The Important Role That Our Gut Plays in Our Health
Gut health and the concept of ‘healing the gut’ is not a new concept in medicine but now the connection between gut health and mental health is being explored. And, the one thing that has been shown in research is that there is, undoubtedly, a connection between your gut health and your mental health. And, we are not just talking about extreme circumstances of significant illness or disease – every single person’s mental health is impacted by their gut health – just on different symptomatic levels.
The Gut-Brain Connection
In naturopathy, we have long known that there is a significant connection between gut health and mental health. According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI), in 2018, over 19% of American adults experienced some type of mental illness – that is over 47 million people! With a significant percentage of Americans (and individuals all over the world) are suffering from mental illness, it goes to logic that we would be looking for remedies. Unfortunately, much of Western medicine leans heavily on prescription pharmaceuticals to manage mental illness. But, the key word in this sentence is manage. Most people are not looking to simply manage their illness but, rather, would prefer to heal their bodies and their minds. That is where naturopathy comes in.
Make no mistake, naturopathy can come in long before the point that you have reached exhaustion or frustration with the medical system and prescription medications filled with side effects to manage your mental health. In naturopathy, doctors look to find the root cause of what is triggering things like anxiety and depression and, often, by healing gut health, we can make significant progress in managing mental health conditions and illnesses.
How Does Gut Health Impact Mental Health?
The Institute for Natural Medicine describes the unique and intricate gut-brain connection, “Our digestive tracts are lined with a network of neurons, called the enteric nervous system, that is so extensive it has been nicknamed, “the second brain.” In fact, many of the neurotransmitter communication molecules that are active in the brain are also active in the gut. Eighty-five to ninety-five percent of the body’s “feel good” brain chemical, serotonin, is found in the bowel…We know that the gut-brain axis is a bi-directional pathway using hormones and neurotransmitters to communicate between our central nervous system (brain) and our enteric nervous system (gut). For example, we know that stress and sleep have an effect on mood and mood disorders. The same is true for how stress and lack of sleep can affect dysfunction of every gastrointestinal organ, which can result in conditions ranging from IBS, upset stomach, constipation, hemorrhoids and more. In addition to the shared hormones and neurotransmitters that moderate this communication between our gut and brain, we have a third player in the mix, our microbiota, which has led some to call it the microbiota-gut-brain axis. This expanded axis gives rise to the notion that bacterial residents may also play a role in neurological and neuropsychiatric disease, as well as gastrointestinal dysfunction.”
Most diets (American diets, in particular), are not well-rounded enough to fully support holistic gut and mental health which is why we recommend speaking with a naturopath. When you work with a naturopath, they will listen to you and complete a comprehensive exam and any necessary lab work before developing a treatment plan to heal your gut. Every person is different – their eating habits, their lifestyle, their predisposition to things lie anxiety and depression, etc. – and that is why to properly heal the gut and mind you must use a highly individualized plan. Through detoxification, diet modification, herbal supplements, and the guidance of a naturopath, you can begin to heal your gut and, because a of the gut-brain connection, better support your mental health and wellness.