A healthy gut leads to a healthy body. But do you know that it can benefit your mental health? To know more about this connection, we reached out to Megha Terse Mandke, Registered Dietitian, Experienced In Paediatric Oncology and Haematology, LEC-Indian Dietetic Association, Mumbai Chapter.
Understanding The Connection Between Gut and Brain
Mandke said, “The gut-brain connection plays a major role in regulating and smooth functioning of many bodily functions including mental health.” She added that any disturbance in digestive health, particularly in the gut microbiome, is increasingly being linked to the onset of many mental health complexities, such as anxiety, hypertension, depression, and even autism.
A study published in the Irish Journal of Medical Science has established a link between gut conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression, and suicidal tendencies.
Coexisting Nature Of Gut And Mental Health Issues
According to a recent survey conducted by the Country Delight and Indian Dietetic Association (IDA), Mumbai Chapter, about 59% of the people who suffer from gut health issues have mental health issues, like mood swings, poor memory, and anxiety.
The survey carried out among the urban middle-class group in the country, found that 80% of the respondents felt that digestive or gut health issues could lead to long-term lifestyle diseases, like obesity, heart disease, stress, anxiety, diabetes, and fatty liver.
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Mandke said, “The research has shown that the gut microbiome, a collection of microorganisms that live in the gastrointestinal tract, is largely responsible for the connection formed between gut and mental health.”
She said that the microbiome carries out a crucial role in regulating and running the immune system and metabolism. She added “It is also responsible for producing dopamine, a type of neurotransmitter, which determines the feeling of pleasure and happiness. It is also responsible for certain aspects of the brain, like mood, attention, body movement, memory, and motivation.” She said that any disruption in the production of these neurotransmitters can result in adverse mental health.
Gut Hormones And Brain Equilibrium
Mandke said that the human gut also makes many hormones important for regulating the gut and brain equilibrium. She added, “One such hormone is ghrelin, a hunger hormone produced in the human stomach, having antidepressant effects. Leptin, another hormone, controls appetite and affects mood and behaviour.”
Mandke said, “The human gut also contains a high number of immune cells which come in contact with the microbiome and control gut inflammation. Therefore the immune system also has a major role to play.” She said that any disruption of the immune cells in the gut can cause chronic inflammation, eventually leading to mental health conditions like depression.
She said, “The microbiome in the human gut is also related to the regulation of the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis, responsible for the stress responses in the brain.” She added that any deregulation of the HPA axis can cause stress and anxiety. She added, “According to Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal, microbiomes in the gut can impact the HPA axis by increasing the production of stress hormones like cortisol.”
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Measures for Better Gut Health
Understanding the complex gut-brain connection and its health implications holds the key to the treatment and proper management of mental health conditions.
Mandke advised managing stress since it can have a major impact on gut health. She added, “Individuals should formulate strategies to manage stress, which will also be beneficial for digestive health.” She suggested including deep breathing exercises and meditation to help manage stress.
Another way of taking care of the gut is to increase the intake of dietary fibre daily. Mandke said, “Fibre is a type of carbohydrate found in farm fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Dietary Fiber serves as food for the microbiome in the gut.” She added that a high-fibre food intake can improve microbiome diversity and reduce inflammation. Additionally, a study on ScienceDirect points out that a diet rich in fibre was associated with fewer risks of depression.
Mandke recommended consuming probiotics and prebiotics. She said, “Probiotics, which can be found in foods like yoghurt, are microorganisms that aid health benefits. Prebiotics are food components that lead to the growth of beneficial gut bacteria.” She added that people can also include physical activity in their daily routines such as walking, jogging, or climbing stairs to improve their digestive and mental health.
[Disclaimer: The information in this article is provided by a registered dietician. However, we recommend you consult your healthcare provider for a diet plan as per your body’s requirements.]