The brain and body communicate in a two-way system known as the gut-brain axis. This axis connects the enteric nervous system (aka the body’s second brain) to the central nervous system, which includes your actual brain.
The right dietary choices can positively impact mood and cognitive function. Here are a few key nutrients to include in your diet to support these important functions.
Men are at risk for vitamin D deficiency, which may negatively impact mood and cognition. Also known as the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D is produced by your body when exposed to sunlight or taken in through a healthy diet. Vitamin D deficiency is common in the US, with around 35% of adults falling short of what they need. It’s especially common in men who avoid foods rich in vitamin D or do not get enough time in the sun.
Your gut-brain connection is also affected by your inflammation load and the way you digest and absorb your food. One of the best ways to reduce inflammation is to eat foods rich in fiber, which helps reduce the amount of toxic waste created by your digestive process. It is also important to consume foods rich in vitamin , which promotes healthy intestinal cells. Free ED Trial Pack that reduce the risk of inflammatory conditions like arthritis and heart disease.
A growing number of studies are exploring the connection between our gut microbes and mental health. These connections, called the gut-brain axis, are two-way communication systems that can influence each other’s function and mood. For example, when we feel afraid or anxious, the central nervous system sends a signal to slow down digestion and stop absorbing nutrients in order to divert energy to a potential threat. This can lead to symptoms like bloating, stomach pain, and diarrhea.
Research has found that our gut bacteria can influence the neurotransmitters our brains produce, such as serotonin and dopamine. Serotonin has been linked to depression, while dopamine is important for maintaining a positive mood. Vitamin D is a nutrient that works to promote the production of these key neurotransmitters, which can help alleviate depression and boost mood.
Many observational studies have shown that people with low levels of vitamin D are more likely to develop depression. However, observational studies cannot prove cause and effect. To sort out causal relationships, researchers conduct randomized clinical trials where some people are given vitamin D supplements and others aren’t. This allows them to match each participant with a close genetic and lifestyle match so they can see whether one factor affects the other.
Unfortunately, most large-scale randomized clinical trials that have tested the relationship between vitamin D and depression have yielded null results. The 2020 depression trial led by Olivia Okereke, associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, was no exception. It gave participants 2,000 international units (IU) of vitamin D or a placebo daily for five years and found no significant difference in the risk of developing depression. Other recent trials have found similar results.
Your brain has approximately 100 billion neurons, but you also have a “second brain” in your gut that communicates with your real brain via the vagus nerve. This two-way communication system, referred to as the gut-brain axis, includes a complex network of nerve cells in your gut, your immune system, a set of chemical messengers called neurotransmitters, and your unique gut microbiome. (1)
This communication system explains why we sometimes feel those butterflies in our stomachs before a big presentation or the knot in our gut when we’re stressed out. It also explains why gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhea, constipation and conditions like irritable bowel syndrome are more common in individuals with mental health issues.
While scientists haven’t fully understood this connection, we know that your mood affects your gut health and vice versa. For instance, stress can reduce the diversity of your gut microbes and lead to inflammation in your gut. The inflammation can then signal your brain to release chemicals that influence mood. (2)
The good news is that the foods you eat can have a huge impact on your mood and mental health. Studies have shown that specific vitamins and nutrients can help prevent or improve mental health conditions.
One of the most important vitamins for mental health is the B vitamin family, which is also known as the B complex. These are water-soluble vitamins that are essential for several functions, including nervous system function and red blood cell production. They are also known to improve anxiety and depression in some people.
Researchers have found that these B vitamins are involved in the production of neurotransmitters and the maintenance of healthy blood sugar levels. They can be obtained through a balanced diet or supplements. (3)
In 2010, neuroscientist Diego Bohorquez of Duke University made a startling discovery: He looked under an electron microscope at enteroendocrine cells that line the lining of your gut and produce hormones to spur digestion and suppress hunger. The cells he observed had footlike protrusions that resembled the synapses neurons use to communicate with each other.
If you’ve ever “gone with your gut instinct” when making a decision or felt that familiar sensation of “butterflies in the stomach” before giving a big presentation, you were getting signals from your body’s second brain. Scientific studies show that the gastrointestinal tract is home to a nervous system called the enteric nervous system (ENS), and it communicates continuously with your central nervous system, including your brain. The ENS is a two-thin layer of more than 100 million nerve cells that line your entire digestive tract from the esophagus to the rectum. It controls blood flow and secretions that help your intestines digest food, and it also sends signals about emotional states to the rest of your body.
This bi-directional communication is what scientists call the gut-brain connection, and it’s a major reason why your emotions can directly impact gastrointestinal symptoms. For example, anxiety can trigger nausea or bowel pain, and stress can cause you to overeat or experience constipation.
A growing body of research supports that your gut bacteria, the microbiome, is a kind of “second brain” that affects your mood and mental health. Gut bacteria create neurotransmitters, which are chemical messengers that signal other organs in your body to respond. When these signals are disrupted, you can experience depression, stress, digestive problems, and other issues.
One of the main ways your gut and brain communicate is through the vagus nerve, which runs from your brain down to your intestines. When this nerve is working properly, it helps reduce your stress levels and improve your immune system. But if it’s not, it can lead to chronic gastrointestinal issues like Crohn’s disease and IBS.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Have you ever “gone with your gut” to make a decision or felt butterflies in your stomach before giving a big presentation? These sensations are caused by a two-way communication system (scientifically known as the brain-gut axis) that links your central nervous system, including your brain, with the enteric nervous system in your gut. Affectionately referred to as your second brain, this network of nerve cells, chemicals, and microbes is responsible for everything from digestion to mood and health, and even the way you think!
The ENS is made of two thin layers that contain over 100 million nerve cells that line the entire gastrointestinal tract from your esophagus to your rectum. It also communicates with your brain via a large nerve called the vagus nerve and the chemical messengers known as neurotransmitters. These nerves and hormones help to regulate your emotions, as well as your digestive functions like hunger and bowel movements.
Your gut microbiome — the community of fungi, viruses, yeast, and bacteria that live inside your digestive and intestinal tracts — also plays an important role in gut-brain communication. Your gut microbes influence everything from your immune system to the production of certain neurotransmitters. A diet of whole foods leads to a healthier, more diverse gut microbiome than one of processed junk food. Stress, aging, and antibiotic use can also reduce the diversity of your gut microbes.
A healthy gastrointestinal tract is essential for mental health because it’s where the majority of your body’s serotonin, a natural mood-boosting chemical, is produced. The serotonin your intestines produce helps to calm the mind and relax the body, which in turn can reduce depression, anxiety, and stress.
Another critical nutrient for your brain is omega-3 fatty acids, which are known as DHA and EPA. Omega-3s help keep the membranes that surround all of your body’s cells working smoothly. They can be found in both plant oils, such as chia seeds, flaxseeds, and walnuts, and cold-water fatty fish, such as salmon, herring, mackerel, and sardines. You can also get omega-3 fatty acids by taking a dietary supplement that provides DHA and EPA.