Understanding The Gut-Brain Connection

Have you ever panicked over a heartburn thinking it might be a heart attack? How about those stressful stomach cramps that almost ruined your birthday party?

Have you ever got a flare of gastritis acting up after fighting with your spouse? Ever wondered why you suddenly need to use the washroom right before an exam or a public speaking engagement?

It is well known that digestive problems can generate stress and anxiety. It also is well known that mental health issues negatively impact the functioning of the gastrointestinal (GI) system.

The gut is connected to the brain due to the central nervous system. However, in its lining, the GI tract has its own controlling mechanism -the enteric nervous system -which can operate independently of the brain and the spinal cord. That’s why it is known as the second brain.

Mental health issues cause or result in many gut symptoms and conditions, such as:

  • Indigestion
  • Stomach cramps
  • Diarrhea/constipation
  • Unusual hunger
  • Loss of appetite
  • Gastric/duodenal ulcer
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Did you know that 90% of the serotonin, which impacts emotions and happiness, is produced by the gut microflora, and also influences the GI activity?

The gut bacteria appear to have a tremendous impact on mental health. For instance, in some human studies, researchers have found that the addition of probiotics reduced anxiety and improved functional brain responses. Probiotics lower inflammation, which plays a role in the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

According to a 2019 study published in Frontiers in Psychiatry, probiotics administration for six weeks resulted in positive effects on sad mood, depression, anxiety and sleep quality. Moreover, participants experienced reduced sensitivity to negative situations and the need to deal with them.


Improve your mood with food

Certain nutrients appear to be beneficial for easing anxiety and depression or improve mood in general.

Certain nutrients appear to be beneficial for easing anxiety and depression or improve mood in general.

1. Selenium: whole grains, Brazil nuts, fish, chicken.

2. Vitamin D: sun exposure, fatty fish, eggs.

3. Vitamins B-12 & B-9: eggs, poultry, fish, seafood, milk, beans, dark green leafy vegetables, nuts, beans, peas, fruits.

4. Zinc: pumpkin, hemp and sesame seeds, shellfish, chickpeas, lentils, beans, cashews.

5. Tryptophan: salmon, chicken, eggs, nuts and seeds, chickpeas, spinach, soy products, dark chocolate.

6. Probiotics and prebiotics: yogurt, kefir, Kombucha, fermented vegetables, onions, garlic, dandelion, chicory, Jerusalem artichokes, bananas.

7. Omega-3 fatty acids: fatty fish (salmon, sardines, herring, trout, mackerel), flaxseed.

Following a clean diet, rich in whole foods with the right nutrients and low in chemicals, sleeping sufficiently, as well as limiting processed foods, caffeine and alcohol are base recommendations for overall mental health.


Digestive and mental health are interlinked: they influence each other due to constant communication between the brain and the “second brain” in our gut.

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