45% of Australians (aged 16-85) will suffer from a mental health disorder (anxiety, depression, PTSD, bipolar disorder, ADHD, OCD, substance abuse – such as alcohol and drugs) sometime during their life. Mental illness can affect anyone, from adults to teenagers, even children.
So, what affects our mental health?
Poor gut health
Lack of sleep
Oral contraceptive pill
Lack of exercise
Low vitamin D levels
Poor immune system
Many other factors
When you think of improving your mental health and mood, you may not think about changing the food you eat. However, there is a very strong link between what you eat, your gut health and your mental health/wellbeing!
The gut-brain axis is the term used for the communication network that connects your brain and your gut. These organs are connected both physically and biochemically in a number of different ways. The gut-brain connection is an incredible system; it can link anxiety to stomach problems (diarrhoea, constipation, stomach pains) and vice versa.
Have you ever had a “gut wrenching” experience? Or have you ever felt “butterflies” in your stomach? We use these expressions for a reason. Our gut is sensitive to emotions; anger, sadness, anxiety, elation – all these feelings (and others) can trigger symptoms in our gut.
Your gut and brain are also connected through chemicals called neurotransmitters. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep, appetite, mediate mood and inhibit pain. Around 95% of serotonin is produced in our gut. Our gut is lined with millions of nerve cells, so it makes sense that our gut doesn’t just digest our food, but is also responsible for our emotions.
Interestingly, the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin are highly influenced by billions of ‘good’ bacteria that live in our gut. Good bacteria play a vital role in providing a barrier against toxins, “bad” bacteria and help to limit inflammation.
Therefore, a diet that is high in processed food and sugar (high in inflammation) affect the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin. This, in turn can lead to anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions. Low serotonin is just one of many factors that can contribute to mental health conditions.
What foods can increase our mood and help heal our gut?
A Nutrient rich diet including some of the following foods:
Fatty oily fish
Fermented foods (sauerkraut, kefir and kimchi)
Nuts and seeds (walnuts, brazil nuts, sunflower, chia seeds etc)