome. Physical activity both increases the number of beneficial microbial species in your gut, and enriches the microbial diversity.
The science also shows that even small improvements in physical activity, such as going from no exercise to a little bit of activity every day, make a difference to your gut health.
2. Reduce stress
Your tummy is often the first place you can feel stress manifest itself in your body. Long-term stress can trigger GI issues such as constipation, digestive issues and diarrhoea, and chronic stress can lead to more serious issues such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Fortunately, yoga, mindfulness and meditation, are all effective ways to reduce stress and balance the gut.
3. Get lots of sleep
Lack of sleep can cause hormonal imbalances and a rise in cortisol, a stress hormone. This type of increased stress has been connected to leaky gut syndrome, an intestinal permeability issue where food and toxins pass through the intestine and into the bloodstream.
Interestingly, sleep and gut health is also a two-way connection. A balanced gut may improve sleep, and good sleep is beneficial to the balance in your gut.
4. Maintain a healthy diet
Improving your diet is one of the most significant things you can do to improve the balance in your gut. Aim for a lot of variation in your diet, particularly when it comes to the range of fruits and vegetables you consume.
A daily probiotic is a great way to support your gut health, and a great way to support the beneficial bacteria in your gut is to also eat a lot of prebiotics - mainly fruits and vegetables which contain fibres that nourish the probiotics.
Limiting your intake of sugar, processed foods, and alcohol is also beneficial for your gut health.
To learn more about gut health, read our article where BioGaia Chief Scientist, Gianfranco Grompone, shares the basics of gut health and what role it plays in our health overall.