Mood Food: the Link Between Your Gut and Your Brain
by Banin Shahine, Nutrition Manager at Fitness First Middle East
Dubai, UAE, April 01, 2019: When it comes to nutrition our brains are receptive to everything good and bad. Your gut is known as your ‘second brain’, meaning your daily intake of bacteria, fats, glucose and water can directly affect your mental health.
Here, Banin Shahine, Nutrition Manager at Fitness First Middle East, details how mood disorders often start in the gut.
THE BRAIN AND GUT BACTERIA
Your brain and gut are in sync - the two are connected by the nervous system, which transfers bacteria from the gut to the brain. We actually have more bacteria in our bodies than cells and the majority of these are in our gut, so they are in direct contact with the cells that line your intestines and with everything that enters your body.
Each of these bacteria can produce different compounds, such as short-chain fatty acids, neurotransmitters and amino acids. Many of these substances have affects on the brain. Around 90 per cent of serotonin - a ‘happy mood’ neurotransmitter - is made in the gut.
Beneficial bacteria usually affect your body in a positive way and help to control negative emotional feelings such as anxiety and depression. On the other hand, a number of health conditions such as depression, autism and Parkinson’s disease have all been linked to gastrointestinal problems such as leaky gut syndrome and irritable bowel syndrome. A recent study suggested that people who suffer from Parkinson’s disease have different gut bacteria to other healthy people.
PREBIOTICS AND PROBIOTICS
Good gut bacteria are separated into prebiotics and probiotics, both of which are known for maintaining a healthy gut.
Prebiotics are a type of fibre that is fermented in our digestive system. This fermentation process feeds and increases the beneficial bacteria in the gut. Foods such as bananas, onion, garlic, apple skin, beans and whole-wheat products all contain prebiotics.
Probiotics already contain beneficial bacteria and so do not need to be fermented. Yogurt, pickles, tempeh and kefir, are all probiotic enriched foods. There are also a lot of probiotics pills available in the market in case you are intolerant to any of these foods.
Since the gut and brain are connected, and gut bacteria produce substances that can influence the brain, probiotics may be able to benefit the brain and mental health.
HOW YOUR DIET CAN AFFECT YOUR STRESS HORMONE
Cortisol is your body’s main stress hormone. It works with parts of your brain to control your mood, motivation and fear. Your adrenal glands at the top of your kidneys produce cortisol.
High sugar intake causes blood sugar levels to spike and inevitably crash, causing symptoms like irritability, mood swings, brain fog and fatigue. In addition, high sugar foods affect the release of insulin (a hormone that controls blood sugar and secreted by the pancreases), insulin also regulates the function of the brain cells.
Processed foods will also increase stress hormone levels. In addition to bad fats, chemicals and factory-farmed ingredients, processed foods are packed with cortisol-boosting sodium and sugar, which is not what you should be feeding your brain and belly when stressed.
FOODS TO PROMOTE POSITIVE MENTAL WELLBEING
There are plenty of foods you can eat to improve your digestive health. Consuming a diet that aids the growth of beneficial gut bacteria can in turn improve your mood. Here are some suggestions to help heal your gut:
- Foods high in antioxidants such as green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, green tea and berries
- Food sources of vitamin D such as green leafy vegetables, raw nuts, whole- grains and eggs
- Food sources of magnesium such as legumes, spinach, nuts, banana, dark chocolate, figs
- Omega-3 sources such as fatty fish, avocado, eggs, vegetable oil and nuts
- Vitamin D can be taken in the form of supplements for those who don’t spend much time in the sun
SUPPLEMENTING YOUR DIET
Supplements are a much better option than anti-anxiety or anti-depression medicines. Recommended supplements to promote mental wellbeing include:
- Vitamin D
Food can affect you in different ways. It can help you handle stress, emotions, pain and depression if quality food is consumed and eaten in the right quantity.
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