Is there a direct connection between our diet and our mental health? The short answer is yes -and the explanation lies in our gut.
Our digestive system is host to a staggering 100 trillions of microbes (mostly fungi and bacteria of different kinds) – that’s 9 times more microbes than there are cells in our body. This delicate, interdependent ecosystem is called the microbiota, and its balance is directly connected to the maintenance of both our physical and mental well-being.
Our second brain
It comes as no surprise that our gut has been called “the second brain”: as much as 100 million neurons are found in the small intestine alone. What’s more -in a study published in 2015 in the journal Cell, researchers have shown that 90% of our serotonin (a mood-stabilizing neurotransmitter) is produced in our digestive tubes. This revelation is huge because it means that the food we put in our bodies directly impacts the way we feel mentally and emotionally.
If our microbiota is out of balance, this can then have a wide range of health repercussions ranging from depression and anxiety, to the lowering of our immune system. So, how do we maintain a healthy gut environment?
Here are four everyday lifestyle tips to look after it.
Plant diversity within our diet
Much in the same way that our environment’s ecosystems thrive on flora diversity (as opposed to, say, monocultures), our microbiota needs a wide variety of plants to process in order to stay healthy, happy and balanced. A diet rich in seasonal (eating seasonal foods means better quality and nutrient-dense) fruits and vegetables, of all colors, shapes and types, is key to maintaining a thriving microbiota and keeping detrimental bacteria at bay.
Unprocessed and pesticide-free ingredients
Here again, the analogy between the soil and our gut is fitting. Pesticides are meant to destroy harmful micro-organisms in crops, but inside our body their toxicity can also alter and disrupt our microbiota’s activity. Sticking with unprocessed, organic and farmers’ ingredients as much as possible is not only better for our soils and ecosystems, it is also better for our gut health.
Our mouth is also host to both good and harmful bacteria that can affect our digestive process down the line. Maintaining a good oral hygiene by brushing our teeth twice a day is crucially important. However, an excessive use of mouth wash has been shown to destroy colonies of helpful bacteria in the oral cavity -so measure is key.
Probiotic rich foods
Fermented food such as kimchi, krauts, tempeh, miso, kefir, kombucha, buttermilk and yogurt all contain the “good” kind of bacteria and can help rebalance or even “repopulate” the lining of our guts after it’s been tampered with, for instance after taking a course of antibiotics. Including these ingredients in our daily diet is a good way to help support our digestive and overall health.
Mind gut connection
As science evolves, we learn more about the connections in our bodies and how it’s all fascinatingly interconnected. Maintaining a healthy and diverse diet impacts our brain health, our mood and our choices, so choose wisely.