Latest posts by Ali Murdoch (see all)

Why is the Mind-Gut Connection So Powerful?

In February this year, the first-ever population-level study on the link between gut bacteria and mental health showed that the prevalence or absence of specific bacteria in the gut is linked to depression. The study, carried out by researchers at the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology, showed that what you eat can have a powerful effect on your mental health, happiness, and quality of life. The study honed in on over 1,000 people who had been diagnosed with depression and the microorganisms collected from them, revealing interesting findings that can inform the way people understand the power of the mind-gut connection.

Microbiota Depletion and Depression

The findings from the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology study showed that two bacteria in particular – coprococcus and dialister – were depleted in participants with depression (regardless of what medication they were taking for their condition). Prior to this study, scientists had already found low microbial count and diversity of specific groups of microbiota in patients with Crohn’s disease. This was the first time, however, that they found similar depletion in patients with depression.

You Are What You Eat

The old adage that what you eat has a powerful effect on your physical and mental wellbeing, has been proven right by research, so how can you protect your gut and at the same time increase your chances of feeling more energetic and happier? For one, consuming a fibre-rich diet (this means plenty of fruits and vegetables) is vital. Fibre keeps the gut healthy and helps you feel satiated, thus helping you avoid the compulsion to overeat or indulge in sugar-rich foods. Pulses, seeds, and nuts should also be embraced, as should Omega-3-rich fatty fish, while red meat should be consumed minimally. Probiotic-rich foods like natural yoghurt, meanwhile, can help keep gut microbiota in an optimal state. Finally, prebiotics (plant fibres that help healthy bacteria grow) such as artichokes, barley, garlic and green vegetables will ensure that healthy microbiota can thrive.

Avoiding Unhealthy Bacteria

In addition to eating healthy foods, you should avoid foods that can cause inflammation and the buildup of unhealthy bacteria, including sugar-rich and refined foods like crisps, biscuits, cakes, etc. You should also ensure that your surfaces are bacteria-free. When you leave food on countertops, tables etc. then use the same surfaces to prepare additional dishes, you can unwittingly intake bacteria like salmonella and e-coli. A bout of gastroenteritis caused by these bacteria can upset the optimal balance you may have worked hard to build.

Take Care of Gut Microbiota if You Have Anxiety

The study above focused on depression, yet similar findings have been found with respect to anxiety – a condition affecting two million Australians. Researchers from the Shanghai Mental Health Centre in China, for instance, reviewed 21 previous studies on the subject, finding that probiotics are effective at reducing anxiety. They also found that simply changing one’s diet can improve these mental conditions through, in reality, both findings can be related. That is, when you consume a truly varied, healthy, Mediterranean-style diet, you give healthy macrobiota the chance to grow and thrive.

Consuming a healthy diet that contains fruits, vegetables, pulses, healthy fats, and other key components of a Mediterranean diet is important if you want to look and feel good. Studies have established that the brain and gut do indeed have a vital connection that should be protected through a dietary approach. Try to keep junk and sugary foods to a minimum, bearing in mind that the high you feel when you consume them, can give way to a slump and, eventually, a craving for more unhealthy snacks.