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Why You Should Improve Your Gut-Brain Connection For Better Mental Health

As a nutritionist, it’s interesting to me how people may neglect their gut health.

Think of your gut as the traffic director of your body, making sure everything moves smoothly. When it's directing traffic efficiently, you're feeling great. But when things get a bit chaotic? Well, that's one of the negative ways it can feel if your gut isn’t healthy.

What is Gut Health?

In the realm of health and well-being, the relationship between the gut and the brain has emerged as a fascinating and vital connection. This intricate connection between our digestive system and the command center of our body, the brain, plays a very important role in shaping not only our physical health but also our mental well-being.

Your gut, where your food gets processed, is essentially like a second brain in your body. In the same way that if your brain starts reacting to signals to tell the body to go into fight or flight, your gut also hears these signals. And conversely the gut connects to the brain.

The “gut-brain axis” is the communication network that links the gut and the brain, involving the nervous system, immune system, and a symphony of signaling molecules. At the heart of this connection is the vagus nerve, a major player in transmitting messages between the gut and the brain. 

This communication system influences various aspects of our mental health, from mood and stress responses to cognitive function.

What’s The Difference Between A Healthy And An Unhealthy Gut?

A healthy gut is crucial for mental well-being, because it supports the synthesis of mood-regulating neurotransmitters, controls inflammation associated with mental health disorders, and provides a diverse microbiota linked to improved mood and cognitive function. 

Meanwhile, an unhealthy gut may manifest through inflammation, digestive discomfort, irregular bowel movements, and other indicators reflecting the complex interaction between gut health and mental states.

Here are some indicators that may suggest a healthy gut:

  • Regular Bowel Movements

  • Minimal Digestive Discomfort:

  • Stable Mood and Mental Well-Being

  • Healthy Weight Maintenance

  • Limited Food Intolerances

  • Effective Immune Function

  • Optimal Nutrient Absorption

  • Normal Levels of Inflammation

  • & Good Sleep Patterns

And here are some indicators that may suggest an unhealthy gut:

  • Inflammation

  • Digestive Discomfort

  • Irregular Bowel Movements

  • Nutrient Deficiency

  • Insulin Resistance

  • Impaired Immunity

  • Mood Swings

  • Food Sensitivities

  • Skin Issues

  • Fatigue and Low Energy

  • Sleep Disturbances

  • Increased Sugar Cravings

  • Brain Fog

Now that you know this, it’s time to talk about how you can actually improve your gut health..

How To Improve Your Gut Health

Eat a diverse range of foods: 

  • Consume a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds to provide a broad spectrum of nutrients that nourish different types of gut bacteria.

Include fermented foods:

  • Incorporate fermented foods rich in probiotics, such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, and miso, to introduce beneficial bacteria to your gut.

Prebiotics for gut nourishment:

  • Consume prebiotic-rich foods like garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, and bananas (avoid very ripe) to provide the necessary fibre that feeds beneficial bacteria. Some of these measures above may need to be introduced slowly if you have a sensitive gut with practitioner support, or if you have IBS or Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) that needs to be addressed.

Stay hydrated:

  • Drink plenty of water throughout the day to support overall digestive function and maintain optimal hydration for the gut.

Limit processed foods and sugars:

  •  Reduce the intake of highly processed foods, sugary snacks, and sweetened beverages, as they can negatively impact gut health and contribute to inflammation.

Choose whole foods:

  • Opt for whole, unprocessed foods that retain their natural nutrients and fiber, promoting a healthy gut environment.

Manage stress:

  • Practice stress-reducing activities such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, yoga, or hobbies to help manage stress levels, as chronic stress can negatively affect gut health.

Get regular physical activity:

  • Engage in regular exercise to support overall health, including gut function. Physical activity has been associated with a more diverse gut microbiota.

Get adequate sleep

  • Prioritize quality sleep, aiming for 7-9 hours per night, as sleep plays a role in maintaining a healthy gut-brain axis.

Eat mindfully

  • Practice mindful eating by savoring and appreciating your meals. Chewing thoroughly and slowly aids in digestion and nutrient absorption.

Experiment with elimination diets

  • If you suspect specific foods trigger digestive issues, we may trial an elimination diet to identify potential causes.

Be patient

  • It may take a longer time than you initially expected to actually feel the effects of a healthier gut, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are doing something wrong.

About Gut Microbiome Testing- I can organise stool testing to see the balance of your gut bacteria and other digestive markers (how you are digesting fats, carbs and proteins), inflammatory markers, gut immune markers, and gut bacteria metabolites. This can form the basis of dietary changes to balance or improve your gut microbiome and be really valuable way to improving one’s health. I will create a staged plan to improve your gut health.

How Long Does It Take to Feel The Effects of Better Gut Health?

The timeline for feeling the effects of improved gut health varies from person to person and depends on several factors, including the individual's starting point, the extent of gut issues, and the specific changes made to support gut health.

Some people may start noticing positive changes relatively quickly, within days to a few weeks. This could include reduced bloating, improved digestion, and increased  energy levels, as well as better mental health, which is already a huge improvement from what it has been like before if you had an unhealthy gut.

More noticeable improvements in symptoms, such as a generally better mood, regular bowel habits, and decreased digestive discomfort, may take a few weeks to a couple of months.

Long-term benefits of sustained improvements in gut health include enhanced immune function, better weight management, and a reduced risk of chronic health issues. These changes can take several months to years to fully manifest.

Remember that consistency in maintaining a healthy gut is key. The growing effects of a balanced diet, regular exercise, stress management, and other positive lifestyle changes contribute to long-term gut health.

How to know if you’re doing good?

Pay attention to how your body responds to changes. If you notice positive shifts, even small ones, it's an indication that you're on the right track. However, if you are worried, it’s best to be overseen by a health practitioner like myself.

Do It For The Long Term

It's important to approach gut health improvements as a holistic and gradual process. Quick fixes or extreme dietary changes rarely lead to sustainable results. From person to person, everyone experiences different timelines of improvement.

Think of your gut as a delicate ecosystem, a community of trillions of microorganisms working together to maintain balance. Hastily implemented changes may disrupt this delicate equilibrium, potentially causing more harm than good. 

This is why a gradual, step-by-step approach is crucial. It allows your body to adapt, ensuring that the positive changes become integrated into your daily life, forming the basis for a sustainable and enduring improvement in gut health.

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