The World Health Organization says 1 in 4 people will be affected by a mental or neurological disorder at some point in their lives. As scientists dig deeper, they’re finding a strong link between what we eat and our state of mind.
Food for Thought
Two recent studies looking at schizophrenia and depression add to the growing collection of evidence that the gut plays a big role in mental health. Although details are still emerging, it goes something like this:
The human gut is colonized by trillions of bacteria that aid digestion, keep us healthy, and fight off infection. This collection of bacteria, known as the gut microbiome, is majorly affected by the foods we eat. The gut microbiome also happens to interact with chemical messengers in the body, messengers that directly influence mood.
Long story short, when it comes to mental health, what we eat matters.
The Science Behind the Research
In one study, research teams looked at the gut microbiomes of people with schizophrenia, a severe mental disorder. Interestingly, researchers noticed lower than usual bacterial diversity in participants’ gut microbiomes. (While microbiome research is still evolving, one thing that’s pretty clear so far is that bacterial diversity in the gut is a good thing, in terms of health and well-being.)
In a second study published in Nature Microbiology, scientists looked at the relationship between the gut and mental health from a different perspective. They surveyed 1,054 participants, asking questions about mental and physical health. Instead of first looking at participants’ microbiomes, they started by examining participants’ quality of life. Then they analyzed their gut bacteria. Turns out, those who had the highest quality-of-life scores also had greater levels of certain gut bacteria compared to their depression-prone peers.
What to Make of All This
The links between what we eat and how we feel form an intricate web of chemical messengers and biological processes that still needs further research. But what scientists have discovered so far is pretty powerful, for example:
- Vitamin B is considered a “mood booster.” It’s found in foods like whole grains, nuts, poultry, meat, dairy and leafy greens.
- Serotonin is linked to feelings of happiness. While it’s not found in the foods we eat, it is synthesized from tryptophan, an amino acid. Tryptophan is mostly found in high-protein foods like salmon, poultry and eggs.
- Sugar and high-fat, high-processed foods feed harmful gut bacteria. These bacteria can take over, altering the gut environment so that it’s suitable for more pathogens to set up shop. This interferes with chemical messengers, contributing to mental health disorders and low moods.
GIThrive® Therapeutic Nutrition
Vivante Health’s GIThrive digestive health program offers a range of therapeutic diets, aimed at promoting friendly gut bacteria while keeping harmful bacteria in check. While the main focus is ending GI symptoms, the results often go far beyond the gut.