Have you ever felt butterflies in your stomach or felt nauseous when you're stressed or nervous? There is a communication system between the gut and the brain that not only impacts your digestion, but also your mental health. The gut and brain communicate with each other through a complex system of neurons, hormones, and chemicals that influence your overall health and well-being. Gut issues can have a significant impact on our mental health and cause things like anxiety, depression, and mood imbalances. Let’s dig deeper into the connection between your gut and brain, and steps you can take to improve both.
What is the Gut-Brain Connection?
The gut-brain connection refers to the communication that occurs between the gut and the brain. This communication involves a complex system of neurons, hormones, and chemicals that work together to ensure the proper functioning of the body. Your gut is often referred to as your "second brain" because it has a remarkable ability to impact your mental health. Harvard Health has well documented studies that have shown that the health of your gut can affect your mood, emotions, and cognitive function. Over 90% of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood, is produced in the gut. Therefore, an unhealthy gut can lead to imbalances in serotonin levels, which can cause anxiety and depression.
Poor gut health can also increase your long-term health risks. Research has shown that gut health is linked to a variety of chronic diseases, including: Type 2 Diabetes, Cardiovascular Disease, Obesity, Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBS) and even certain types of cancer.
Gut Health and Stress
According to the American Psychological Association (APA) almost half of melanated women reported feeling anxious or stressed out on a weekly basis - and it is impacting our health. Stress is a common trigger for digestive issues. When you're stressed, your body's natural fight or flight response is activated, which can cause your digestive system to slow down or even shut down entirely. This can lead to issues like constipation, bloating, and abdominal pain. Furthermore, stress can alter the composition of the gut microbiome, which is the collection of bacteria and other microorganisms that live in the gut. When stress disrupts the microbiome, it can lead to inflammation in the gut and affect the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin.
Tips for Improving Gut Health
Eating a Balanced Diet
Your diet plays a critical role in gut health. Eating a balanced diet can support the growth of beneficial bacteria in your gut, which can improve your overall health and well-being. Here are some foods to include in your diet to support gut health:
- Bone broth: This nutrient-dense broth can help repair the gut lining and reduce inflammation.
- Ginger: Ginger has anti-inflammatory properties that can help soothe the gut and improve digestion.
- Bananas: High in fiber, bananas can help promote regular bowel movements and improve gut health.
- Fermented Foods: Fermented foods like pickles or sauerkraut are rich in probiotics and can help improve gut health.
In contrast, here are some foods to limit to help improve your gut health:
- Sugar: Consuming too much sugar can lead to an overgrowth of harmful bacteria in the gut.
- Processed foods: These foods are often high in sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats, which can disrupt the balance of bacteria in your gut.
- Alcohol: Drinking too much alcohol can damage the lining of the gut and disrupt the balance
Stress can have a significant impact on gut health. When you're stressed, your body releases cortisol, a hormone that can disrupt the balance of bacteria in your gut and lead to digestive issues and lead to inflammation. Practicing stress-management techniques like meditation, deep breathing, or yoga can help to reduce stress and improve gut health.Taking a few minutes to focus on your breath can help calm your mind and reduce stress. Here is a quick 5-minute deep breathing exercise to get you started:
- Find a comfortable seated position.
- Close your eyes and place one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest.
- Inhale deeply through your nose, allowing your belly to expand.
- Exhale slowly through your mouth, feeling your belly deflate.
- Repeat for 5 minutes, focusing on your breath and allowing your body to relax.
Drinking enough water is essential for gut health. It helps keep your digestive system running smoothly and can reduce the risk of constipation. Here are a few tips for staying hydrated:
- Drink at least 8 glasses of water per day - This is a general guideline, but your needs may vary depending on your activity level and climate.
- Avoid sugary drinks - These can dehydrate you and disrupt the balance of bacteria in your gut.
- Limit high-sodium food - Foods that are high in sodium, like processed foods and fast food, can increase water retention and lead to dehydration.
- Limit caffeine - Drinking too much coffee or caffeinated tea can lead to dehydration and digestive issues. Try replacing that second cup of coffee with herbal tea like peppermint to lemon balm.
- Eat foods with high water content - Foods like watermelon, cucumbers, and oranges can help keep you hydrated.
Upgrade Your Routine with Supplements
In addition to the areas above, adding supplements to your self care routine can help improve your gut health. Adding a quality multivitamin provides a wide range of vitamins and minerals that support overall health, including gut health. Look for a multivitamin that uses natural, whole-food sources of nutrients and is free from artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives. Be sure to avoid synthetic ingredients or other fillers like magnesium stearate that can cause stomach inflammation and digestion issues. A multivitamin should help you increase your levels of Vitamins A, C, and E - these are powerful antioxidants that help reduce inflammation in the gut, while B vitamins support healthy digestion and energy production. Magnesium is another common multivitamin mineral that can help reduce stress and promote relaxation. It works by regulating the release of stress hormones like cortisol and promoting the production of GABA, a neurotransmitter that helps calm the mind and body.
Lion's Mane is a mushroom that has been shown to have neuroprotective properties and may improve cognitive function. It can also help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, which can benefit gut health by reducing stress.
Adding a probiotic complex can also greatly improve your gut health. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that live in the gut and support digestion, immune function, and overall health. Probiotics can be found in foods like yogurt and fermented vegetables, but taking them in supplement form will ensure you are getting the right mix of probiotics. A probiotic complex that contains different strains of beneficial bacteria is better than just one type of probiotic because it provides a wider range of benefits. Each strain of bacteria has its own unique benefits and can support different aspects of gut health. By taking a complex that contains multiple strains, you can ensure that you are getting a variety of benefits that can support overall gut health. Additionally, taking a complex can help prevent the overgrowth of one specific type of bacteria, which can lead to an imbalance in the gut microbiome.
Prioritizing Gut Health
It’s important that we prioritize our health and well-being, including our gut health. The gut-brain connection is a complex system that plays a critical role in our mental and physical health. By making simple lifestyle changes like eating a balanced diet, managing stress, and taking supplements, we can support our gut health and reduce the risk of chronic diseases. So, let's make a commitment to take care of ourselves and our gut health.
The Mela Difference
If you’re looking for a supplement that supports gut health, check out our Daily Essentials multivitamin for melanated women. We provide your daily dose of vitamins, high-dose vitamin d and b12, lion’s mane and five strains of probiotics in only two vegan capsules a day. We use the natural forms of vitamins, and we always avoid harmful fillers and additives.
Harvard Health Publishing. (2018, June 1). The gut-brain connection. Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/the-gut-brain-connection.
National Institute of Mental Health. (2016, February). Anxiety disorders. National Institute of Mental Health. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml.
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. (2020, November). The digestive system and how it works. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/digestive-system-how-it-works.
University of Wisconsin-Madison. (n.d.). The importance of gut health. University of Wisconsin-Madison. https://news.wisc.edu/the-importance-of-gut-health/.