MINDful Minute: Learn How Mental Health and Digestion Are Linked

Mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression come with a variety of physical symptoms

By Lindsey Paoli

Meet therapist, coach and founder of Fundamental Health Lindsey Paoli, MFT-Intern.

You might remember that the N in my MIND Fundamentals stands for Nourishment, so today we are going to talk about how what you eat can, in fact, have a huge impact on your mental health.  

Firstly, it is important to note that mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression have a variety of physical symptoms associated with them. Fatigue, insomnia, muscle aches and headaches are all commonly reported. But stomach and eating issues are also incredibly prevalent ranging from excess hunger to no hunger, loose stool, constipation, stomach aches and nausea, just to name a few.  For most therapists who see these reported symptoms regularly, there is no question that our digestion and mental health are linked. 

90% of serotonin is produced in the gastrointestinal system.

In fact, as of recent studies, scientists are beginning to call the gastrointestinal system, or the gut, “the second brain.” You might be shocked to learn that 90 percent of serotonin is produced in the gastrointestinal system. Serotonin is the hormone responsible for helping your brain communicate with your nervous system to create mood stabilization, happiness, restful sleep and digestion.  Essentially, serotonin is the hormone responsible for your well-being, and it resides in the gut.  Are we starting to see the connection? 

Now, many factors can contribute to keeping the microbiome in your gut stable, meaning that you are digesting properly, creating energy properly, sleeping restfully and experiencing mood regulation.  Two very large factors that can de-stabilize this process are excess stress and, you guessed it, foods your body doesn’t like. 

Every unique microbiome in the gastrointestinal system is different, so some people might be more sensitive to irritants like gluten or dairy and can readily notice a difference when they minimize those in their diets. But, across the board, eating whole, unprocessed foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and free-range meat when possible are optimal for your digestion and overall mental function. 

So while this might be a lengthy explanation, the takeaway is clear: When deciding between Taco Bell or a quick run to the grocery store, know that your mental health will thank you for making the healthier choice. 

Read: MINDful Minute: How to Approach Struggling With Suicide Ideation

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