The enteric nervous system (ENS) in your gut is like having another brain. It influences your emotions, health and even how you think – it houses 100 million nerve cells which operate independently from the central nervous system.
Research has demonstrated the relationship between gut bacteria and mental health by producing neurotransmitters which regulate emotions, sleep and appetite regulation – leading to chronic gut conditions like IBS being associated with an increased risk for anxiety and depression.
1. Eat a Well-balanced Diet
Diet can have a dramatic impact on overall health. A nutritious diet ensures your body receives all of the necessary vitamins and nutrients it requires to function effectively and make you feel great – as well as helping prevent chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease or cancer.
A healthy diet should consist of plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats such as olive oil. It should be full of vital nutrients while including no or minimal added sugars, saturated fats or sodium.
The Enteric Nervous System (ENS) connects your gut and brain through nerve cells, neurotransmitters and microbes – acting like an intermediary to bring information between both.
If your ENS isn’t functioning optimally, you could find yourself more susceptible to stomach cramps, constipation and even anxiety and depression. Maintaining the delicate balance between the ENS and your mind is essential in order to preserve mental wellbeing, with researchers discovering specific types of bacteria found in the gut having a direct impact on mood regulation.
Eating foods rich in beneficial bacteria, like fermented foods and probiotic-rich yogurt, can help enhance your mood by improving gut function and decreasing levels of certain cytokines that trigger stress responses in your body. Eating more omega-3 rich foods like fish or white willow bark may also reduce inflammation associated with mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.
An eating plan rich in healthy fats, whole grains and fiber is vital to both gut and mental health. Eating this way will increase energy and productivity at work by providing your body with essential fueling resources to power through each day.
2. Get Enough Sleep
Get enough restful sleep is one of the best ways to protect and improve your overall health. Not only can it support your immune system, but it can also improve memory, mood and energy levels.
Research indicates that insufficient sleep can increase obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke risk factors as well as poor mental health outcomes. Just one night of insufficient rest can have a dramatic impact on productivity and energy levels the following day – possibly impacting productivity levels as much as 40%!
Each night, even on weekends, try to achieve seven hours of uninterrupted restful sleep in order to support your biological clock and avoid frequent awakenings during the night that could disrupt or interrupt restful slumber.
Circadian rhythms play an essential role in maintaining healthful gut bacteria activity and balance, so not getting enough rest may cause them to be disturbed and cause an unhealthy gut microbiome to flourish.
This may lead to various symptoms, including an upset stomach, gas and bloating, constipation and heartburn. Furthermore, this may interfere with your ability to fall asleep easily at night and wake up on schedule – increasing the risk of insomnia.
To improve your gut health and promote better sleep, make a conscious effort to eat nutritious foods, stay hydrated, and avoid substances like nicotine and alcohol before bedtime. Meditation or journaling before sleeping may also help soothe your mind before sleeping soundly.
3. Relieve Stress
Stress is an inevitable part of life, yet its negative consequences can have detrimental effects on your health. Without effective stress management strategies in place, stress may result in compromised immunity, higher risks for heart disease and other medical problems that compromise wellbeing.
There are things you can do to reduce stress levels and enhance mental wellbeing, including eating well, regular physical activity and adequate rest.
Make an effort to set limits and learn to say no when taking on too much, which will keep stress under control and avoid long-term repercussions.
Likewise, if work or home responsibilities that make it hard to relax are making life challenging for you, look for ways to delegate those tasks – whether this means asking for assistance when needed or hiring a trusted friend to complete tasks that would otherwise take up more of your time than possible.
Use all five senses to alleviate stress. From viewing pictures or listening to music, smelling scents and tasting food to hugging an animal companion – sensory stimuli can help relieve tension and relax the mind.
Thirdly, seeing a professional counselor or therapist to discuss your problems and devise new ways of handling them may also help alleviate stress – for instance meditation or art therapy may offer relief.
Journaling can be an effective way to monitor stress levels and identify sources of your distress. Writing out how you’re feeling and what steps are being taken to relieve that tension may help significantly.
Exercise can help improve both your gut health and mental well-being, raising energy levels, helping shed excess weight and strengthening and increasing flexibility and strength. Furthermore, regular physical activity helps relieve stress while increasing resilience against life’s obstacles.
Exercising helps strengthen immunity, which may help decrease autoimmune disorders or conditions that can compromise mental health, as well as lower your risk for heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.
Researchers conducted a recent review and found that physical activity increases both the diversity and abundance of beneficial bacteria in your gut, with athletes more likely than non-athletes having higher-than-average diversity in their microbiome.
Exercise increases your body’s production of neurotransmitters linked with mental health such as serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine.
Studies have also demonstrated that people who practiced mindfulness, a type of meditation, were less likely to suffer from anxiety than those who didn’t meditate regularly. Mindfulness can reduce rumination, worry and other behaviors which contribute to stress that lead to anxiety symptoms.
For decades, researchers have debated the relationship between gut bacteria and mental health; now however, researchers are studying this aspect as it could play a part in depression, anxiety, stress management and resilience.
Though more research needs to be conducted to fully comprehend the correlation between gut bacteria and mental wellbeing, and ways we can start improving both, there are some steps we can take now to increase both. Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can naturally strengthen our gut microbiome while increasing fiber intake can also boost it while decreasing risks such as diabetes or heart disease.
5. Get Enough Water
Without enough water in your body, everything will suffer. Staying hydrated means keeping muscles and organs functioning optimally, as well as helping with metabolizing food efficiently and avoiding constipation.
Dehydration occurs when your body loses fluid throughout the day from breathing, sweating, urinating and bowel movements – as well as through breathing in air pollution or perspiration. Dehydration can also lead to problems like kidney stones and constipation that negatively impact mental health.
To boost both, try drinking a glass of water after every meal or snack, as well as staying hydrated throughout the day with water-infused beverages, fruits, or vegetables that contain high quantities of water, such as melons or cucumbers.
Exercise. Your body requires extra water when working out, so make it a point to guzzle down at least two full bottles each time you hit the gym, suggests Jaclyn London, RD, WW’s Head of Nutrition and Wellness.
Prebiotics are an easy and straightforward way to support healthy gut bacteria, which in turn can improve mood and decrease anxiety. You’ll find them in foods such as kimchi and sauerkraut – make sure that you include plenty in your daily meals!
Increased fiber intake can significantly boost overall health and nourish your body. Make sure to include plenty of whole grains, vegetables and fruits as part of your daily meals as well as nuts and seeds which contain prebiotics that feed good gut bacteria as well as improving mood.