The most common conversations we hear about gut health are focused almost exclusively on talk therapy, self-love, setting boundaries, etc. That's all well and good, but there's a huge part of the puzzle that many people fail to acknowledge: gut health.
It's not a sexy topic or a punchy headline, but gut health is the bedrock of mental health yet it's often thrown to the wayside in order to make way for more eye-grabbing subjects. I'll admit it's difficult for me to see celebrities like Selena Gomez talk extensively about mental health while promoting her new app that's focused on mental wellness, and yet not a single time do celebrities like her mention the importance of gut health. All the other stuff doesn't even matter if you're not paying attention to what's going on in your tummy.
How Does Gut Health Affect Mental Health?
There's a fascinating connection in your body called the gut-brain axis, which is a bidirectional communication between the central and enteric nervous system. This strongly connects the function of your intestines to the cognitive center of your brain. The microbiome in your gut constantly sends information to your brain (and vice versa) by means of neural, endocrine, and immune communication. The main role of the gut-brain axis is to link the emotional functions of your brain with what happens in your intestines. In short, a healthy gut equals a clear, happy mind.
The microbiome in your gut constantly sends information to your brain (and vice versa).
A dysfunctional gut can lead to a plethora of mental and emotional issues, including depression, anxiety, poor memory, foggy brain, increased stress, and erratic emotions. In fact, the connection between your gut and your brain is so strong that just one round of antibiotics (which significantly disturbs your gut flora and microbiome) can significantly increase your likelihood of depression and anxiety.
You can do all the therapy sessions and self-love seminars you want, but if you're not treating your gut well and actively working to restore the function of your intestines, your question for mental health is a waste of time.
Which Habits Destroy Gut Health?
It's not wonder why so many Americans are suffering from depression and anxiety. It's estimated that over 8% of Americans suffer from depression at some point in their lives, and this statistic was from 2020. The standard American diet is full of seed oils, processed and packaged foods, and meals that are generally too large of a portion with very little nutrients. It's no wonder so many Americans suffer from mental health issues.
Gut health is very commonly destroyed by consuming the type of unhealthy diet that includes processed foods, soda, and saturated fats. Gluten and dairy are two common ingredients that wreck your gut lining and can cause leaky gut (this is when food particles escape through your gut lining and get into your bloodstream), and yet these two are in just about everything we eat. Another surefire way to wreck your gut health is to eat erratically; in other words, you starve yourself throughout the week and barely eat anything, but on the weekend you have a huge blowout where you consume thousands of calories in one sitting (usually junk food). Gut health is also impacted by lifestyle choices, such as high stress, lack of sun exposure, and poor sleep habits.
Gut health is very commonly destroyed by eating processed foods, soda, saturated fats, gluten, and dairy.
How Do You Restore Gut Health?
Restoring your gut health really isn't that difficult; it just takes time and patience. Eat a diet full of nutrient-dense whole foods, such as animal products (grass-fed meat, eggs, animal organs, etc.), fruits, and vegetables. Get rid of processed and packaged foods, seed oils, and significantly reduce gluten and dairy (for reference, I only eat gluten and dairy once a week). Eat consistently throughout the day, every 2-3 hours rather than waiting until you're starving to have a meal or a snack. This will also help regulate your blood sugar. Add fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha to your diet, and be sure to consume plenty of probiotics, which can either come from yogurt cultures or a supplement.
Establish better sleep habits, go outside more, and spend time with the people you love. These lifestyle choices have an immense impact on your health in general, including your gut.
Another piece of the puzzle is taking necessary supplements to help you get all the micronutrients you need to restore the gut flora and microbiome. While a healthy diet is certainly the foundation, we don't always get all the micronutrients our gut needs. That's why it helps to take a daily micronutrient supplement that will help you restore the gut so you can flourish in your everyday life.
The emotional and physical are inseparable, which is why it's useless to even have a discussion about mental health unless you're also discussing the impact that poor gut health has on people. The good news is, it's never too late to turn things around. Your body has an incredible ability to heal itself if you just give it the right tools.