The surprising connection between your gut and mental health

The surprising connection between your gut and mental health

Researchers have spent years studying the brain trying to make sense of mental illnesses, but scientists are now investigating the stomach’s connection to mental health.

While studying mice, a team of international researchers discovered that probiotic bacteria in the gut with anti-depressant and anti-anxiety properties could send signals to the brain through a nerve pathway.

“The gut can act as a ‘gatekeeper’ for information flowing from microbes in the intestine to the brain. This new sensory relay provides an attractive novel target for developing new treatments for psychiatric mood disorders,” said Wolfgang Kunze, principal investigator for the study, in a statement, which was published in the Federation of the American Societies for Experimental Biology.

As more evidence uncovers the power of the gut on mental health, eating a diet that promotes healthy bacteria could become even more important. According to a Harvard University study, in just one day your diet can change which microorganisms — such as probiotics — are in your stomach.

“Ninety-nine percent of the body’s neurotransmitter serotonin, associated with creating a calming effect on the body and mind, resides in the gut versus only 1 percent in the brain,” says Nancy Moran, a registered dietician at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, Illinois. “The bacteria in the gut helps produce nutrients the body needs for health.”

Moran offers these guidelines for a healthy gut:

  • Eat more fermented foods such as kefir, yogurt, pickles and sauerkraut. They have live, active bacteria called probiotics which helps replace gut bacteria.
  • Eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains. These foods contain fiber which is a food for the good bacteria.
  • Avoid excess sugar. Sugar feeds the unhealthy bacteria, allowing it to over grow into portions of the intestines where it does not belong and take over the area where the healthy bacterium belongs.

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  1. Diane Michelson May 29, 2014 at 8:50 am · Reply

    Wow, I did not know pickles and sauerkraut contained probiotics! They are much more readily available and inexpensive then purchasing probiotic supplements. The gut is a problem area that I constantly struggle with when trying to slim down, so if it’s also good for my mental health, I definitely will incorporate them more in my diet.

  2. Lynn Hutley

    Great information, Camille. I need to start enjoying more pickles!

  3. Another reason to eat healthy!

  4. About the only fermented food I like is yogurt. I usually have the sugar-free Yoplait kind every work day.

  5. What an interesting connection – I need to be better about adding in those fermented foods! (but maybe not the pickles and sauerkraut!) 😉

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health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.