Updated: Jan 18
How could food possibly affect mental health? That doesn't make sense. How could something we put in our mouths possibly have anything to do with our moods? Just so happens that our minds and our guts are more connected than we previously thought.
Our brain relies on 3 specific chemicals, called neurotransmitters, to convey chemical messages that we then translate into moods and emotions. You've probably heard of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine (also called noradrenaline). They play an important role in mood regulation and are the target of most of our medications we use to treat mental illness. But we also have other important mechanisms that influence our mental well-being.
Although worlds apart, the gut and the brain are completely intertwined. More than 95% of serotonin receptors are actually in the gut, not the brain. It’s no surprise that medication used to treat depression and to increase serotonin can have side effects related to gastro-intestinal upset. Our brain and gut both originate from the same cells in the embryo, and although they separate themselves from each other physically, they remain attached through the vagus nerve and through chemical signaling from bacteria residing in our colon. Wait, what? Bacteria in our colon have an impact on our moods? Yes, you read that correctly.
Increasing fiber intake for mental health?
We know through recent studies that high fiber diets increase the amounts of beneficial bacteria residing in our colon. So what does that have to do with depression? Our beneficial bugs living in our colons feed on fiber and in return, they produce short chain fatty acids (SCFA). These chemicals, also called post-biotics, make their way in our bloodstream, and even cross the heavily guarded blood-brain barrier, where they can exert their protective effects on mental health. Humans have evolved to protect their brains against foreign substances trying to cross the blood-b