Mental health is influenced by gut health. Here’s how we can improve it

I’m a big fan of talking about things in the light and removing the stigma of things we don’t normally talk about. Mental health and medication is a real thing. Lots of people I know struggle with these issues and many are on either anti-depressants or meds for anxiety.

I’ve been on anti-depressants since the birth of my second child. I found that talking about it made it easier, especially when then I found out how many people were also taking them.

Let me just say this if this is not something you are familiar with – meds help with coping. You can be totally fine but then something triggers a downturn and you can become overwhelmed with sadness. The meds help balance that out so when the triggers come, you have more capacity to absorb the stress and carry on. You can manage yourself of course and mindfulness, meditation, avoiding as many triggers as you can (where that is possible) are all good. But sometimes it’s not enough. It’s like having asthma – the condition is always there and sometimes it just needs to be managed with medication to keep it under control.

Having said that, I am hoping to be medication free by the end of the year so I went to see my GP. He asked me if I knew about the gut-brain-axis.

What he told me was earth shattering.

He said that we’ve focussed on medication to boost serotonin in the brain, a deficiency of which is linked to depression. But recently they (smart scientist people) have discovered that only about 10% of serotonin is produced in the brain. The other 90% or so is produced in the gut, which our meds don’t do anything about at all. So the meds can only do so much! If we increase our gut health, we can help our bodies to increase the serotonin by a far greater proportion, and so then improve our mental health and acuity.

By gut health, I mean enteric microbiota, which is the millions of microorganisms living in our intestines that help with everything from synthesising key vitamins, to communicating with the central nervous system.

My doctor gave me a list of things to start adding to my diet to increase and improve the health of my gut flora – and please don’t take my word for it, this is what my doctor told me, you should go see your own GP and seek your own advice! The list he gave me though, seems to be generally accepted as the lists of good fermented foods to eat (from what I’ve seen on publicly available articles).

He told me if I wasn’t used to eating this kind of food to add it to my diet gradually so my system could get used to it. Thankfully, I had already started eating this kind of thing for general health reasons. But if you’re not used to it, please go slow (and seek your own advice).

The foods he gave me, he said, were to be eaten in small amounts, and switching between foods so it fed the gut flora with variety. It’s like watering a plant basically. You need to water and feed it so it grows and then keep feeding and watering to maintain it.

The foods he gave me were:

  • Kombucha (I have been drinking Remedy which is available at my local shops and is really nice. It’s a fermented tea and slightly fizzy)
  • Tempeh (Also easily available. I have stir fried this and it was ok. It’s not bad, it’s just a bit boring so I’m searching out recipes to make this fermented soy bean “cake” a bit more tasty)
  • Kefir (Not madly available but there is one brand at my local shops. It’s a yoghurt that can be drunk or added to normal yoghurt)
  • Pickles (This isn’t just veg in vinegar, this is properly pickled veg that’s fermented in brine. I have dill pickles and pickled cabbage that I add to sandwiches and wraps)

There are other fermented foods too, you can easily search around on the interwebs. The main thing is, if I start adding these things to my diet, I’m going to be in a much better position over the coming months to be off anti-depressants for good, with my doctors help.

The main thing is though – it doesn’t matter if you are on pills or not. Adding these things to our diet seems to be, from what my doctor said, generally A Good Thing. So much of our health seems to be driven by this gut-brain axis and so strengthening it and improving it can be such a good thing for our physical and mental health.

Happy days 😃

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