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How the gut affects your mental health

by Nic Florido

 

Covid has presented more than a few challenges, and we're not just talking about popping to the pub. Psychologically speaking it's been a doozy, with the Black Dog Institute estimating that 25% to 33% of the community to be experiencing high levels of worry and anxiety.

While we’ve talked about the gut-brain connection before, studies have shown that gut health can majorly affect your mental health, too. So, we thought we should give you the run down on the link between mental and health and the gut. Strap in, Nexba fam. It’s time to talk about feelings.  

The connection between gut health and mental illness is not new news. In the early 20th century, a clever cookie named George Porter Phillips noticed that his patients who suffered from depression also suffered from digestion issues such as constipation. Phillips prescribed these patients a healthy diet and a fermented milk drink known as kefir that contained the probiotic named Lactobacillus to see if targeting the gut could ease the melancholia.  

Amazingly, of the 18 patients Phillips tested, 11 were cured completely and 2 others showed significant improvement, offering some of the first scientific evidence that gut health and mental health are connected.  

More recent studies have suggested that a gut influenced by stress can lead to the type of inflammation that's connected to depression and anxiety.

To make it even worse, the harmful effects of stress can weaken your 'gut barrier', making you even more susceptible to illness, exhaustion and deficiencies. Basically, increased stress = weakened gut health.

 

The good news is that while some bacteria can make you feel low, others can improve your mood and support your mental health. Think about how fab you feel after eating a piece of fruit versus how crappy and bloated you can feel after having a big burger and fries. We’re not saying you should say goodbye to Maccas for good (because hey, we’re only human!), but introducing more gut-friendly food into your diet is always a good idea.  

Gut-friendly foods to add to your shopping list that support your mental health:

  • Fermented food: yep, you guessed it! Fermented foods like kefir, kimchi, kombucha, yoghurt and switchel all contain probiotics and healthy bacteria that help balance your gut microbe. If you’re buying a probiotic, be sure to check that the bacteria are robust enough to make it to your gut intact!
  • Fish: Oily fish like salmon and prawns contain special fatty acids that helps with memory, boosts your mood and can even reduce anxiety.
  • Colourful fruits and veggies: We’ve always been told to eat our veggies and for a good reason! They contain important vitamins and antioxidants that can help us deal with stress. 

More than a century after Phillip's experiment, we're now aware that a happier gut can lead to a happier mind. And while we can all experience 'off' days, eating well and focusing on gut-friendly foods might just help maintain a lighter, brighter mood.

If you need help, please call Lifeline on 13 11 44 or BeyondBlue at 1300 22 4636. Under 25? You can reach Kids Helpline at 1800 55 1800.  




Nic Florido
Nic Florido

Author




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