Mental Health

Nourishing your mental health: how to eat for a healthy microbiome

Have you ever had a gut feeling? The relationship between your gut and your brain is not just in your head.

Studies show that trillions of bacteria in your gut—known as the microbiome—work together to form a complex network that transmits messages to and receives messages from your brain. This research proves that the health of our gut bacteria is closely linked to our mental well-being. What you consume not only nourishes your body, but also your mind.

Hidden in the walls of your digestive system is the enteric nervous system (ENS)—a network of neurons that span the entire digestive tract. Scientists actually call this collection of neurons our “second brain.” The ENS facilitates communication between your gut and your brain, forming the gut-brain-axis. When one side of that axis is sending alarm signals, there can be physical and emotional side effects. 

A healthy microbiome has positive impacts on your physical health like reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. But its effects on your mental health can be just as impactful. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that regulates mood, appetite, sleep, and can even inhibit pain—as you might imagine, it has a significant effect on our mental health! About 95% of our serotonin is produced in the digestive tract. A healthy microbiome means a healthy production of serotonin, and other influential neurotransmitters. Promoting a healthy balance of bacteria in your gut can not only help control inflammation in your body, but it can help improve your mood and energy levels, according to research

So how can we nurture a healthy gut-brain relationship? To improve your gut health naturally, eat a diet rich in whole foods, fruits, and vegetables. A varied diet leads to a diversity of gut bacteria, which is good for gut health. Opting for whole foods will help you get plenty of fiber and fewer harmful additives and sweeteners that can cause inflammation. Antioxidants, which occur naturally in many fruits and vegetables, can also prevent inflammation in your body. Fermented foods like kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, and picked ginger also help build a balanced digestive system thanks to the healthy dose of probiotics they provide.

If you’re curious about the gut-brain relationship, start paying attention to how eating different foods makes you feel. Try limiting processed foods or introducing more fruits and vegetables you might not have a on a regular basis. Take note of any repercussions on your physical and mental health.