How the intestinal-brain connection affects mental health

This article is part of a series on nutritional psychology and how eating food affects our brains and moods.

Nutrition psychology is a relatively new field that has emerged with the goal of taking time to explore the relationship between what we eat and how we feel. Eating to maintain gut health therefore plays an important role in eating mental health how nutrients affect mood and behavior. Food and digestion play an important role in the state of our bodies and minds.

Read on to learn more about the gut-brain connection and what foods to eat for a healthy gut.

Neurotransmitter basics

Our brain cells use chemicals called neurotransmitters to communicate with one another. These chemicals serve a variety of purposes in our bodies and help regulate behavior. For example, dopamine plays a role in cognition and norepinephrine plays a role in responding to stress, stimulating excitement, increasing brain oxygenation and increasing concentration.

The neurotransmitter serotonin helps set the tone for brain activity. It plays a role in our daily rhythm by being involved in our daily functions such as sleep and digestion, and interacts with our endocrine system and affects the production of other neurotransmitters such as melatonin. Serotonin is also a mood regulator, so eating to maintain healthy serotonin levels is a part of mental health.

How the brain and gut are connected

The intestine covers our entire digestive tract (GI), from where food enters the mouth, where waste eventually ends. It acts as an exchange system through which we interact with our environment through our food. The intestine is like a big port that lets in certain substances, lets in specific activities and passes through waste.

Millions of nerve cells and microorganisms (bacteria, archaea and eukarya) align the intestine and interact with each other to influence our mood and provide other benefits. Our microbiota microorganisms are unique to each individual and help to strengthen our intestinal wall muscle cells, promote digestion and support our immune system.

Over 90 percent of serotonin is produced in our gut either directly from the microbiota or through the interaction of the microbiota with nerve cells. Because serotonin affects so many regulatory functions and helps regulate our mood, eating to regulate our mood is to maintain a happy and healthy gut.

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The vagus nerve and the human nervous system

Neurons are special cells that transmit nerve impulses to the brain and central nervous system. Neurons tell the body what and how to do and they are responsible for a large part of human behavior. The human brain contains somewhere around 100 billion neurons.

What Do Neurons Have To Do With Gut Health? As you might expect, neurons are responsible for mediating intestinal-brain communication. Equally, the intestine contains nearly 500 million neurons connected to the brain through the nervous system. One of the most prominent and large nerves that connects the gut to the brain is the vagus nerve, which sends information to and from the gut.

In several animal studies, it has been found that stress can suppress signals that pass through and out of the vagus nerve, which can cause gastrointestinal disease or pain. Human studies have found that patients with IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) and Crohn's disease, both important bowel diseases, have reduced vagal tone. This indicates that the patient's vagus nerve was suffering from function.

Improvement of vagal nerve function

Improving the function of this nerve is one way of strengthening the intestinal-brain connection, thereby improving a person's mood.

  • Learn how to breathe. Your respiratory system and heart rate are closely linked – they are also modulated by your vagus nerve. This may be one reason why practicing yoga on a regular basis can be helpful in reducing stress. Guided breathing exercises can help lower your heart rate and blood pressure, thus increasing your vagal tone.
  • Spend more time in cold places. Cold mood may respond and tone down the activation of the sympathetic nervous system. Regularly taking cold showers or spending some time in cold climates can reduce stress markers and even improve symptoms of depression and anxiety. Cold exposure can also activate gastrointestinal nerves and "activate" the digestive process.
  • Improve your gut microbiomes. We will look at the benefits of gut microbiota later in this article, but it is worth noting that the vagus nerve works with gut microorganisms to facilitate gut-brain communication. By eating probiotic-rich gut-friendly foods, allowing the microbiota in your gut to flourish can improve your mood and overall health.

While there are some things that can improve their vagus nerve, we have a lot of power to improve our gut connection lies in what we eat. Nutrition is by far one of the most powerful ways to improve gut and brain health.

What to eat for a healthy gut and a happier mood

Food varieties for intestinal health

Let's see what chemicals and ingredients make gut healthy food so beneficial and what types of foods you should stock up on to improve your gut-spirit connection.

Tryptophan rich foods

After ingestion and through interactions with the gut microbiota, tryptophan is eventually converted to serotonin and other chemicals. Regularly consuming foods such as rice, soybeans, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, salmon and dark leafy vegetables will ensure you get enough tryptophan in your diet.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Salmon also offers omega-3 fatty acids, what interact with the gut microbiota maintaining a strong intestinal wall and increasing the production of anti-inflammatory compounds. It seems a myth that only beneficial omega-3 fatty acids such as mackerel, herring, sardines and anchovies can be found in fish. However, there are many vegan options for adding omega-3 fatty acids to your diet. Chia seeds, walnuts and soybeans also contain ALA-omega-3 fatty acids.

Miso is one type of food that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, mostly derived from its soybeans. The Japanese delicacy is a fermented soybean paste that contains both gut-friendly bacteria and enzymes. Salt dressing is used as a base for soups, sauces, salad dressings and tofu or fish marinades. It is also a great food for vegan food.

Polyphenol-rich foods

It is believed that you feed them regulate our gut microbiota reducing bad microorganisms and increasing good ones. Foods with the highest content of polyphenols These include cloves, star anise, cocoa powder, Mexican oregano, celery seeds, dark chocolate, linseed meal and chestnuts. But you can also benefit from setting up your diet with a variety of healthy fruits and vegetables and adding seeds and nuts. You can also drink your own polyphenols in both tea and coffee.

Olive oil is one of the most delicious foods to use more often because of its high content of polyphenols. This popular cooking oil is made up of fatty acids and polyphenols that can help reduce stomach inflammation and disease. This oil is versatile and can be used for virtually anything, including trimming, frying or seasoning dishes.


This food material helps keep our gut contents moving forward. Bacteria also in our gut scissors produce butyrate, a chemical that helps maintain brain health. A diet high in fiber whole grain It also helps to increase the diversity of our gut microbiota and lowers blood glucose levels, which can lead to irritability and unpleasant moods. Get whole grains from rye, barley, brown rice, oats, millet and popcorn.

Kimchi is a great Korean food and is made from fermented vegetables, namely cabbage and red pepper paste. This fermented diet is high in fiber as well as high in probiotic bacteria and vitamins – all of which make it an excellent food for gut repair connection. Many variations of kimchi are vegan, but be sure that the kimchi contains anchovies or other fish flavorings.

Probiotics and prebiotics

Probiotics increase the diversity of the gut microbiota and prebiotics help nourish existing bacteria. Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, tempeh and water kefir are all yeast or bacterial foods that add to your gut microbiota. Keep this microbiota strong by eating prebiotic foods such as chicory root, raw dandelion greens, leeks, onions, garlic, asparagus, spinach, bananas and soybeans.

Eating a healthy diet containing fiber, tryptophan, polyphenols and both pre- and probiotics will help your gut feel good. And a happy, strong, healthy gut means that you, too, have a more regular mood. Read more on this series brain food and eating because of depression and anxiety.

Water kefir is one of the great vegan probiotic enhancers and is a distant cousin of yogurt. It is made by fermenting water kefir grains and contains very useful bacteria. Originally from the Asia-Europe region, this food can be added to other foods to mask the taste if it's not your business. Try throwing kefir, homemade salad dressing, or delicious soup into your breakfast smoothie.

Editor's Note: This post was originally published in June 2019 and has recently been updated and corrected for accuracy and completeness.

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