Do Gut Health and Gut-Healing Foods Really Make a Difference to Your Mental Health?
In this article we take a look at the role that your gut health has on your mental wellbeing. We see how that works and what kinds of gut healing foods could help, or hinder, your mental state. We also suggest some simple foods and herbs that might help to heal your gut and keep your spirits up!
Gut Health and Serotonin
A recent study has shown that an absence of healthy microbial populations in the gut can lead to lowered levels of serotonin in the body. This ‘neurotransmitter’ is really important to your general wellbeing.
Serotonin is a chemical that helps to relay information from one area of the brain to another. It is thought to affect our sleep, mood, appetite, learning, sexual desire and even some social behaviour. Whilst it is produced in both the brain and the gastrointestinal tract, around 95% of serotonin receptors are found in the lining of the gut. In the gut, it helps to regulate bowel movements and contributes towards feeling full when eating a meal.
As a neurotransmitter widely present around the body, it’s thought to contribute to healthy bodily functions as a signal relay between nerve cells. It even warns the body when you’ve eaten something toxic – the gut produces more serotonin, which increase the transit time of the food in your gut, so that you can expel the irritant in diarrhoea. The lowered levels of serotonin in your blood stimulates the area of your brain that makes you feel nauseous.
Gut Health and Anxiety
Findings of a separate study linked microbial gut health to levels of anxiety. The research suggests that a healthy gut helps to maintain proper activity in the areas of the brain which determine feelings of anxiety and fear. An absence of a healthy variety of microflora (bacteria, viruses, fungi) could therefore lead to increased feelings of anxiety.
Does Inflammation Affect Gut Health?
A large portion of your immune system is in your gut. It stands to reason that if your immune system is under stress, from prolonged periods of inflammation-triggering events for example, then the bacteria in your gut become more susceptible to an imbalance.
In the words of Harvard Health: “Your immune system becomes activated when your body recognizes anything that is foreign – such as an invading microbe, plant pollen, or chemical. This often triggers a process called inflammation.” They continue by saying that many major diseases which afflict us, including depression and Alzheimer’s, have been linked to chronic inflammation.
So, we should be avoiding foods that cause inflammation and eating anti-inflammatory and gut healing foods to better our mental health.
Anxiety and Blood Sugar
The kinds of carbohydrates that you eat and the quality of your diet will play a role in how even your blood-sugar levels remain during the day. Spikes and falls in blood sugar can leave you feeling jittery or drained, which is in itself stressful. Maintaining an even blood-sugar level through eating wholesome foods and complex carbohydrates will likely keep you calmer throughout the day.
Gut Healing Foods for Better Mental Health
Avoid Foods that Cause Inflammation*
- Red meat & processed meat
- Lard & margarine
- Sugary drinks
- Fried foods
- Refined carbohydrates – like white breads and pastries
*Remember – it’s not about swearing off foods for life. A healthy lifestyle stems from a healthy, balanced diet where you enjoy everything in moderation!
Try Eating Plenty of Anti-Inflammatory Foods
- Olive oil
- Leafy green vegetables, such as kale and spinach
- Fatty fish with like mackerel, tuna, salmon and sardines
- Nuts like walnuts and almonds
- Fruits such as blueberries, strawberries, oranges and cherries
- Flaxseed oil or ground flaxseeds
Watch Out for Irritant Foods
Know your body. Are you sensitive to caffeine? Does dairy not agree with you? Will gluten leave you feeling uncomfortable? Avoid the foods that upset your stomach and gut, because it may help you to feel happier and healthier.
Gut Healing Herbs
- Calendula – soothes inflammation and acts as a mild tonic for the immune and lymphatic systems.
- Camomile – soothes inflammation. May help to reduce acidity in the stomach and inhibit the growth of stomach-ulcer causing bacteria.
- Fennel – A digestive herb used to relieve bloating and settle stomach pains. Supports your detoxification organs.
- Plantain – A high fibre food that contains lots of Vitamin C and Vitamin A.
Can Herbal Tea Help Gut Health?
Why would herbal tea be more effective in helping your gut than a tincture? It’s different for everyone so use what works best for you. However, since tea is a liquid, it has a large surface area to cover all of the gut. It reaches the area quickly and doesn’t need to break down into a digestible form.
Gut Healing Foods
- Lemon – contains lots of Vitamin C to boost the immune system and fiber to help keep digestion healthy.
- Apple Cider Vinegar – has antimicrobial properties that may help to inhibit the growth of negative bacteria in the gut (although it’s best to dilute it before swallowing as it’s very acidic).
- Chicken/beef/vegetable stock – helps to heal the gut lining and soothe inflamed areas.
Gut Healing Foods – Gut Bacteria
As we’ve seen, a healthy amount of microflora in the gut may help reduce levels of anxiety. Try eating fermented foods, or probiotic yoghurt – these gut healing foods are great for restoring healthy bacteria.