The Brain-Gut Connection: Can Your Diet Affect Your Mental State?

Have you ever gotten butterflies in your stomach when you were nervous, or gotten a stomachache when you were anxious? If so, you’ve probably quickly realized that your brain and your gut are connected. But recent studies show that your gut may affect your brain health more than previously believed.

The basics of keeping a healthy brain have been drilled into us for years: eat healthy, exercise, and get a good night’s sleep. But a fourth factor – our gut – contains bacteria that may affect our brain structure, which can influence our mood, behavior, and mental health.

The gut communicates with the brain both physically and biochemically. On a physical level, the vagus nerve – a cranial nerve extending from the brainstem to the abdomen via the heart, esophagus, and lungs – sends signals in both directions: the brain and the gut.

Biochemically, neurons and gut microbes play a critical role in brain-gut communication. Neurons control feelings and emotions, while gut microbes create short-chain fatty acids, which affects brain function in several ways.

That said, is it possible that improving your diet could also improve your brain health?

One study found that symptoms of people with irritable bowel syndrome and mild-to-moderate anxiety or depression significantly decreased after taking a probiotic product. Similarly, in a different study, people who consumed prebiotics for three weeks had significantly reduced amounts of cortisol, an important stress hormone in the body

You can support ideal brain health by consuming groups of food that are specifically beneficial for the gut-brain axis, such as foods that contain Omega-3 fats (including flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts), fermented foods (sauerkraut and kombucha), and high-fiber foods (cocoa, green tea, and coconut).

You may also consider consulting your natural practitioner about incorporating a supportive supplement into your diet. After all, a healthy gut may equal a healthy mind!