Have you ever been told to ‘listen to your gut feelings’ or experienced ‘butterflies in the stomach’? It seems we’ve always felt some connection between our emotions and our intestines; that our brain can affect our gut.
But lately there seems to be an increased focus on good gastrointestinal health in the media. Emerging research suggests it is important not only for our physical health but for our mental health as well; that our gut may actually have an effect on our brain.
Trillions of microorganisms live in our digestive system and make up our individual gut microbiome. Julia Enders, author of the surprise bestseller Gut, describes it as a tiny factory manufacturing vitamins, breaking down toxins and supplying energy; a personal ecosystem in each of us. These microorganisms can be the stars of the show or can cause havoc through their influence on our weight, immune system, physical health and brain chemistry.
To put it simply, supporting the health of our gut can support our mental health.
So how do we translate this information into modern mental health care?
Mental health practitioners have always stressed the importance of considering lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise along with specific psychological strategies when dealing with mental health issues.
It could be worthwhile examining gut health with your GP or another suitably qualified professional, particularly for those with more chronic mental health conditions.
More specifically, you can promote the growth and activity of beneficial gut microorganisms through increasing your intake of fresh, wholesome and nutrient rich foods while avoiding processed foods and those high in refined sugars.
For some people this may mean making specific dietary changes. For others, it will be focusing on consuming foods in a quantity that your body can process, making some adjustments and finding a better balance. But ideally not to the extent that there is a larger negative impact on socialising, your mental health and your enjoyment of meals.
Because the more your gut is in balance, the more you can trust what it is trying to tell you.