By Carla Oates
Our daily happiness can be dependent upon many variables. The things that can lift or lower our spirits include everything from the weather to our work situation, health, lifestyle, home life and relationships. But perhaps the biggest mood influencer of all is the food we eat.
We have long known that food has a big effect on how we feel. But science is now revealing the strong relationship between our diet, our immune system, gut microbes and mental health—with studies examining how gut dysbiosis or inflammation may contribute to some mental health conditions including low moods, anxiety and depression.
Eating to please our taste buds alone is not enough. To enjoy optimal health, wellness and feel happy, we need to eat to please the trillions of microbes that reside in our digestive tract. This is because what we eat can shape and transform the relationship we have with our gut microbes. Just like our human partners, when our many microbes are happy and we have a healthy gut, we feel happier too.
Our gut is a big part of who we are and has a huge influence on how we feel. Here’s why...
Our Gut Bacteria Produce Neurotransmitters
Along with digesting the food we eat, absorbing nutrients, neutralising pathogens and manufacturing some vitamins, our gut microbes produce neurotransmitters including serotonin and dopamine. In fact, it’s estimated 90% of our serotonin is produced in our gut. Along with inducing happy feelings, serotonin plays a role in gut motility, sleep, bone and cardiovascular health.
The neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) which helps reduce anxiety and stress and improves sleep is also produced by our beneficial bacteria which is why eating to nourish our bellies is even more important. Studies now suggest that consuming prebiotic and probiotic-rich, fermented foods (such as sauerkraut, kimchi and kefir) can even help ease symptoms of anxiety.
The Link Between Leaky Gut and Lethargy
When the lining of our gut becomes damaged—a condition known as leaky gut—endotoxins called lipopolysaccharides (LPS) and other compounds such as food antigens (including gluten and dairy) can pass through the gut wall into our bloodstream leading to systemic inflammation. This in turn can cause symptoms including lethargy, headaches and brain fog.
As studies have also shown that leaky gut can change the way immune cells in the brain work and interrupt the function of neurotransmitters—impacting our mental health—it’s essential to relieve, restore and strengthen the integrity of our gut lining by removing allergens from our diet and nourishing our microbiome with a wholefood-based, fibre-rich diet. Incorporating The Beauty Chef’s GUT PRIMER Inner Beauty Support is a great place to start! This daily restorative powder contains slippery elm and milk thistle, traditionally used in Western herbal medicine to soothe and repair the gut lining—helpful for those who deal with issues such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or leaky gut.
The Unhappy Digestive System and Stress Cycle
If we think of our gut microbiome as a garden, it plays home to a diverse range of thousands of species and strains of bacteria. When our inner garden is well balanced (with a healthy ratio of good bacteria), we have a better chance of enjoying optimal health, happiness and wellbeing. An imbalance, however, can lead to gut health issues such as leaky gut which studies show may contribute to imbalances in our mood, too.
Our diet and lifestyle choices however, can have a positive impact on our bacterial composition. The gut-brain connection illustrates how stress can cause an unhappy gut—but also how an unhappy gut can lead to stress. This is why learning to better manage stress through regular exercise and eating a nutrient-dense wholefoods diet can help to improve microbial diversity and subsequently, boost our mood.
Misplaced Microbes Affect Our Moods and Mental Health, Too
While most of our gut bacteria are located in the large intestine (or colon), studies show an overgrowth of bacteria higher up in the small intestine—known as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)—may contribute to a range of symptoms ranging from malabsorption of nutrients, bloating, leaky gut, nausea and diarrhoea to mood issues and depression.
Similarly, candida albicans is an overgrowth of yeast in the digestive tract that can be caused by poor diet, medications or compromised gut and immune health. As candida can damage the gut wall and contribute to leaky gut, it’s another condition that studies show may contribute to mood imbalances.
The Ups and Downs of Blood Sugar Issues
Symptoms of a blood sugar imbalance can manifest in a number of ways—feeling tired, irritable, experiencing headaches, digestive health issues or having difficulty concentrating as well as energy crashes. And while there are many factors that can contribute to blood sugar issues, our gut bacteria play a vital role in regulating this process. Therefore, if our gut bacteria are out of balance, it can be challenging to maintain stable blood sugar levels.
But maintaining a healthy, balanced internal ecosystem can help. Begin by limiting refined sugars and processed foods and substituting simple carbohydrates for wholegrains. Adding a source of clean protein to your meals and snacking on nuts and seeds will also help keep blood sugar levels steady. As a result, you’ll likely find your energy levels also remain more consistent throughout the day–as well as your mood.