Can the way we eat and move influence our mental health?
The gut is home to billions of micro-organisms, making up >70% living bacteria and contains 500 million nerve cells. These cells are connected to the brain through nerves which transmit information. The gut and its microbes control inflammatory processes, immune function and several different compounds that can influence our brain health.
Our cognition is governed by the number and strength of neurons to help solve problems, respond to stimuli and think about new ideas. Neurons continually make new connections and new pathways in the brain to make us smarter and improve our memory, a process called ‘neurogenesis’. Specific nutrients within our diet can stimulate neurogenesis and poor quality foods can inhibit growth of an area of our brain called the hippocampus. Not great when this guy is critical for learning, memory and mood regulation!
How do they communicate?
The gut and brain have a two-way link between the central nervous system (CNS = brain) and enteral nervous system (ENS = gut). This allows the gut to send and receive signals to and from the brain.
Can nutrition improve and support mental health? Short answer, yes.
Whilst, our gut-brain-body health is highly influenced from the day we are born (genetics, lifestyle, environment, exposure to different foods, illness and infection), our gut microbiome continues to undergo changes throughout the life-span. Fortunately, growing research shows we can positively manipulate our gut microbiota to support overall health. This includes reducing stress-induced cortisol release, influencing behaviour and mood pathways!
A poor-quality diet can increase the risk of:
Common mental disorders i.e. depression and anxiety
Low immune system
Some key food principles that have shown positive correlation between gut-brain and wellbeing!
Fibre → important for the production of short-chain fatty acids, a by-product of fermentation in the large intestine, essential for reducing inflammation & supporting healthy bowel lining.
Prebiotics & Probiotics → living and non-living organisms help to feed our living organisms within the gut, promoting strong immunity and provide first line of defence to “nasty bacteria”!
Omega 3 → important in keeping the dopamine levels in your brain high (feel good chemicals!) and are also also essential for memory, language, creativity and mood regulation.
Amino acids → essential building blocks of protein, especially tryptophan, a key amino acid that can be converted into several important molecules, including serotonin and melatonin, necessary for regulation of mood, sleep and behaviour.
Exciting research within this area continues to emerge! There are many more positive ways in which nutrition can support best health. Want to find out? Check out our website online here or give Ash or Aimee a call :)
Aimee Boidin | Body Fusion Dietitian | Lane Cove, Cremorne, Wahroonga & Balgowlah