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Is Gut Health Mental Health?

Globally we are dealing with a mental health crisis. 300 million people suffer from anxiety and 280 million suffer with depression. The health of your gut microbiome plays a significant role in your mental health. We are starting to learn this can be from inflammation and signaling in the body and brain caused by diet, lifestyle, and microbiome diversity. Mostly, you can’t fix the body without fixing the gut and you can’t fix the brain without fixing the gut.  

Let’s go through some anatomy to see how this works. We are all aware of the central nervous system and its relationship with the brain. However, we also have a second brain called the enteric nervous system located in the GI tract. The enteric nervous system has 5 times the number of neurons than your brain. There is a bidirectional highway for communication between your brain and GI tract called the vagus nerve. So, whatever is affecting your gut can affect your brain and whatever is affecting your brain can affect the gut. For example, we have all gotten nervous and been overwhelmed by the feeling of having to go to the bathroom. Or we have been hit with an overwhelming gut feeling that causes us to think a certain way. There was a study that looked at 1.2 million hospitalizations with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) in 4,000 hospitals. These people had some common traits. They were experiencing anxiety, depression, and risk of suicidal tendencies. So irritable bowel can lead to an irritable brain due to the bidirectional feedback through the vagus nerve from the gut to the brain and the enteric nervous system.

Your Gi tract is from mouth to anus and is a vast network of 500 million neurons and hormonal cells. These participate in sending all sorts of signals to your brain, from what nutrients you are taking in, to taste, digestion, motility, blood flow and how full you feel. For example, Ozempic is a peptide that stimulates GLP-1, a feel full hormone. In addition, leptin is another satiety hormone, and many people suffer from leptin resistance. This complex signaling has a lot to do with your composition of gut flora and varies from person to person. This composition of gut flora is called your microbiome. There is a large project called, “The Human Microbiome Project”, to try and determine what is a healthy gut. Outside of testing, my advice is to pay attention to how food makes you feel and the quality and timing of your poop.

Here is where it gets amazing. Half to a third of all the molecules floating around in your blood, which regulate everything in your body, are not human, they are from your gut microbiome. In other words, the bacteria(bugs) in your gut are absorbed into your blood effecting everything. An effortless way to think of this is bad bugs cause bad stuff and good bugs cause good stuff. Healing molecules could be short chain fatty acids, B12, enzymes. Bad molecules from bad bugs are cytokines and endotoxins. So bad bacteria from your gut can produce molecules in your blood and cause stress, inflammation, and dis-ease.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter best known for its role in making us feel good. Serotonin is another that makes us happier and more biologically regulated. Good bacteria in the gut produces 90-95% of serotonin. GABA is another neurotransmitter that can be spiked by healthy bacteria in the microbiome.  BDNF is like miracle growth for our brain and is produced by healthy bacteria. In addition, short chain fatty acids reduce inflammation and can be produced by a good diverse microbiome. So, your gut microbiome produces metabolites that can cross your blood brain barrier causing either positive or negative affects on mood and inflammation.

What are the main causes of poor gut health?

1. The SAD CRAP Diet

First, is our inflammatory SAD CRAP diet in the U.S. That is the Standard American Diet of Carbs, Refined Products, Additives and Ultra Processed foods. These foods are filled with toxic synthetic chemicals like preservatives, emulsifiers, heavy metals, gums, additives, and many different forms of sugar. I have a saying, if you can’t pronounce it, I guarantee your gut and detoxification system will not like it. Ultra processed foods are low on prebiotic, probiotic fibers, and polyphenols. While they are full of sugars, flours and additives that cause bad bugs in the gut. Americans eat on average 150lbs of sugar and flour a year. To put this into context, 200 years ago we ate on average about 15 lbs. of sugar per year. Both sugar and flour cause irritable bowel complications and an influx of bad bugs in your gut. The less ingredients the better it is for your gut health. That is why eating an organic whole food diet, only 80% of the time, can enhance the amount good bugs in your microbiome.

2. Stress

Next, stress plays an enormous role in gut health. Stress summates in the body and is the leading cause of dis-ease in humans. Stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline were intended to be used sparingly, but in our current culture, a drive to work can put people in a stress tailspin for the rest of the day. In a mice study, it only took two hours of stress to start changing the micro diversity in the gut. In married couples that were experiencing relationship stress, leaky gut was more common. In addition, relationship stress caused higher levels of lipopolysaccharides, an endotoxin that causes inflammation and more bad bugs in the gut. In addition, stress can alter gut motility (diarrhea & constipation) It is important to get clear of what is causing stress in your life. To be honest about what you need to relieve stress. Like more rest, exercise, journaling, talking to a professional and learning parasympathetic boosting techniques. These can be things like breathing practices, Thai-chi, meditation, sound healing, saunas, grounding and getting out into nature.

3. Alcohol

Alcohol is devasting to the gut microbiome. Once again leading to bad bugs that trigger bad metabolites affecting our feel-good hormones, increasing inflammation, and confusing physical, mental and emotional bodies. In our culture, alcohol is celebrated to relax and forget about the stress in your life. If we drink alcohol too much it can cause permeability to the gut wall lining leading to leaky gut. This can lead to food particles getting into the blood stream causing inflammation, joint pain, and mood alterations. Your liver, kidneys and pancreas can get overwhelmed by alcohol causing further bad bugs in the gut. Alcohol also causes lack of nutrient absorption. I’m not saying, don’t drink. Just watch how much you are drinking and be honest with yourself.

To conclude, the human body is an integrated system. We know the gut plays an enormous role in mental health. That is why it is important to pay attention to the well-being of your inner garden. Mental deregulation does not have to be only in the head. It can be from your second brain, your gut. Food should not be shopped for like gas in your car. The cheapest and quickest option is not the way to make your inner garden flourish. Food grown from quality soil and harvested with quality management can bring harmony to the body. Food and drinks made in factories with synthetic materials can show your body the kind of disharmony that causes stress. In addition, stress management techniques can help with gut health and help curb alcohol consumption. So, get involved in your healing and start living out your big dreams.  

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