When you tell a friend you’re feeling sad or upset, their first question will likely be, “what happened?” and not, “what have you been eating?” However, what goes into your digestive system can have a significant effect on your mental health. If you’d like to learn how your diet can affect your mind, this guide can explain the connection.
Understanding the Gut-Brain Connection
Medical professionals have found common ground when discussing the “gut-brain connection.” Essentially, the organs that digest your food — such as your stomach and intestines — may be able to affect the way you think and feel.
Scientists have found that your digestive system sends signals to the brain when there’s an imbalance of bacteria. Your gut relies on bacteria to break down food. When they’re unbalanced, they cause inflammation in your organs that can start a chain reaction throughout the rest of your body. Inflammation has been identified as capable of producing fatigue, depression, and anxiety, which in turn can lead to social withdrawal.
This connection might also operate in reverse. If you’re nervous before a job interview or just received troubling news, you might feel nauseous or sick to your stomach. These negative emotions in your mind can trigger a similar response in your gut.
How Diet Can Affect Mental Health
Some medical professionals believe that mental health disorders — like anxiety and depression — can be affected by the balance of bacteria within the gut. Probiotics and prebiotics, the main types of bacteria, can be fed to your system to maintain a healthy balance that can translate to a healthy mind.
Probiotic foods, such as miso, pickled vegetables, sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha, are all products of fermentation, so they contain live bacteria. Prebiotic foods like onions, garlic, asparagus, oats, and artichokes cannot be fully digested and instead ferment inside the gastrointestinal tract.
When you consume the right balance of the two, you can minimize inflammation within your digestive system. A calm and collected stomach might be able to help you on your journey to reduce stress and anxiety.
If you’re hoping to learn how to use the gut-brain connection to improve your mental health, make an appointment with their therapist, Kjersti Bowen, LCSW at Fairbanks Psychiatric & Neurological Clinic APC in Fairbanks, AK. For over three decades, the clinic has been helping patients come to terms with their mental and neurological disorders. Whether you’re dealing with depression, bipolar disorder, or anxiety, call them at (907) 452-1739 to schedule your visit. Visit the website to learn more about their counselors, psychiatrists and neurologists.
Special thanks to Kjersti Bowen, LCSW, for her contributions to this article.