When it comes to improving your mental health, your diet may play a larger role than you expect. Researchers speculate that your digestive tract impacts the development of mental disorders like depression and schizophrenia. Practicing daily gut care can have benefits that extend beyond the digestive system.
In today’s blog post, we’ll explore the connection between gut care and your mental health. Then, let’s dive into some specific strategies for improving your gut health (and your mental health in turn).
The Gut Health-Mental Health Connection
Your gut health and mental health are more intimately connected than many people realize.
Your digestion system contains over 100 million nerve cells which are often referred to as the second brain. This “second brain” is actually your enteric nervous system (ENS), and it plays a huge role in your wellbeing!
The ENS is supported by the bacteria that lives in your digestive system. Your digestive system is home to, on average, five pounds of microbes that help you digest your food. This microbiome is heavily affected by the foods you eat.
Your ENS controls digestion, from the moment food enters your mouth to the moment it leaves your body. Although it’s in charge of digestion, the ENS affects your mood and overall health profoundly. Your second brain doesn’t think, exactly, but it does communicate with the brain in your head.
Gut Health Is Linked To Mental Health Issues
Do you struggle with gastrointestinal issues, like irritable bowel syndrome? Do you deal with other functional bowel problems, like diarrhea, bloating, constipation, or stomach pain?
If you do, you actually have a higher-than-average likelihood of developing depression and anxiety.
Your body is a finely tuned machine, and when something is out of whack, it can throw the whole system off. According to researchers, irritation in the gastrointestinal system could be sending the signals to your central nervous system which cause mood changes.
Think about that for a second! Your gut health may determine whether or not you develop serious mental illnesses.
For decades, scientists believed that anxiety and depression contributed to gastrointestinal issues. But it might be the other way around!
By practicing a bit of daily gut care, you can safeguard both your physical and mental wellbeing.
Gut Care Tips to Boost Mental Health
Spending some time on gut care is essential. If you are seeing a therapist to support your mental health, taking care of your gut is also incredibly important!
Choosing the right foods and promoting good digestion can actually reduce symptoms of certain mental illnesses.
How can you use gut care to improve your mental health? Follow these tips!
Adjust Your Diet
Any conversation about gut care is going to touch upon the importance of a healthy diet. Figuring out what foods contribute to a healthy gut (and which don’t!) is just a starting point.
You may have some food sensitivities that need managing a specific way—create a diet that works for you!
Most people will benefit from removing the highly processed, sugary, and high-fat foods that make up the standard American diet. You can replace them with whole foods instead.
For example, eating collagen-boosting foods, like bone broth or salmon, improves your digestion and protects your intestinal wall. Don’t forget, the walls of your digestive system are home to your second brain!
High-fiber foods also aid in healthy digestion. Many tasty fruits and veggies are high in fiber. This includes avocados, bananas, berries, pears, oats, peas, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts!
You should also include foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s have been shown to reduce inflammation, which also lends itself to healthy digestion.
Fish, like salmon or mackerel, are a great source of Omega-3s. Try flax seeds, too!
Make Sure to Add Probiotics and Prebiotic-Rich Foods To Your Diet
Another aspect of gut care is including probiotics and prebiotic-rich foods in your diet.
Your gut is home to a whole host of bacteria that lives inside you symbiotically. This gut flora, known as the microbiome, actually helps you to digest and also plays a role in your overall health.
Eating foods high in pre- and probiotics supports your microbiome by adding diversity to your gut flora. They also give your preexisting healthy bacteria the food they need to flourish, maintaining a healthy balance!
If you can incorporate some of the following food into your daily diet, you’ll improve your digestion.
Here are some probiotic foods to try:
- Apple Cider Vinegar
- Live Culture Yogurt
Then, try adding these prebiotic-rich foods to your diet:
- Chicory Root
- Dandelion Greens
Work To Improve Your Digestion
Gut care isn’t only about eating nourishing foods – though that’s certainly a large part! You also need to promote good digestion.
For our bodies to fully digest our food, we need to enter a parasympathetic state. This is also called a “rest and digest” state.
You can encourage good digestion by getting into a restful state before eating. It’s actually really easy and only takes a few moments.
Before you eat, try practicing some deep breathing exercises. There are tons of apps that can help you practice mindful eating if you need a little guidance!
Getting into a relaxed, parasympathetic state is an important part of gut care.
Without being relaxed, your body can’t produce the gastric juices you need to fully digest. This means you don’t absorb all of the vitamins, nutrients, and minerals available. Your brain and body need these in order to function at their best.
Practicing daily gut care can help protect you from developing both physical and mental disorders.
A healthy gut contributes to a healthy body and a healthy mind. Choosing the right foods to promote a healthy digestive system might require a bit of a lifestyle change. But it’s well worth it to protect your gut and mental health!