Over the past two decades, scientists have been studying the powerful link between gut and brain health. As stated in a 2019 study by Weill Cornell Medicine researchers, people with IBS may also have depleted gut microbiota, along with symptoms of anxiety, depression, and mood disorders. In the study, scientists discovered that mice treated with medication to reduce their microbiota levels showed a reduced ability to learn. The scientists observed that low numbers of gut bacteria changed the way in which brain cells connect.
Poor Gut Health and Depression
Having a healthy microbiome is important to mental wellbeing, with many studies showing that those who consume a poor diet often battle depression and similar disorders. One key study by researchers at the Flanders Institue for Biotechnology found that there are two types of bacteria (coprococcus and dialister) which are consistently low in people with depression and poor quality of life. The research is considered groundbreaking because “gut microbiome-brain communication has mostly been explored in animal models, with human research lagging behind. In our population-level study we identified several groups of bacteria that co-varied with human depression and quality of life across populations.”
Gut Health and Anxiety
Anxiety and depression are the two most common mental conditions in America. Most people associate high levels of stress to anxiety, without thinking of other factors. A recent study published in the journal General Psychiatry, however, confirmed that people with anxiety can be helped through the regulation of gut microorganisms. The secret behind the power of the trillions of microorganisms that inhabit the gut is the important role they play in boosting the immunity and metabolism, reducing inflammation, and providing vital nutrients. In this study, scientists improved gut health by giving participants probiotic supplements and by encouraging them to change their diet.
What Kind of Diet is Ideal for Good Gut Health?
A Mediterranean-style diet (which is rich in fiber-rich fruits and vegetables as well as lean protein, pulses, and healthy fats) is the way to go to grow the many key microbiota which together can provide better gut and mental health. Fiber is crucial because it forms a kind of ‘net’ which gut bacteria require for stability. Fiber-rich foods also include beans and legumes, wholegrain bread, and nuts. Avoid refined and sugar-rich foods, since these can impair gut health and promote insulin resistance and inflammation.
Don’t Overdo the Fat
Healthy, omega-3-rich essential fatty acids (found in extra-virgin olive oil, flaxseeds, and walnuts) promote good gut and heart health but your consumption of fat should not be excessive. A 2019 Baylor College of Medicine found that too much fat can cause the unhealthy increase of a specific hormone called GIP. The latter interferes with the sensation of fullness, thereby leading to the habit of overeating.
Anxiety affects 40 million adults in the U.S. reports the ADAA, while major depression wrests the quality of life of 16.1 million people. Life experiences, genetics, and other factors can be risk factors for these disorders, but simply having low levels of vital gut bacteria can also play an important role. To boost your mental health and wellbeing, remember to make a healthy diet a priority. You can enjoy an occasional treat (or ‘cheat’). But in general, it is all about variety, freshness, and plenty of fiber.