In my opinion, we can’t not talk about mental health without talking about gut health. Research between the gut brain connection is continually evolving, from its role in the synthesis of neurotransmitters to how it impacts the stress response. We have TRILLIONS of gut bacteria that live inside of us. Do you think that can affect pretty much all other bodily systems? You bet. This also means that the microbiome can vary significantly from person to person.
Neurotransmitters & The Vagus Nerve
Let’s dive a little deeper into how the brain and gut are really connected. It all comes down to a specific nerve that links the gut to the central nervous system, called the vagus nerve. Although the role of the vagus nerve is complex, it essentially is responsible for shifting the body from the “fight or flight” state to “rest and digest”. In a nutshell, it helps our body really relax and recover. The state of our microbiome can really impact the signaling of the vagus nerve, thus impacting the brain and overall behavior. The gut also can manufacture neurotransmitters, or messengers to the brain that directly influence behavior and mood. These neurotransmitters include serotonin (the feel good neurotransmitter), GABA (the calming neurotransmitter), glutamate (involved in learning and memory), and dopamine (involved in reward).
This is way easier said than done, but all in all we are trying to optimize the good bugs and decrease the bad bugs in your gut. This involved increasing what’s feeding the good bugs (prebiotics), increasing the actual good bugs (probiotics), and decreasing the sugars and flours that are often feeding the bad bugs. The end goal is to have a healthy and abundant gut flora, and thus a healthy brain. This is why I’ve been really trying to incorporate the GI Map Test with clients, to better understand their gut environment. Through this, we can check not only what microorganisms are in the gut, but also how much. This deep dive is so helpful in creating an appropriate action plan. I feel that information can be empowering, and doesn’t leave us lost or just guessing.