Anxiety disorders and mood disorders are two of the most common mental illnesses. What most don’t realize is the impact our gut health has on our mental health. The enteric nervous system of our gut has been referred to as our “second brain” and for good reason. Over 90% of serotonin is produced in our gut and most of us are familiar with the connection between serotonin and our mood.
Cells of the immune system are also located beneath our gut wall and when stimulated release inflammatory cytokines that can cross our blood-brain barrier and affect neurological functioning. There is a very close relationship between our gut, immune system, and nervous system. So what is the major player that has a tremendous impact on the functioning of all three systems? The answer is our gut bacteria. The medical literature is abundant with information about the connection between our gut health and conditions such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, ADHD, and obsessive compulsive disorder.
The connection between our gut and brain is from the vagus nerve. Our gut bacteria greatly influence this bi-directional cross talk and release neurotransmitters and hormones. Another neurotransmitter produced in the gut is GABA. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that helps induce calmness, thus helping with conditions such as anxiety.
So what can be done to help support our gut and mental health? First, take away the fuel for pathogenic bacteria which is sugar. Second, feed your beneficial bacteria with probiotics that can be found in fermented vegetables. Tracy Pardo, Integrative Nutrition Health Coach at Shalva Clinic has classes and demonstrations where she teaches how to make wonderful recipes that include fermented vegetables that will get you on the path to better gut health.
Dr. Andrew Cummins