Digestion and Mental Health

golden apple by benjamin wong

Having good digestion is the key to righting and/ or preventing so many issues that can crop up in the body. It is the center of everything that goes on because it is where nutrients are assimilated into the body for use. Without digestion working as it ought to, several body systems, including the neurological system, can be greatly compromised. How efficiently organs like the stomach, pancreas, gallbladder, liver and intestines process nutrition from your diet can have a significant impact on your mental health. It makes sense that those people who eat a lot of processed and junk food items may have some lacking nutrients and therefore suffer from mental health issues. But, those people who are putting healthy foods in but are not digesting them well and are then experiencing nutrient malabsorption can experience diminished mental health, even though they are eating “all the right things”.

So how is digestion connected to our mental health?

Well it turns out that our digestive system works as a kind of “second brain” and it hosts the most amount of regulatory neurotransmitters other than the brain itself. Serotonin, the “feel good” neurotransmitter, has the greatest concentration in your gut. The many many bacteria that are present in our gut can contribute to the betterment or decline in our mental health. There is a direct link between the available nutrients in the body (assimilated through proper digestion) and the expression of 5 main neurotransmitters (serotonin, GABA, dopamine, norepinephrine and endorphin). These neurotransmitters are responsible for the depth of emotion you feel, regulating depression, moods, activity, and how you deal with anger. If you are not receiving or absorbing enough of the right nutrients (vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids and amino acids), you body will not be able to make these neurotransmitters and without them, you will experience symptoms like depression, lowered mood, hyperactivity and/or cravings for drugs/alcohol. This is why supporting your digestion is so very important for the health and well-being of our brain.

What are some ways that we can support digestion to then improve mental health?

  • Eating a whole foods, plant-rich, nutrient-dense diet.
  • Slowing down and relaxing before ingesting food, and making sure we are chewing each bite thoroughly. (Read more about this here)
  • Cutting back on inflammatory foods, processed foods, and fast foods.
  • Making sure to include sources of omega 3 fatty acids and the B vitamins in our food intake.
  • Staying well hydrated by getting enough water along with the electrolytes needed by the body.

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