Jun 14, 2024

How your gut can influence your mental health

Maintaining good mental health could start in an unlikely place

It’s true our digestive health and our mental health are intrinsically linked. It’s a connection known as the gut-brain axis.

Perhaps your “gut feelings” were on to something all along: your brain and your gut are intrinsically linked, according to Chief Medical Officer of the Medtronic Endoscopy Operating Unit Dr. Austin Chiang.

This unusual connection, often referred to as the gut-brain axis, is made possible by a network of nerves, chemicals, and microbes within the body that enable the brain to impact intestinal activities — and the gut to shape mood and mental health.

Chiang answered a few questions about this unexpected connection:

Q: Is it true our digestive health and mental health are connected?

A: This is absolutely true. However, the extent of which this interaction exists is unclear.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS, which millions of people have and is a very common condition, is an example of a category of conditions we call disorders of the gut-brain interaction. And what that means is the nervous system that connects the gut and the brain is a little out of whack. What happens is some people can perceive certain symptoms more than others because those signals between the gut and the brain are, in some ways, overactive. That’s just one example of how the gut can be linked to mental health.

On the flip side, there’s also some evidence to show that stress and other mental health conditions can also cause changes in the gut, such as inflammation which can make existing gut conditions worse.

Q: Are mental health conditions always linked to gut health?

A: The jury is still out on that. We can’t say that all mental health conditions out there such as depression, anxiety, and other types of psychiatric conditions are linked to gut health, or a result of gut health problems. That said, there is growing evidence that perhaps certain parts of the gut, like the gut microbiome — all the bacteria that live within your colon — could be contributing to some of these conditions, or at least impacting it in some way.

Q: When our gut-brain connection feels at a deficit, what foods should we be focusing on and what foods should we be avoiding in our diets?

A: It’s hard to say when we feel our gut-brain connection being at a deficit, but we need to stick to foods that aren’t going to trigger symptoms, and that varies from person to person.

adding value
Chief Medical Officer of the Medtronic Endoscopy Operating Unit Dr. Austin Chiang.

I encourage a balanced diet so you have all the nutrients you need. Fiber is also important to incorporate in your diet so that you can keep good regularity to your gut and it doesn’t bring about any greater stress or exacerbation to your mental health conditions. There’s no specific solution and it really depends on a person’s individual needs.

Q: Which methods besides good nutrition can help maintain good gut and brain health?

A: Generally speaking, it’s avoiding certain types of habits that we know could put you at risk for other, more serious conditions and that includes smoking, drinking alcohol, and being inactive. Physical activity is a good thing not only for your mental health, but for your gut health, too, as it promotes regularity and keeping the circulation going. I always say doing a little bit is better than nothing. On top of that, I also think getting good sleep is underrated. Getting good sleep can impact not only your mental health, but your gut health, too.

Q: Are there any supplements I should be taking to support my gut-brain connection?

A: I don’t think you need to waste your money on all sorts of supplements to improve your gut health or your mental health, but it really depends. There are some situations where you may need added supplementation, but be sure to talk to your doctor about this because there are a lot of supplements being marketed that aren’t regulated and can actually have certain additives that cause more harm than good.



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