If you’re looking for ways to make your lifestyle healthier, looking after your gut microbiome should be near the top of your list. The importance of your gut bacteria to all manner of different health outcomes is becoming more apparent as more research is done, and this extends to your mental health as well.
Is there a link between gut health and mental health?
When it comes to whether our gut health can impact our mental health, five years ago I would have said it’s possible – but the research has exploded in this area, such that I can now confidently say yes, it absolutely can.
The constant, two-way communication that occurs between our gut and our brain is referred to as the gut-brain axis. The latest evidence suggests that tapping into our gut-brain axis could play a pivotal role in our mental health.
How well established is the link according to the scientific research?
Our understanding of the connection between our brain and our gut microbiota (GM) – the trillions of microbes that call your intestine home – is still in the early stages, but there is some promising evidence building.
Trials have shown not only that our GM is implicated in our mental health, but that by modifying our GM with simple diet strategies, we can help manage mental health conditions such as depression – alongside medication and therapy, as needed. What’s more, by nourishing our GM with both diet and non-diet strategies, including sleep, stress and exercise, we may even be able to prevent some cases of depression and anxiety.
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What can you do to improve your mental health through your gut health?
There are several strategies you can try straight away and small changes can make a big difference, as I frequently see in patients.
Eat a high-fibre diverse diet with a variety of plant-based foods. Try to aim for 30 different types of plant foods a week. Studies show a Mediterranean diet, which is very high in fibre and extra virgin olive oil, can be effective in improving depression levels.
De-stress with mindfulness. Try doing just 15 minutes a day of meditation, or using a mindfulness app, which can make a significant difference. The benefits may not be instant, but studies show a difference in 12 weeks.
Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.
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