Lorraine Dufour Lorraine is a freelance Canadian copywriter for sustainable businesses.

Go With Your Gut: The Connection Between Gut Health and Mental Health

6 min read

Go With Your Gut: The Connection

You know that feeling you get when you have to deliver bad news? That sick feeling right in the pit of your stomach? We’ve all been there.

But why does our stomach get queasy when our mind is in a bad place?

It turns out our gut, and its trillions of good and bad bacteria, play a huge part in our body’s physical and mental health.

The connection between gut health and mental health is clear. When your gut is out of whack you feel the effects in other parts of your body. And when your body is out of whack, your gut can be too.

That’s why maintaining a balance of good bacteria in your gut is so important to your physical and mental health. Our understanding of this connection is only beginning to be uncovered.

And, you might be surprised at the role that mobile markets can play in the health of our gut and all its inhabitants.

Your Gut Microbiome: What Is It?

So, what exactly are gut health and the gut microbiome?

Well, there’s an entire world of trillions of microscopic beings living inside of you.1 Without all these bacteria, fungi, yeasts, viruses, and parasites doing their thing inside of your body, you just wouldn’t be you. That is your microbiome. 

These little guys are essential to us as human beings and to our health. And when things are out of balance, the results are surprising.

Your gut in particular is home to many different kinds of microbes. The majority of them live in your intestinal tract. Research shows us just how important this gut microbiome is to our health.

And we are only at the beginning of understanding what it is, who’s in there, what they do, and its effects.

The interesting – and good – thing is that our gut microbiome can change. It changes with age, environment, and diet. Things like the types of microbes, the number of microbes, and the diversity of types are all in flux.

Your microbiome is unique to you.2 Even the guts of identical twins don’t have identical gut microbiomes.

Most of the microbes inside our gut are bacteria of all sorts. There are good bacteria and there are bad ones too.

Because our environment and diet play such a critical role in the gut microbiome’s makeup, establishing what a healthy, average human gut looks like is still a work in progress by researchers.3

For example, an American’s gut might have different species of microbes than an Indonesian’s gut because of what we eat and where we live.

Scientists are only in the early stages of gut microbiome research and fully understanding how it works. The more research that is being done, the more we are grasping the importance that a healthy gut plays on our health.

The Gut-Brain Connection: How Gut Health Affects Your Mental Health

Did you know that your gut and your brain communicate with one another?

It’s called the gut-brain axis. Your gut bacteria send signals to your brain through your central nervous system, and vice versa.

Dysbiosis is the term used to describe an imbalanced gut microbiome.3 When gut dysbiosis occurs, it can greatly affect your mental health. Anxiety, depression, and Autism spectrum disorder are all linked to gut dysbiosis.4 In these cases, your gut’s signals to your brain are in disarray.

It’s also the same reason that you get an upset stomach (and bathroom troubles) when you’re stressed out. Your brain is sending altered signals to your gastrointestinal system, causing those tummy troubles.

The gut-brain axis also explains why people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and other gastrointestinal problems are more likely to show symptoms of depression and anxiety.5

Their gut’s bacterial imbalance is sending signals to their brain, causing mood changes. Before this discovery, it was believed that depression and anxiety were causing IBS and not the other way around.

Now that doctors and scientists have a better understanding of how our gut and our brain interact, it has opened doors to different kinds of treatment options for people with these conditions.

For example, using probiotics to heal the guts of people suffering from depression and anxiety in conjunction with antidepressants.4 Or using antidepressants to help those suffering from IBS.5

As we learn more about the close relationship between our gut, brain, and the rest of our body, it helps to understand how we can build and maintain a healthy, balanced gut microbiome.

Gut Health and Your Body

The different microbes inside our gut provide different functions. Some fight infection and inflammation. Some provide metabolic functions. Others help with immune functions that are vital to our cells’ healthy growth and development.3

As you can see, the effects of a healthy and balanced gut microbiome are far-reaching. That’s why keeping our gut bacteria in balance is so important.

When the bad bacteria outnumber the good ones, our health is negatively affected. The same can be said when we lack diversity in the types of bacteria in our gut. This also affects our physical and mental health and the connection between gut health and mental health becomes clear.

Research shows us that a highly diverse gut bacteria colony is vital for reducing inflammation.6 Chronic inflammation is a leading cause of chronic diseases like obesity, cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer’s.

These diseases have created a crisis in our healthcare system, costing trillions each year.7 Chronic diseases are the leading cause of death in America, yet they are largely preventable.

So, you see how taking good care of your gut helps keep the rest of your body in check too.

Diet & Nutrition’s Role in a Healthy Gut Microbiome

Building and maintaining a healthy gut sounds complicated. But, the good news is, it’s not. It’s actually pretty straightforward.

As mentioned above, things like your age, environment, and diet all play factors in your gut’s bacterial makeup. Your gut’s microbiome is first established at birth.3 But this doesn’t mean you have no control over the microbes living inside of you.

In fact, your diet is one of the most significant factors in your microbiome’s composition. Studies have shown that changing your diet can begin to alter your gut’s microbiome in as little as 24 hours.3 

Other research has found that because what you eat influences your metabolism and your body’s inflammatory response, your diet is the most influential factor when it comes to diseases like diabetes, IBS, and depression, among others.6 

It’s no coincidence that a Western diet is closely associated with these chronic conditions which are so prevalent (and costly) in Western societies.6

A Western/American diet is characterized as being high in fat, sugar, sodium, red meat, and processed foods.8 And it’s low in fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, and whole (i.e. unprocessed) foods.9

These eating habits help to explain why there are so many Americans with nutrition-related health conditions and chronic diseases.

When our body doesn’t get the nutrients it needs from the foods we eat, it literally can’t function properly. It underscores the importance of having diverse, healthy gut bacteria.

What Foods Promote a Healthy Gut?

So now that you know more than you ever wanted to know about your gut and the party going on in it, it’s time to talk about what foods are good for your gut.

Really and truly, variety and moderation are key. Those unhealthy foods that are so prevalent in our Western diet are bad for you in so many ways. I know they are hard-to-resist delicious, but reducing your intake of those foods is key.

Fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole foods (including whole grains) are the foods that provide and promote the growth of healthy bacteria inside your gut.10

The science behind it is complicated, and we are learning more about it every day, but those are the foods we should all be eating more of.

Eating a plant-based diet, such as the Mediterranean diet or any of the other Blue Zones diets are great for your gut. Not to mention, they are really tasty too!

Eating a variety of colorful fruits and veggies provides us with a greater variety of vitamins and minerals. 

Produce, whole grains, and legumes feed our bodies with the right kinds of complex carbs, most notably, fiber.11 These are the nutrients that our gut needs to house the good kinds of bacteria.

Supporting the growth of good gut bacteria also helps keep the bad ones (i.e. the ones that cause illness and disease) at bay.12

Another benefit of eating these high-fiber foods is that they keep you fuller longer. It takes time for our body (or rather our gut bacteria) to break down fiber so we tend to eat less and feel more satisfied.13

Whereas when we eat low-fiber, calorie-dense foods, it takes no time at all for our bodies to break those down. They just leave us wanting more.

How Mobile Farmers’ Markets Help Support Gut Health

Seeing how incredible fruits and vegetables really are, there’s no reason not to indulge in them more! They are our bodies’ superheroes.

There’s no question, groceries and the cost of living, in general, are expensive these days. But if everyone could take advantage of the long-term health benefits of a plant-based diet, imagine the money that could be saved. And not just on a national level, but at the household level too.

That’s why we are such passionate advocates of the power of mobile farmers’ markets. They are such a practical way to increase everyone’s access to the fresh foods that we all need to stay healthy.

Mobile markets offer affordability and convenience to those experiencing low food access. And they make it easy for food access organizations to get people the fresh produce they need and want.

What’s not to love about that?

If you’re looking for an innovative and effective approach to increasing fresh, healthy food access in your community, consider a mobile farmers’ market. They’ve even been identified in the Biden-Harris Administration’s National Strategy on Hunger14 as a means to help end hunger by 2030.

So, what are you waiting for? Contact us about acquiring a mobile farmers’ market today!

Resources:

  1. Gut bacteria: the inside story – Curious 
  2. What is the Healthy Gut Microbiota Composition? A Changing Ecosystem across Age, Environment, Diet, and Diseases – PMC
  3. The Impact of the Gut Microbiota on Human Health: An Integrative View – PMC
  4. Gut microbiota’s effect on mental health: The gut-brain axis – PMC 
  5. The Brain-Gut Connection | Johns Hopkins Medicine  
  6. Gut Microbiome: Profound Implications for Diet and Disease – PMC  
  7. Health and Economic Costs of Chronic Diseases | CDC 
  8. Obesity and the Western Diet: How We Got Here – PMC
  9. Western Diets – an overview | ScienceDirect Topics 
  10. 9 Ways Gut Bacteria And Mental Health, Probiotics And Depression Are Linked 
  11. 5 Foods to Improve Your Digestion | Johns Hopkins Medicine 
  12. The Microbiome | The Nutrition Source | Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health 
  13. Weight loss: Feel full on fewer calories – Mayo Clinic
  14. BIDEN-HARRIS ADMINISTRATION NATIONAL STRATEGY ON HUNGER, NUTRITION, AND HEALTH | The White House 
Lorraine Dufour Lorraine is a freelance Canadian copywriter for sustainable businesses.

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