Mental health is a growing health concern in our society. It's no wonder since processed foods, an overbooked schedule, toxins, and chronic stress are becoming the norm and can all affect our wellbeing, including our mood.
When you think of the organ that's responsible for your mood, I bet you guess that it's your brain, right? While that is true… what if I told you that another organ is vitally as important- YOUR GUT! You might have heard the saying, "your gut is your second brain." But what does that even mean? Let's jump into it.
The Mind-Gut Connection
Your gut and brain are connected through a communication system called the gut-brain axis. This communication relies on millions of nerves, numerous neurotransmitters, and billions of gut microbes. Because of this communication system, your mind and gut are highly influenced by one another.
Vagus Nerve's Role in the Gut-Brain Connection
Your vagus nerve is your biggest nerve that runs from the base of your brain down into your gut. It can send bi-directional signals to your gut from your brain and vice versa. When your vagus nerve is stimulated, it activates your parasympathetic nervous system (aka your "rest and digest" state). This leads to increased digestion and enhanced mood -win-win!
However, certain things like chronic stress can inhibit the stimulation of your vagus nerve, stopping signals from reaching your gut and cause gut issues and even more mood instability.
Likewise, gut issues like irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn's disease can contribute to reduced vagal tone, suggesting reduced vagus nerve functioning, impacting chemical messengers like neurotransmitters.
How Does Gut Bacteria Affect Mood?
Anxiety and gut health have been shown to be highly linked with one another. Your gut is made up of BILLIONS of bacteria. While you may think all bacteria are bad, that's not quite true. A healthy gut microbiome contains both harmful and beneficial bacteria. Both are needed to have a balanced gut environment.
However, health issues occur when the harmful bacteria flourish and outgrown the good bugs. This is also known as dysbiosis.
So, how can gut bacteria cause anxiety and impact mood? Dysbiosis of your gut can inhibit optimal functioning in your body, including the regulation, production, and absorption of vital nutrients that impact your mental health. One of the ways is by affecting your neurotransmitters.
Neurotransmitters Made In The Gut
Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that can impact psychological functions such as fear, mood, pleasure, and joy. Serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) are specifical neurotransmitters that are linked to mood and anxiety disorders. When these are not balanced, that's when we see mental health issues arise.
While neurotransmitters may play a role in your brain, it might surprise you that some are actually made in your gut! Having a healthy gut is essential in producing the optimal amounts of neurotransmitters.
In fact, 90% of your serotonin (aka your happy hormone) is secreted in your gut. Serotonin also helps balance your circadian rhythms... and we all know how the quality of our sleep can either make or break our day! This is why a balanced microbiome and activated vagus nerve are necessary for improving your mental function and mood.
Importance of B Vitamins for Mood
Did you know there are 8 different B vitamins? And what's fascinating is that they work as a group and need each other to thrive. The absorption of certain B vitamins is dependent on the presence of other B vitamins being available at that time. This is why you see B-complex vitamins...they work better together!
The thing is, B vitamins are produced by bacteria in your gut. More specifically, by a type of bacteria called lactobacillus and bifidobacterium. When your gut microbiome is lacking in diversity and lacking these bacteria, it can impact the levels of B vitamins within your body.
Adequate levels of B vitamins can support mental function and mood. If you are struggling with a vitamin deficiency, specifically folate and vitamin B12, you may be at a greater risk for depression and anxiety.
Supplementing with a vitamin B complex or a probiotic that includes lactobacillus and bifidobacterium, can help your body increase its overall vitamin B levels. This way, your body can respond to stress more effectively and ultimately improve your mood.
A Functional Medicine Approach
As an integrative health & herbal expert, I use personalized nutrition, advanced herbal protocols, environmental detoxification, and lifestyle upgrades to elevate the gut, mind, hormones, and immune system.
When I address mental health symptoms with my clients, one of the main focus areas is your gut. Here are some following tips I may suggest to help you on your healthy journey.
10 Tips To Enhance Gut Health To Improve Your Mood
Consume foods that activate your vagus nerve: seafood (because of DHA & EPA), spinach, seeds, and nuts (because of the tryptophan).
Chew each bite well: this helps break down the food to faster to encourage digestion and nutrient absorption.
Take a probiotic: the best probiotics for mood stability are lactobacillus and bifidobacterium
Eat probiotic foods: kombucha, yogurt, apple cider vinegar, kefir, and fermented veggies
Avoid gluten: this can cause inflammation, impacting your gut bacteria and the structure of your gut lining.
Manage your stress: chronic stress is just bad news overall! Limit your work schedule, make time for things you enjoy, practice mediation, journaling, and spending time in nature.
Activate your vagus nerve/ parasympathetic nervous system: Try yoga, massage, deep breathing, cold showers, and singing.
Add resistant starch to your diet: This helps promote a diverse gut microbe.
Get Functional health testing to investigate dysbiosis, nutrient deficiencies, underlying infections, and food sensitivities- all of which can cause poor gut health and contribute to mental health issues.
Supplementation: based on your functional testing results, your functional health provider can create a personalized supplement and herbal protocol unique to your body. This way, you can restore the nutrients your body needs to help shift your mood and mindset.
If you want to feel happy and energized to really enjoy this one life you have, make an appointment with me, Jessica Meyers. I’m an integrative health & herbal expert that offers comprehensive health and lifestyle evaluation, connects you to the latest functional lab testing, and offers a fully supported path to get you feeling better than you've ever dreamed!