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The Surprising Link Between Gut Health and Mental Health

by | Apr 13, 2023 | Mental Health | 0 comments


The gut-brain connection is a term used to describe the communication between your digestive system and your brain. The digestive tract contains more neurons than any other part of your body, which means it’s packed with neurons that can send signals back and forth between different parts of your body. The importance of gut health is becoming increasingly clear as researchers learn more about how important this organ is for overall health–and mental health specifically. There’s even evidence that certain types of bacteria in our guts may help protect against depression!

What is Gut Health?

Your gut is the part of your body that’s responsible for digestion and absorbing nutrients from food. It’s also home to trillions of bacteria, or microorganisms called “gut flora” that help break down food and produce vitamins. The health of your gut flora has been linked to many conditions including obesity, diabetes and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). But what you may not know is that these same bacteria can have an impact on your mental health as well.

What is Mental Health?

Mental health refers to our emotional, psychological and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel and behave. Mental health can be affected by a wide range of factors including our genes, life experiences and the support we get from others. Mental illness includes all diagnosable brain disorders that cause changes in thinking, emotions or behaviour such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder (manic depression). Depression is also considered a mental illness because it affects the way you think about yourself; feel about life; relate to other people; make decisions; handle stress; interact with others; deal with pain or illness; get along with co-workers/bosses at work etcetera – all these things are part of your daily life!

The Link Between Gut Health and Mental Health

The gut-brain connection is a well-known phenomenon, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that there’s more to this relationship than we thought. Studies show that digestive problems like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and chronic fatigue syndrome are linked to mood disorders such as anxiety and depression. Celiac disease has been shown to be associated with cognitive impairment in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). These findings suggest that there may be some overlap between the symptoms of these conditions–and indeed, researchers have observed that patients who suffer from one of these diseases tend to also have another one or two on top of it.

Gut Health and Mood Disorders

One of the most surprising links between gut health and mental health is how closely they are connected. It’s not just a correlation; there is a direct link between the two, and it can be seen through the balance of bacteria in your gut. Researchers have found that there is a strong connection between probiotics (a type of healthy bacteria) and depression symptoms. In fact, one study found that people who took Lactobacillus rhamnosus for four weeks experienced a significant reduction in depression scores compared to those who did not take any probiotic supplements at all!

Gut Health and Cognitive Function

The gut-brain connection is a well-established concept. But it’s not just the brain that can be affected by what you eat. Your digestive system has been shown to have an impact on your mental health as well. In fact, researchers have found that the microbiome–the trillions of microbes living inside our bodies–may play a role in cognitive function. In one recent study published in Nature Medicine, mice were given antibiotics for two weeks to alter their gut microbiomes and then subjected to tests of learning and memory (such as navigating mazes). The results showed that those with altered microbiomes had poorer performance on these tests compared with those whose microbiomes remained intact after treatment ended. This suggests that changes in our microbial makeup could lead to cognitive impairment later in life if left untreated or unaddressed through diet changes like eating probiotics regularly!


Here are some references to studies that support the link between gut health and mental health:

  1. Dinan, T. G., & Cryan, J. F. (2017). Gut instincts: microbiota as a key regulator of brain development, ageing and neurodegeneration. Journal of Physiology, 595(2), 489-503. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5250567/
  2. Foster, J. A., & McVey Neufeld, K. A. (2013). Gut-brain axis: how the microbiome influences anxiety and depression. Trends in neurosciences, 36(5), 305-312. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3845678/
  3. Kelly, J. R., Borre, Y., O’Brien, C., Patterson, E., El Aidy, S., Deane, J., … & Clarke, G. (2016). Transferring the blues: Depression-associated gut microbiota induces neurobehavioural changes in the rat. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 82, 109-118. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27453160
  4. Mayer, E. A., Knight, R., Mazmanian, S. K., Cryan, J. F., & Tillisch, K. (2014). Gut microbes and the brain: paradigm shift in neuroscience. Journal of Neuroscience, 34(46), 15490-15496. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4228144/
  5. Sarkar, A., Lehto, S. M., Harty, S., Dinan, T. G., Cryan, J. F., & Burnet, P. W. (2016). Psychobiotics and the manipulation of bacteria–gut–brain signals. Trends in Neurosciences, 39(11), 763-781. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27693237

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