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Gut Reaction: Your Gut's Connection to Your Mental Health

Gut Reaction: Your Gut's Connection to Your Mental Health

Do you ever feel “sick to your stomach” before a big presentation? Get a stomach ache when you are feeling stressed? Ever wonder why?

Simply put: your mind and body are connected. More specifically … your mind and gut.

What Is My Gut?

Your gut includes the organs responsible for digesting food and processing waste. This includes your:

  • Esophagus
  • Stomach
  • Small and large intestines
  • Gallbladder
  • Liver
  • Pancreas

Just How Connected Are Your Brain and Gut?

The lining of your gut is often referred to as your “second brain”—and for good reason. Your gut communicates with your brain through a physical connection via the vagus nerve, which controls communication from your brain to vital organs, and through a chemical connection via hormones and other neurotransmitters.

Your brain reacts to signals from your gut, just as your gut reacts to your mood and the emotions you may be feeling, whether anger, anxiety, sadness or happiness.

Protecting Your Gut Health

Protecting your gut health is important to eliminate gastrointestinal issues such as heartburn, indigestion, acid reflux, bloating, pain, constipation and diarrhea. It also is important to protect your gut health as changes could result in, or add to, anxiety and depression.

The most important step to maintaining your “second brain” is to eat a balanced and nutritious diet.

  • Eat a diet rich in whole grains, lean meats, fish, fruits and vegetables.
  • Minimize consumption of sugary, fried or processed foods and drinks.
  • Add prebiotic foods such as asparagus, bananas, garlic, onions or jicama to your diet to maintain and grow the good bacteria, viruses and fungi that live in your gut.
  • Include probiotic foods, too, such as yogurts with live or active cultures, unpasteurized sauerkraut and kimchi, miso soup, kefir (a fermented milk drink), kombucha (a fermented tea drink), tempeh (fermented soybeans) or apple cider vinegar.

Also, it is important for gut health to avoid taking antibiotics unless recommended by your doctor as these can kill not only the bad bacteria but also the good bacteria in your gut.

An unhealthy gut can lead to an upset stomach, bathroom issues and more – and keep you from enjoying life to its fullest. Additionally, stress, anxiety and other mental health issues also can negatively impact your gut health. If you are experiencing gut issues, it is important to see your doctor for appropriate evaluation, treatment, and, if needed, referral for nutritional education or mental health care.

For more information about Southwest General’s Oakview Behavioral Health Services or to make an appointment, call 440-816-6944.