Thanks to a growing movement that has revolutionized the way people discuss and understand mental illness, it’s no secret that a large portion of the population struggles with issues like depression and anxiety. In fact, one in five adults deals with mental health conditions—and, intriguingly, it’s believed this may be linked to gut health.
“The gut is the epicenter of our health, and its functioning affects most, if not all, other aspects in the body,” explains Frank Lipman, MD, author of How to Be Well and founder of Be Well. A greater understanding of both mental illness and microbiome interactions has lead scientists to study the relationship between the two systems, and there’s mounting evidence that supports a link between gut health and anxiety. With this continually growing and evolving information, you may soon be on your way to treating mental illness with proper nutrition. Ahead, Lipman explains how gut health and anxiety may be linked and what foods you should eat to take advantage of this connection.
Gut Health and Anxiety
“More and more, we are seeing the direct correlation between gut health and mood,” says Lipman. This is because the gut produces neurotransmitters and hormones that can affect a person’s mood. “If these bugs are compromised in any way, the production of these neurotransmitters and hormones will also be compromised and will affect how we function and how we feel,” he says.
There are multiple scientific studies that back up these statements. A 2016 study conducted by Emily Deans, MD, at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital at Harvard Medical School looked into the role of microbiota in mental health. According to the study, the modern microbiome is drastically different than that of human ancestors due to diet, antibiotic exposure, and differences in the environment. All of this may contribute to changes in brain health.
In 2015, researchers tested theories about gut health and mood on people. They gave healthy participants without mood disorders a four-week probiotic food supplement. Compared to those who received a placebo, participants who took the probiotic had a significantly reduced reactivity to sad moods. Researchers concluded that these results were evidence that probiotics could reduce negative thoughts associated with sad mood.
Additionally, a 2017 study performed on mice concluded that the microbiome is necessary for balancing gene regulators in the brain known as miRNAs. Its findings were based on observations of mice living in germ-free environments that ended up with unusual amounts of anxiety. After researchers reintroduced gut bacteria to the mice, the gene regulators normalized, proving that probiotics could be necessary for maintaining mental health. . .