While we’re often quick to pinpoint a cause with physical ailments, that isn’t always the case when it comes to our brains. To make things more complicated, there are many factors that can contribute to mood changes, whether it be situational (like losing a job) or something more clinical.
So when it comes to our mental and emotional health, why should we be looking at our gut?
More than 80 percent of your serotonin receptors – or signaling molecules that influence biological and neurological processes such as anxiety, memory and sleep – are located in your gut. Not only is there abundant research to show how our nervous system and digestive system are linked, but many scientists even refer to our gut as our “second brain.”
Though this gut-mind connection is not a new concept (with early research dating back to the 19th Century), it wasn’t widely accepted until the early 21st Century. Today, this link between the enteric nervous system (ENS) and central nervous system even has its own name: the gut-brain axis (GBA). It has even led to the rise of new fields and therapies, such as nutritional psychiatry.
This established connection inevitably means that our nutrition and dietary decisions are going to have an influence on our gut microbiome...and our mood. While sticking to a healthy diet is a good idea, there’s always the possibility that undiagnosed food allergies or sensitivities could be playing a role in your gastrointestinal health. In addition to symptoms such as bloating and stomach cramping, food sensitivities are often correlated with other GI-related medical issues like leaky gut and IBS.
Though there’s clear research on this correlation between our brain and digestive system, there’s still not enough data to tell us whether our gut may be influencing our mood or vice versa. That said, there are still ways we can care for both our mind and our gut simultaneously.
Below are some quick tips for enhancing GI health and improving your overall mood:
Make sure you’re getting enough sleep.
Since we still don’t completely understand the cause-and-effect relationship between the mind and gut, it’s important to take care of your mental and emotional health in the best ways you know how. This starts with ensuring that you’re getting a good night’s rest, or about seven hours of sleep each night.
Get tested for food sensitivities.
Undiagnosed food sensitivities are just one of many factors that directly impact your gut health. If your mood swings are accompanied by fatigue, bloating or other symptoms related to food sensitivities, consult with your physician and consider ordering a test.
Just like with sleep, regular exercise is one of the main components of a healthy mind. Not only does exercise boost your energy levels and combat many diseases, but it also helps you produce endorphins, which directly influence your mood.
Consume nutrient-rich foods.
Making sure you’re consuming enough fiber, probiotics and essential vitamins is a simple way to enhance your gut health and help improve your mood. Pay special attention to your vitamin D levels, as vitamin d deficiencies are often associated with anxiety and depression.
Consider a mind-body therapy.
With the new wave of integrated medicine comes the rise of mind-body therapies, or healing techniques that focus on linking your mind’s interactions with your bodily functions. Acupuncture, yoga, meditation and even massage can all play a role in helping regulate mood changes.