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The ScoopImprove your mood by improving your gut health

Part four of a seven-part gut health series

Anyone who’s ever felt butterflies at the sight of their high school crush, grabbed ice cream for comfort during a stressful time, or experienced a stomach-in-knots feeling after a sudden shock knows there’s a strong connection between our stomach and our mental state.

Your gut is sensitive to emotions like anger, anxiety, sadness, and joy, and recent research reveals that our gut microbiome plays a vital role in this connection. Your gut bacteria can directly affect your brain chemistry, mood, and even the way you think.

Your gut is your second brain

Like your brain, your gut is full of nerves called your enteric nervous system (ENS). The ENS uses the same type of neurons and neurotransmitters found in your central nervous system, and it’s often referred to as your “second brain.” Its main role is controlling digestion, breaking down food, and helping with nutrient absorption and elimination. It also plays an important role in your mental health.

What does your gut have to do with your mood?

There is a gut-brain connection that links your central nervous system (CNS), including your brain, with the enteric nervous system (ENS) in your gut.

They are connected in two ways:

  • •  Physically through the vagus nerve, which runs from the brain to the abdomen and is responsible for the regulation of internal organ functions.
  • •  Chemically through chemicals created by gut bacteria like hormones and neurotransmitters, which act as messengers to help regulate digestion and emotional well-being.

Andrea Nazarenko, PhD. and the author of the book When Food Hurts, explains that more than 30 different neurotransmitters and nearly 90% of the body’s serotonin, the feel-good hormone, come from your gut. This means that our mood is influenced more by chemicals created in the gut than in the brain.

Recent studies suggest that supporting gut health by eating a healthy diet like the Mediterranean diet (low in sugar and high in healthy fats) can help improve your mood.

The gut-brain connection

The connection and communication between our CNS and ENS is known as the gut-brain axis.

Communication goes both ways. Your gut can send signals to your brain, just as your brain can send signals to your gut. The gut-brain axis is becoming a vital player in mental health research. It explains why emotions can take a toll on your digestion, but also why digestive problems can affect our mood and cognitive behavior.

Research has only just scratched the surface of the mind-to-microbiome connection. Animal studies show significant neurochemical changes induced by the introduction of different bacteria to the gut. Scientists are excited about the future prospects of improving mental health in humans by altering our gut microbiome.

How to improve your microbiome and your mood

We know that a healthy gut is essential to maintaining overall health, and the best way to support the microbes in your gut is to consume probiotics and high-fiber, prebiotic foods.

Follow the good-gut-health tips in part one of this series to work on improving your gut microbiome. It can help your whole body feel physically healthier and mentally happier!

Gut health series:

Your gut is the gateway to good health (part 1)

How does gut health affect your skin? (part 2

For a balanced immune system, look to your gut (part 3)