How Your Gut Influences Your Emotional Health

Posted on January 30th, 2014 by Dr. Mercola  |  3 Comments »

how gut influences emotional healthMaintaining your emotional health is an important part of promoting overall optimal health. Sadly, it is estimated that millions of Americans suffer from some type of depressive disorder. Medications for such disorders are available in the market, but they may cause you to experience more serious problems in the long run. You’re better off addressing the underlying cause.

Not many people are aware that your digestive health is an important factor in your mental and emotional health. While modern psychiatry often claims that psychological and emotional problems like depression are due to a chemical imbalance in your brain, studies suggest that poor gastrointestinal inflammation may be the real culprit.

This may seem very unlikely, but natural health expert Dr. Joseph Mercola explains that this actually makes perfect sense when you take note of the intricate connection between your brain and your gut.

How Your Gut Became Your Second Brain

Numerous studies have shown that your gastrointestinal system acts as your second brain. In fact, your second brain originated from the same type of tissue as your brain.

During fetal development, one part of the tissue transforms into your central nervous system, while the other develops into your enteric nervous system. These two nervous systems are connected by the vagus nerve, the tenth cranial nerve that runs from your brain stem down to your abdomen.

Dr. Mercola says that your gut has the ability to impact your mind, mood, and behavior, as it contains high concentrations of serotonin, a hormone that is linked to mood regulation.

The simplest example showing your gut’s mood-regulating ability is when you get butterflies in your stomach when you’re anxious. Your thoughts or your brain manifest symptoms in your gut.

What Causes Gut Inflammation

Your gut is home to trillions of microorganisms or “good bacteria” that influence numerous functions in your body, including your mood. In one study, it was found that the probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus helped lower the stress-induced hormone corticosterone, which led to a reduced occurrence of anxiety- and depression-associated behavior.

By eating a diet rich in processed food, sweetened beverages, or any sugar-laden product, the balance of good and bad bacteria in your digestive tract can be compromised, which further affects your mental health. The reason is that excessive sugar allows harmful bacteria and yeast to thrive.

Sugar consumption also triggers various chemical reactions in your body that promote chronic inflammation. It also leads to excessive insulin release that can result in hypoglycemia, which causes your brain to produce high glutamate levels that may trigger depression as well as agitation, anger, anxiety, panic attacks, and an increased suicide risk.

According to one study, depression is often diagnosed alongside gut inflammation and autoimmune diseases. It is also linked to cardiovascular problems, neurodegenerative disorders, type 2 diabetes, and cancer, which are related to chronic low-grade inflammation. Based on these findings, researchers report that depression may be a neuropsychiatric problem caused by chronic inflammation.

This finding proves that not only is inflammation linked to depression, but is also an underlying cause to numerous health problems.

Cure Depression by Addressing Gut Inflammation

Dr. Mercola recommends strictly reducing your sugar consumption to less than 25 grams per day.This will not only keep inflammation at bay, but will also treat depressive symptoms. In addition, this will promote good bacteria balance in your gut.

In addition to this strategy, there are two other ways to optimize your gut flora:

  1. Increase your consumption of fermented foods – Dr. Mercola recommends eating traditionally made, unpasteurized foods, as pasteurization kills the food’s beneficial compounds. His personal choices include:
    • Pickled fermentations of cabbages, turnips, eggplants, cucumbers, squash, and carrots
    • Fermented, organic grass-fed milk, like kefir
    • Natto, fermented soy
  2. Take a probiotic supplement – Although he is not a major proponent of taking too many supplements, Dr. Mercola believes that probiotic supplements are an exception. In order to find a high-quality probiotic, he advises finding a product with strains that are acid- and bile-resistant, so they can survive the journey to your small intestines.

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