Have you ever heard the expression “Go with your gut”? The all too common terminology exists, because there’s actually a deeply rooted connection between your brain and that little pit in your stomach that makes you feel all the things you do.
“The human gut is lined with more than 100 million nerve cells, more than in the spinal cord or in the peripheral nervous system,” writes Marwa Azab Ph.D. for Psychology Today. “Yes, we have brain cells in our large intestines! This explains why antibiotics which disturb the gut microbial ecosystem might cause neuropsychiatric effects, interact with psychotropic medications, and/or influence our mood. This also explains why mood disorders are so prevalent in patients with irritable bowel syndrome.”
That’s some compelling information!
At KOR, we believe so deeply in the importance of gut health (especially in how it relates to mood), we reached out to our team of experts to learn more about how your gut syncs with your mental health. Check out what they said:
Improved mental health
The gut plays a role in almost every aspect of your health, including your mental health. It’s called the "second brain" for a reason!
In recent years, the term gut-brain connection has even worked its way into our common vernacular, and here’s why:
For years, researchers thought there was only one-way communication between the gut and the brain. They believed signals flowed from the top brain to the down brain, and that was it. Although it's true that stress and anxiety can make conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), chronic constipation, bloating, and diarrhea worse, it’s also proving to be true that these conditions can lead to the gut sending chemical signals up to the main brain (or Central Nervous System - CNS), resulting in actual mood changes.
According to a review published in an online journal in April, 2021, changes to the gut microbiome (aka dysbiosis) have been linked to a variety of mood and anxiety disorders, including major depressive disorder. Another study indicates that dysbiosis often leads to chronic inflammation throughout the body, which can interfere with traditional treatments for depression. Scientists are so excited about the possibilities of this gut-to-brain communication that they are currently designing even more studies to test the effectiveness of probiotic supplementation for depression.
Although the science is still young, it is already indicating that by making small diet and lifestyle changes to improve the health of your gut, you are likely to improve your mental health in the process.
Grace Clark-Hibbs, MDA, RDN, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
The gut contains beneficial bacteria known as the microbiota, which plays a key role in maintaining health in both the body and mind. These health benefits include mental health as well.
To understand the “gut-brain axis,” it’s important to first understand the enteric nervous system. The enteric nervous system is a vast network of neurons that line your intestinal tract and carry messages from the gut, to the brain, and back.
Researchers have found that a direct line of communication exists between the brain and your enteric nervous system – this is what they call the gut-brain axis. This line of communication works both ways, linking the emotional and cognitive centers of the brain with peripheral intestinal function.
Trista Best, MPH, RD, LD, Balance One Supplements
Warding off depression and anxiety
Who would’ve thought that your mental state is also affected by gut health? There is a big correlation between anxiety and depression with gut health, which explains why you have this uneasy feeling in your gut when you’re down. Surprisingly enough, there are studies that confirm that patients who suffer from dysbiosis (gut microbiota imbalance) and inflammation may also suffer from resulting depression and anxiety. Taking care of your gut doesn’t just impact your physical health, but your mental wellbeing as well.
Erik Pham, Managing Editor, Healthcanal
GABA, dopamine, and serotonin
Gut health quite literally affects every area of your health. Your gut is where almost all of your immune cells live, which protects you against pathogens and illness. Your gut also produces many neurotransmitters that affect mental health, such as GABA (Gamma aminobutyric acid), dopamine, and serotonin, all of which affect mental health. Your gut also constantly "talks" to your brain by sending signals through the vagus nerve. Maintaining a healthy gut is key to mental health.
Nutritionist Heather Hanks
It’s a two way street
There is a strong connection between your brain and your gut (via the vagus and the 10th cranial nerve). Not only does anxiety cause digestive problems, but your gut health (conversely) affects your mood. In fact, the gut produces 95% of the feel-good hormone, serotonin. If this balance is disrupted, it can lead to chronic depression and other mood disorders.
Shannon Henry, Registered Dietician, EZCare Clinic
Fermented foods can help
Probiotic-rich foods, like fermented foods, can help improve your gut health, which in turn, improves your mental health.
Probiotics are a combination of live beneficial bacteria and/or yeasts that naturally live in your body. During digestion, certain strains of good bacteria, such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, are introduced into the gut. These live bacteria have a soothing effect on the nervous system and prevent inflammation. Lactobacillus reuteri, for example, signals the brain to release oxytocin, a natural stress reliever. Research shows that restoring balance in the gut can reduce anxiety. Probiotic-rich foods include pickles, pickled fruits and vegetables, sauerkraut, kimchi (Korean cabbage), live-cultured yogurt, miso, kefir (fermented dairy product similar to yogurt), tempeh (fermented soybeans), and kombucha tea (fermented black tea).
In order for probiotics to be effective, it is helpful for them to have prebiotic foods in the gut to digest. Prebiotics are types of fiber digested in the large colon by the gut microbiota. Essentially, they provide a fuel source for the microbiota. Probiotics break down prebiotics to form certain types of fatty acids that help reduce gut inflammation. Foods known to contain a good amount of prebiotics include whole wheat, artichokes, garlic, leeks, onions, and asparagus.
Sandi Schwartz, Author, Finding Ecohappiness
The experts agree: there’s a clear link between gut health and mood, so it’s time to get your belly tuned up. KOR’s Gut Check combines 'all-mighty' apple cider vinegar (with the mother) with 1 billion CFU probiotics into one quick and easy cold-pressed juice shot. Boost your gut to boost your mood with KOR!