Gut Health 1-0-1 - Why gut health is important for our mental health

May 25, 2023

What is the gut-brain axis?

The gut-brain axis (or GBA) is the bidirectional communication or signalling between the gut and the brain. So, what does this mean? Essentially, it means that your gut and your brain talk — a lot. This is why keeping your gut healthy and happy is an important tool when it comes to building stress resilience. If one is off, it can affect the other’s ability to react in a measured and proportionate way. This is why sometimes we can have stomach pain when we feel overwhelmed, or bowel problems when we’re anxious. 

If things have become a bit dysregulated, this could be because your gut’s microbiome is out of sync. The microbiome is a term that describes the living arrangements of your gut’s bacteria. It’s a crucial player in your gut-brain axis, too. Messages are sent between the vagus nerve (the longest nerve in the body, connecting the gut and the brain), immune and endocrine (hormonal network) systems. The emerging term for this is the microbiota-gut-brain axis. 

The GBA explains why and how our gut and mood are interlinked, why we feel butterflies in our stomachs when we’re nervous, why some of us lose our appetites during periods of heightened stress and so, maintaining a happy gut is an important part of enhancing our quality of life. 

What does a happy gut feel like?

Let’s get one thing cleared up. A happy gut is one that feels a full range of emotional responses, even those nervous butterflies or changes to bowel habits around times of stress. A happy gut is not one that is devoid of feeling bad or out of sync, but it may have more reliable signals and emotionally proportionate responses. A happy — or healthy gut acts as a good baseline that helps recovery and minimizes discomfort when stressors do occur. 

A happy gut in one person is different from the next. But, if we’re speaking generally, there is usually an absence of extreme symptoms, i.e. no tummy pain, no or minimal bloating (though bloating is a totally normal part of eating and drinking, especially large meals), and regular pooping patterns.

The best way you can look after your gut is to look after your microbiome. This means taking regular exercise or moving your body in a way that sparks joy. Eating a wide variety of plants and high-fiber foods, including fermented foods like kefir, kimchi or sauerkraut. These are high in naturally occurring probiotics, but if they’re not to your liking you could try kombucha, a naturally fizzy drink which is a fantastic alternative to pops. You can keep your gut healthy by prioritizing quality sleep and rest. You can even consider taking a targeted probiotic supplement. 

What does an unhappy gut feel like?

Unhappy guts can feel bloated and heavy. You may experience runny stools and urgency, constipation and pain. 

They can be brought on by bouts of stress and anxiety, burnout and other emotionally draining and tense times. They can also be disrupted by undercooked or contaminated foods, bacterial and viral infections, and fungal or parasitic invasions.  

One way to avoid upsetting your gut microbiome is to avoid biting your nails, maintain good food hygiene practices when preparing food and eating foods that are low in saturated fats. Another way you can help your gut feel less intense is by keeping yourself hydrated throughout the day.

Though, everybody and every body is different. This means that to really optimize your gut health, you need to know what your normal is. Knowing our normal, or registering what your baseline feels like, will help you be more in tune when things feel off. 

Remember, if you’re worried about any of your symptoms, consult with your doctor immediately.