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Improving mental health by starting with your gut

I bet you probably didn’t know that your gut and brain are directly connected?

Or that most of your feel-good hormone is not produced in your brain, but gut?

Researchers are increasingly focusing their attention on the link between the gut and the brain and have now even given it a name: The Gut-Brain-Axis.

The gut is often referred to as the second brain and is lined with 100 million nerve cells. Although serotonin is well-known as a brain neurotransmitter, it is now estimated that approximately 90% of the hormone is produced in the gut via the biochemical conversion of tryptophan, which is a protein building block.

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid, which means that your body can not produce it. Therefore, it is vital that you eat enough good-quality sources of protein to ensure you get enough of this important nutrient.

Therefore, your diet can significantly contribute to your efforts of improving mental health and should form part of any mental health treatment plan.

The gut and brain are also directly connected through the vagus nerve, which is a two-way superhighway.

Studies have shown that altered gut microflora has a direct influence on the levels of serotonin, which can subsequently alter mood and behavior.

Furthermore, an unhealthy gut lining leads to inflammation which can have systemic, far-reached effects for your body, including symptoms like:

  • brain fog;

  • anxiety and depression;

  • mood swings and irritability;

  • poor memory and concentration; and

  • cognitive dysfunction.

If you are experiencing digestive disorders, it’s not unusual to experience disruption to your mood and mental health. Stress and mental health can affect your gut, and the health of your gut can affect your mind.

Further to the effect that your gut has on your mental health, research also shows that gut microflora affects the way our sex hormones (specifically estrogen) are processed. If the gut flora is unhealthy, it can lead to hormone imbalances, which can further affect mental health in a significant way.

Practical ways of keeping your gut healthy:

  • Use a broad-spectrum probiotic daily;

  • Limit alcohol intake to twice a week at the most with one drink at a time for females and 2 for males;

  • Avoid processed foods;

  • Increase the intake of plant-based foods (approx 70% of your diet should be plant-based);

  • Avoid refined foods (anything with white or even whole grain flour);

  • Avoid sugar;

  • Manage stress with different techniques, like breathing exercises, mindfulness, going for walks every day, and doing things you love regularly (hobbies, spending time with the people you love, etc); and

  • Ensure you get at least 8 hours of good quality sleep every night.

Remember, taking care of your gut is taking care of your whole self….

Talk soon


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