Surprising Link Between Our Gut and Our Mental Health

Surprising Link Between Our Gut and Our Mental Health

Have you ever had a “gut feeling.” That feeling in your belly that something’s amiss? Did you listen to that feeling?

New research is realizing that your gut feeling may be more than just a little bit of nervousness. Something is really going on down there. Our belly is chock-full of neurons (that communicate directly with your brain cells), or brain cells. There are more neurons in your gut than you have in your spine! And this “little brain”, called the Enteric Nervous System (ENS), is very complex. It produces neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) just like the big brain in our head does. Actually, it creates LOADS of neurotransmitters! 95% of the serotonin (our feel-good neurotransmitter) and 50% of the dopamine (our reward neurotransmitter) is made in the gut. Their job is to move food through our digestive tract, and research is finding direct links between imbalances of these neurotransmitters in our brain (anxiety/depression) and digestive issues like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).

Actually, the link is pretty strong, and I’ve seen it myself in a lot of my clients.

Anxiety in the brain can arrive with anxiety in the gut—diarrhea. And depression in the brain can be joined with depression in the gut—constipation. One frequently triggers the other. And, the best news is, research is showing that our digestive bacteria influence the balance of our serotonin and dopamine levels. In animal studies they’ve found low levels of bacteria in the stomach = 60% less serotonin production, which comes right back to normal levels once the digestive bacteria is back in balance. As well, human studies have found some reduction in anxiety symptoms after 2 weeks of taking a probiotic supplement. Isn’t that amazing?? Take something for your gut and you can feel less mental health symptoms. It sounds almost too good to be true! And the best part—it’s totally in our hands. Our gut bacteria is fed on our diet, and we can measurably change the balance of our inner microbes within 7 days of changing our diet! I love results that are that fast!

Plus, you don’t need to be on a super strict cleanse to help your gut, just add a few gut-friendly foods into your diet everyday.

  1. Probiotic supplement – seed your stomach with good bacteria! My favourite is the Udo’s Choice line of probiotics. They’re human-strain, multi-strain probiotics that seed the gut really well. I take Udo’s Choice Adult Probiotic (US/CA) everyday.
  1. Fermented foods – this is your gut bacteria’s #1 favorite food! Enjoy unpasturized saurkraut or kim chi, maybe some kombucha, or some yogurt or kefir everyday. Just one serving is all you need!
  1. Veggies and fruit – most of our gut bacteria lives in our colon and enjoys a smorgasbord of undigested fiber from the food we eat. Veggies and fruit are chockfull of fiber that both feeds our good bacteria and keeps our colon moving well. Enjoy lots and lots, 10 servings a day is best! Or, if that’s too much for you, just add 1 more.
  1. Reduce refined sugar and flours – these foods are full of simple sugars and are very low in fiber, and research has found they can reduce both the strength and diversity of our inner ecosystem. Switch out that cookie for an apple and your gut bacteria will thank you.
Remember, every bite of food you take is feeding both you AND your inner microbes. Adding just a few things into your day can dramatically help your gut bacteria in no time!
About the author: Lisa Kilgour
Lisa Kilgour is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist (RHN), Founder of, and a faculty member at the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition.