Butterflies in your stomach? Nervous stomach? I’m sure you’ve noticed times in your life when your mood impacted your gut. Well, guess what? There is some science going on there! In fact, there is a growing body of research between gut health and mood. Several theories exist as to how the gut and brain influence one another. As evidence grows, it seems that inflammation, our immune system, the gut biodiversity and the vagus nerve (a nerve that connects the brain to the gut, among other organs) are all involved in this complex dance. Evidence has shown us that there are simple and effective ways to influence our mental health by impacting our gut health.
- Focus on incorporating high-fiber plant-based foods and avoid highly processed/low fiber foods to increase gut microbiota biodiversity. Highly processed foods have been shown to not only decrease the diversity in the gut but they are also linked to higher risk for mental disorders. Visit your local Farmer’s Market to pick up some delicious, seasonal vegetables.
- Consider adding in a good quality probiotic. There is evidence that probiotics have beneficial effects on mood and certain strains can reduce physiological responses to stress. For people with IBS and depression, probiotics have been shown to increase quality of life by reducing limbic reactivity.
- When you eat, try to eat mindfully, without distraction. Everyone has heard of the “flight or fight” response. This is the sympathetic nervous system at play. The opposite of this is our parasympathetic nervous system, or the “rest and digest” system. You want to engage the parasympathetic nervous system when you eat, so that your body can properly break down and absorb the nutrients you are ingesting. Try to avoid screens or work while eating, if weather permits go outside and just observe nature while you eat.
- Eliminate food sensitivities. We know that there is a link between inflammation, intestinal dysbiosis and mental health. When we eat foods that our body is sensitive to, we can increase intestinal inflammation, which may increase intestinal permeability. When this is increased, there may be more circulating endotoxins which is linked to brain inflammation and neurobehavioral dysfunction.
- Eat fish! Many people are lacking fish from their diet, however, the fat in fish is great for brain health and fish has been shown to decrease the risk of depression. Be sure to check out the EWG Seafood guide to find out which fish are richest in omega-3 fatty acids, lowest in mercury contamination and are sustainably produced. My favourite way to eat fish these days is making fish tacos!
You can speak to your Naturopathic Doctor to find out which probiotic strain and dosage might be right for you, and about your potential food sensitivities. If you’re interested to read more about this topic, I suggest the book A Mind of Your Own by Kelly Brogan.
Bruce-Keller, A, Salbaum, M, Berthound, H-R. Harnessing gut microbes for mental health: Getting from here to there. Biological Psychiatry, 2018-02-01, Volume 83, Issue 3, Pages 214-223.
Li, F, Liu, X, Zhang, D. Fish consumption and risk of depression: A meta-analysis. J Epidemiol Community Health, 2016 Mar;70(3):299-304.
Pinto-Sanchez, MI, et al. Probiotic bifidobacterium longum NCC3001 reduces depression scores and alters brain activity: A pilot study in patients with irritable bowel syndrome. Gastroenterology, 2017 Aug;153(2):448-459.
Rienks, J, Dobson, AJ, Mishra, GD. Mediterranean dietary pattern and prevalance and incidence of depressive symptoms in mid-aged women: results from a large community based prospective study. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2013 Jan;67(1):75-82.