Gut health has become a popular topic in recent years. You already know when your stomach isn’t happy, you’re not happy. However, gut health can impact our physical and mental health. Gut health can improve mental health, including depression, while helping you feel your best. However, a leaky gut can have the opposite effect. This article will discuss what a leaky gut is and how it’s related to mental health.
What Is A Leaky Gut?
Leaky gut pertains to the health of the GI tract, which helps your body absorb nutrients. The GI tract is lined by cells that are linked together by proteins to form junctions, which can become loose and cause the gut lining to have openings. These openings increase intestinal permeability, which causes harmful substances, such as bacteria and toxins, to leak into the bloodstream from the GI tract.
What Does Gut Health Have to Do With Mental Health?
Having harmful substances like bacteria leak into the gut can cause many health problems, ultimately activating the immune system. When your immune system believes there is a problem in the gut, it begins spreading inflammation as a response. Your immune system is the first line of defense against health issues, but if it’s not controlled, it can cause damage to the body and brain.
Having a leaky gut can cause chronic inflammation, increasing anxiety and depression. Inflammation may convert tryptophan, which helps produce serotonin, to kynurenic acid. Unfortunately, chronic inflammation means depleted serotonin and increased kynurenic acid, which can create toxic substances in the brain. A leaky gut is connected to neurotransmitter imbalance associated with anxiety and depression.
Ultimately, the relationship between your gut and your mental health is a chain reaction. Your gut houses trillions of bacteria, all of which are crucial for your overall wellbeing and health. As we’ve already mentioned, your gut and brain are connected. Additionally, your GI tract has its own nervous system connected to the central nervous system, allowing your gut to communicate with your brain this connection helps you realize whether or not you’re hungry.
What Causes Leaky Gut?
The cells that line your gut must keep toxins out of your body while allowing nutrients to enter the body. Unfortunately, these cells can be easily damaged because they’re more delicate and porous to help them carry out their important tasks. There are several reasons why the cells lining the gut might get damaged, including:
- A diet high in processed foods
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Health conditions like obesity
- Essential Tremors
We already know that what we eat affects how we feel physically and emotionally. Still, many people don’t realize that some diets may help prevent depression or reduce the risk of developing anxiety or depression. For example, increasing your consumption of fruits, vegetables, fish, and healthy fats, may help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.
If you’re someone who enjoys eating fast food on your office lunch break, you already know that eating unhealthy food can lead to afternoon fatigue and slower reaction time, but a bad diet can also lead to mental health problems. For example, processed foods high in sugar can stimulate dopamine but make your body feel sluggish throughout the entire day.
Sugar and processed foods create inflammation in the body through your gut, contributing to mood disorders. Additionally, when you’re stressed, you might eat unhealthy foods to make you feel better. Unfortunately, those foods will only make you feel better in the short term and can actually make your stress and anxiety worse.
Improving Mental Health Through Food
Eating healthy food and avoiding sugar and processed food can help relieve leaky gut and impact your mood. For example, if you’re feeling anxious or down, you can opt for a healthy snack to help you stay energized throughout the day while avoiding the afternoon slump. Instead of reaching for junk food, try:
Foods with fiber can help your body absorb glucose to avoid sugar crashes throughout the day. Fiber can also help you stay fuller longer so you don’t reach for a bag of chips at lunch. Foods high in fiber include broccoli and carrots, which also contain vitamins to help you feel your best.
Fermented foods contain probiotics that can improve digestion and overall gut health. Probiotics are live bacteria (the good kind of bacteria) that can keep your gut healthy. You can take probiotics in pill form or opt for foods like kombucha, yogurt, or sauerkraut.
Fruits and Vegetables
We’ve already talked a little bit about the importance of fruits and vegetables, and you’ve been hearing about their benefits since you were young. However, it’s important to eat vegetables with every meal to ensure you’re giving your body enough vitamins and minerals to reduce inflammation and keep your gut healthy.
Of course, if you’re not sure if you’re getting enough fruits and vegetables, it’s always best to track your diet. You can use a nutrition tracking app to ensure you’re getting enough healthy food every day while tracking your calories and learning more about macronutrients.
What About Exercise?
You already know about the importance of being active, so we won’t tell you how exercise can improve your overall health and wellness, including your mental health. However, you can improve your gut health with diet and exercise. Exercise can reduce inflammation caused by leaky gut while also helping to reduce intestinal permeability that results in leaky gut. An app for personal trainers can help guide you through a fitness program tailored to your needs or you can use an exercise library to help you get started.
Mental Health and Diet
If you’re feeling more anxious and stressed or depressed than usual, take a look at your diet. If your diet consists of junk food, you might do your entire body, including your mind, a favor by eating healthily to help fight fatigue and anxiety. The good news is you don’t have to change every meal you eat to get the benefits of a healthy gut; instead, simply start swapping meals for healthier alternatives. For example, you’ll notice an immediate difference when you bring a healthy lunch from home instead of eating fast food. By eating healthy every day, you can begin to feel the positive change in your physical and mental health.
Marné Amoguis holds a B.A. in International Business from UC San Diego. She is a contributing writer at 365businesstips.com where she loves sharing her passion for digital marketing. Outside of writing, she loves traveling, playing music, and hiking.
Just 1 in 10 adults meet the federal fruit or vegetable recommendations, according to a study published in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). This report highlights that very few Americans eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables every day, putting them at risk for chronic diseases.
Studies have shown that supplementation with extracts from fruits and vegetables may improve age-related changes.
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