THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN GUT HEALTH AND MENTAL HEALTH
We all know the importance of gut health when it comes to physical health, having links with things like immunity and healthy metabolism, but it’s also pretty important for your mental health too. Believe it or not, gut health and mental health can be closely linked. So it could be said that by looking after one, you’re automatically looking after the other. We explore the relationship between mental well-being and gut health in a little more detail, along with ways for you to keep them both in top condition.
Stress & Gut Health
Let’s start with something we’ve all experienced in our lives at some point or another. Stress. We all know the impact that stress can have on our bodies, both physically and mentally, and we can experience a whole number of symptoms as a result. Physical symptoms of stress, according to the NHS, can include headaches, muscle tension, and of course, stomach problems.
How Stress Affects the Digestive System
According to Everyday Health, stress can interfere with all digestive processes in the body, such as producing enzymes to break down food and even swallowing. This is down to cortisol – also known as the stress hormone. When we’re feeling stressed, anxious or faced with a threatening situation, our body releases cortisol as part of the ‘fight or flight’ response. As a result, we’ll experience a rise in factors like our heart rate, blood pressure and muscle tension; but we can also experience changes in the digestive system too.
When faced with a stressful situation, the amount of acid in your stomach might increase, giving you indigestion; you may experience constipation or diarrhoea, or you may feel sick. We’ve all experienced the feeling of butterflies in the stomach or feeling sick before certain events! Stress can also exacerbate certain digestive conditions too, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), so in these cases especially, it’s important to make sure you manage and deal with stress in a healthy way, which we’ll come to later on.
Mental Health & IBS
While it’s considered an “embarrassing illness,” IBS is actually more common than we might think. According to Bupa, 2 in 10 people in the UK suffer with the condition. It’s a frustrating condition to live with and can come with a range of symptoms such as diarrhoea, constipation, stomach cramps, and bloating. Given these unpleasant and often embarrassing symptoms, it’s no surprise that IBS has quite a strong relationship with mental health conditions. This WebMD article estimates that around 60% of patients with IBS also fit the criteria for mental health disorders, the most common being generalised anxiety disorder (GAD).
When it comes to the relationship between the two, it seems to be akin to the chicken or egg argument. We don’t really know what comes first. It could be that the symptoms are a result of the anxiety or it could be that the anxiety is the result of the symptoms. In some cases, it can even be a combination of the two, creating a vicious cycle. It could be that certain symptoms, such as nausea for example, cause you to feel anxious, but as a result you end up feeling more nauseous which in turn causes you to feel more anxious, and so on. People with mental health difficulties may be more sensitive to stress meaning they’re worse affected than others, or it could even be that people with anxiety are more aware of symptoms that we would otherwise brush off.
While anxiety is most commonly linked with IBS, depression follows closely behind. Working in a similar way to anxiety, it could be that the unpleasant symptoms result in isolation, irritability and low mood; or it could be that depression prevents a person from handling the IBS properly, through things like a lack of motivation or energy to do anything about it.
How Can You Support Your Gut Health and Your Mental Health?
If any of the above seem familiar to you, there are a number of ways that you can work to support your gut health and your mental health. Check out our top tips:
- Work on Managing Your Stress – As we’ve learned, stress isn’t great for our gut as well as our mental health, so it’s important that we manage it well. There are plenty of ways that you can reduce your stress levels, and this includes relaxation techniques, mindfulness, exercise, journaling, or even just taking some time out during the day to curl up with a book or cuddle your pet.
- Increase Your Fibre Intake – While a healthy overall diet is a must, increasing the amount of fibre in your diet is a good way to help with constipation, diarrhoea and bloating – and of course, the less we have those pesky symptoms, the better it is for our mental health! Our delicious Troo Granola and Spoonful of Fibre are both excellent ways for you to get started, and they’re packed with prebiotics too, which helps promote the growth of good bacteria in your gut.
- Exercise – It’s no secret that exercise has a whole host of benefits for the body and the mind. In addition to eating healthily and finding ways to relax, the NHS also advise getting plenty of exercise when it comes to easing IBS symptoms. In addition, we also know that exercise can be a great form of stress relief too, so it’s a double whammy!
- Try Probiotics – Studies have shown that probiotics (aka “friendly bacteria”) in addition to having benefits for gut health, also have the potential to boost mood, help with anxiety and how we handle stress. Foods such as live yoghurt, kefir, miso and sauerkraut are all good ways to add probiotics into your diet.
The bottom line? A healthy gut goes hand in hand with a healthy mind. Taking good care of your gut is a great way to look after your mental health, and taking good care of your mental health is a great way to look after your gut. So, by nourishing ourselves with delicious, nutritious foods and ensuring that we manage our stress, we’re doing the best for our physical and mental well-being!
Written by Amy Jackson – Content and Features Writer at My Favourite Voucher Codes – 19th June 2020