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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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