Is there a link between Gut Health & Mental Wellbeing?

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We’ve been investigating how gut health can affect your mental well being.

Funnily enough this is not a new discovery! In the 1800’s patients in mental institutions were fed laxatives and ‘mineral tonics’ to purge them of impurities.  Not necessarily the right approach but interesting that a link was considered between the gut and the brain even in those times.

Nowadays we are delighted to report that much more considered studies are taking place to explore the potential links.  In fact in February 2015 the Scientific American reported: “Scientists are increasingly convinced that the vast assemblage of microfauna in our intestines may have a major impact on our state of mind”. 

Some call the gut the ‘second brain’ – the whole of your digestive tract contains millions of neurons that communicate with the ‘first brain’ sending messages that could affect your well-being. This is where sayings like ‘gut-feeling’ and ‘gut instinct’ come from – and is how our gut can account for how we sense something or how we intuitively feel and respond to a situation.

Two human studies have looked at people with major depression and found that their gut bacteria differed from healthy volunteers. It’s not yet clear why there is a difference, but this could be the start of exciting discoveries.  As evidence mounts there could be proof that we can, in part, eat ourselves to mental wellness.  In fact in a paper published in The Lancet in March 2015 an international group of scientists suggested that diet is “as important to psychiatry as it is to cardiology, endocrinology and gastroenterology.”.

So what would a gut healthy / mental wellness diet look like?  It might be something like this:

  1. Eat a wide range of plant based food – the more variety the better to introduce as many different microbes into your gut.
  2. Build the gut bacteria with lots of healthy fermented food and drinks like sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, kombucha and kefir – check the labels to ensure they contain the ‘live cultures’ that will deliver the goodness and haven’t been pasteurised to take all of the good bacteria away!
  3. Use the right kind of dairy products – raw milk and live yoghurt containing beneficial bacteria – probiotics that will add to your gut flora.  If you are lactose intolerant then cultured soy milk or soy yoghurt will do the same job.
  4. Enjoy fruit, vegetables, pulses, nuts and wholegrains like gluten free oats and other fibres like chicory root that are prebiotics, which means the fibre they contain acts as food for your good bacteria to feed off and grow and multiply in your gut.
  5. If you have to eat bread make it sourdough, preferably handmade from an artisan baker.
  6. Choose extra-virgin olive oil over other fats if possible. This has the highest number of microbe-friendly polyphenols in comparison to other oils.

The important things to avoid are sugary, processed foods that can encourage the growth of non-beneficial bacteria and, where possible, don’t take antibiotics.  If the latter is a necessity, then follow the course up with a super gut-friendly diet with lots of probiotics to boost your gut flora as quickly as you can.

This is just the start of us having proof and a real science-based understanding how mental health and diet are linked – the best is really yet to come.  Meanwhile a gut healthy diet is not going to do you any harm so do what you can right away and start to eat yourself to healthiness and happiness.

Click to read more from the Scientific American here.