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Last modified on August 25th, 2020
Mental health issues may be inextricably linked to the health of a person’s digestive tract.
Research into a condition called Leaky Gut Syndrome is bringing more to light about how problems with the digestive tract are contributors to issues like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.
These disorders are common in the USA, affecting tens of millions, and getting a better understanding of how psychological disorders become established could help provide more effective treatment options.
The connection between the health of the digestive tract and mental health is far stronger than one might expect. Studies are showing consistent, powerful evidence that chronic inflammation of the gut is strongly associated with psychological disorders.
Researchers believe that for some people, chronic inflammation of the gut can lead to mental health disorders like depression.
How Does Leaky Gut Syndrome Affect Mental Health?
The gut’s array of nerves and nerve fibers is so complex it’s often referred to as the enteric nervous system. It connects directly to the central nervous system and uses the same neurotransmitters to communicate.
In fact, there’s a lot of two-way communication between the nerves of the gut and the nerves of the central nervous system. Given how tightly interwoven the two body systems are, it’s not surprising that the health of the gastrointestinal tract affects the functioning of the brain’s mood regulation mechanisms
Leaky Gut Syndrome, also called intestinal hyperpermeability, can be caused by an infection, disease, or even common medications.
Leaky Gut Syndrome occurs when the lining of the intestines becomes loose or damaged, allowing harmful bacteria and other toxins to enter the bloodstream. The body treats these bacteria as invaders and activates the immune system, which triggers the production of cytokines. Cytokines have many jobs, but they’re part of the immune system and among other things, cause inflammation throughout the body.
Normally, the presence of cytokines would help the body fight off invading germs, but in the case of Leaky Gut Syndrome, the cytokines do nothing to reduce or eliminate the micro-holes in the intestinal lining.
The inflammation makes the gut even more permeable and body-wide low levels of cytokines become chronic.
Chronic cytokine release causes the body to re-route vital nutrients away from their usual uses. That’s a big problem as those nutrients and amino acids are also required in part by the brain to produce neurotransmitters. Serotonin is particularly hard-hit. Dopamine and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) production are also reduced.
These reductions cause the brain to suffer from abnormally low levels of the chemicals its cells use to create complex biological circuits. As a result, a person’s mood suffers. As well, basic functions like wakefulness and the sleep cycle, memory and attention, and the regulation of a stable mood are harmed.
Eating Healthy Can Treat Leaky Gut Syndrome
It’s often our modern diet that does a great deal of the harm to our GI tracts. Diets that are high in simple carbohydrates and sugar, loaded with fat and highly processed foods are disastrous for the health of the gut. There are other causes of poor GI tract health. Overuse of antibiotics can kill off healthy bacteria that live in the gut while leading to an overgrown of toxic bacteria. In time, toxins from harmful bacteria damage the lining of the gut, allowing leaky gut to develop.
Consider making a few adjustments to your diet to improve your intestinal health.
- Add prebiotic foods to your diet. We’ve all heard of probiotics, but prebiotics are the foods that probiotics need to thrive in the digestive tract. They’re all made of dietary fiber. Common pre-biotic foods include leeks, garlic, onion, and asparagus but there are many others.
- Along with prebiotics, add probiotics. Probiotics include strains of Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus They reinforce the healthy bacteria already found in the intestinal tract. A few examples include pickles, kombucha, kimchi, yogurt, and kraut.
A change in diet cannot cure any psychological disorder, but there are research studies that indicate a gut-supporting diet may indeed reduce the intensity of the symptoms of psychological disorders