Why Gut Health is connected to Mental Health
Today, we wanted to share with you guys important information on why gut health is connected to mental health, and how good gut health can help to support a reduction in mental illnesses!
The connection between the gut and brain can be explained through the brain-gut-microbiome axis. Any alterations that are made to the brain-gut-microbiome axis have been shown to be connected to obesity, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) as well as neurological disorders including anxiety and depression. Therefore it is very important to make sure you understand the important interactions between the brain-gut-microbiome axis.
The gut microbes communicate to the central nervous system through 3 channels:
- Gut-derived molecules
- Microbe-derived neuro-active molecules
- Brain connectome
The gut microbiota connects with multiple cells including neuronal, endocrine and immune cells, and changes in the gut function can affect gut microbial behaviour. The gut microbiota communicates to the brain indirectly via gut-derived molecules shown in the above diagram, or directly via the microbe-derived molecules.
The communication between the gut microbiome and central nervous system can be affected by stress, which leads to a cascade of different reactions that trigger a release of endotoxins that cause inflammation.
The immune response then spreads to the central nervous system which can then compromise mental health. Good gut health supports a reduction in inflammation which may lead to a reduction in mental illnesses, shown through the diagram below.
Another study was conducted on how inflammation on your GI tract (gastrointestinal tract) can cause stress on the gut microbiome. The actual mechanisms that connect psychological stress to systemic and neural inflammation is uncovered in the diagram above.
The communication between the gut microbiome and central nervous system can be affected by stress, which leads to a cascade of different reactions that triggers a release of neurotransmitters and cytokines (cytokines are a large group of proteins released by the immune system).
This elevated level of cytokines influences the brain function and thus may lead to anxiety, depression and even memory loss. The diagram below illustrates this inflammatory response.
For those of you wanting to fully understand the diagram above, in summary, the release of cytokines are stimulators for the pituitary gland; The hypothalamus releases a factor, stimulating a release of adreno-corticotropic hormone (ACTH). This ACTH stimulates the release of cortisol, which is a stress hormone that promotes the inflammatory pathway.
Now that we know gut health is related to inflammation, and that inflammation is related to mental health, what foods can we eat that help lead to good gut health?
Resistant starch is a plant prebiotic which acts similarly to a type of dietary fiber. Resistant starch, as the name suggests, resists digestion until it enters the gut, and is then broken down in the colon. It is particularly good at selectively feeding the good gut bacteria leading to the release of short chain fatty acids (SCFA’s) that have a positive effect on a number of pathways within the body.
Resistant starch can be found in a number of plant based foods such as green banana flour, resistant potato starch, cooked and then cooled grains and some nuts and legumes.
Green banana flour is a great source of resistant starch - It is demonstrated in a study from the European Journal of Nutrition, that green banana flour can prevent intestinal inflammation as well as controlling stress.
According to the study, green banana flour can create symbiotic functional foods (when paired with probiotics) and can contribute towards improving gut health. There has also been evidence to suggest green banana flour can have a positive effect in mitigating inflammation in inflammatory bowel disease patients.
Prebiotic soluble fibers are non-digestible, similarly to resistant starch, they are not broken down in our stomach until they reach the end of our colon, where the fibers get fermented by the good bacteria in your gut. This fermentation leads to the production of short chain fatty acids. Short chain fatty acids have been proven to have great gut-nourishing and anti-inflammatory effects!
Good gut health reduces inflammation which has positive effects on mental health, and thus can improve anxiety and depression. There's evidence to suggest that depression and anxiety can alter the composition and stability of the gut microbiota, as well as altering the intestinal barrier.
According to this study, it could then lead to a pro-inflammatory response due to the alteration of the gut microbiota. Evidence also suggests that specific compounds produced by gut bacteria could positively increase the immune responses in depressed patients.
See below the article with studies that show there can be positive effects on anxiety symptoms as well as a reduction in negative symptoms from regulating your gut microbiota.
Not only is prebiotic fiber beneficial to your diet, but including enough dietary fiber as a whole, including both soluble and insoluble fiber, is beneficial to your gut microbiota which affects the resulting-by products.
Observational studies from Oxford Academic Journals, have been conducted to support claims that uptakes in dietary fiber can reduce depression and inflammation. The plausible mechanisms linking dietary fiber intake and depression and inflammation include microbiota-driven modification of gene expression as well as the release of transmitters.
A high fiber diet can potentially lower inflammation by altering the pH and permeability of the gut. The resulting reduction in inflammation can help alter the release of transmitters and reduce symptoms of depression.
In conclusion, we can now understand why prebiotic fiber, resistant starch and total dietary fiber intake are important factors in reducing inflammation in the body, and thereby can help lead to a healthy gut which may play a role in improving mental health.
Here at Uplift Food we ensure a significant dose of all these nutrients, including prebiotic soluble fiber, resistant starches, and total dietary fiber are incorporated into all the functional foods within our ranges.
Our Daily Uplifter includes green banana flour, Jerusalem artichoke soluble fiber and XOS prebiotic, whilst our Gut Happy Cookies offer a unique blend of lupini bean soluble fiber, tapioca fiber resistant starch, together with whole-food fiber sources coming from nut and seed butters as well as tiger nut flour.
Our Daily Uplifter and Gut Happy Cookies incorporate ingredients at levels that have been shown to have prebiotic benefits ,and given the positive effect that prebiotic fiber can have on good gut health and mental health, why not try to up your prebiotic intake! We hope this article was helpful and let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
In good gut health,