Decoding the Gut-Brain Connection for Optimal Mental Health

There's a remarkable connection between our gut microbiome and brain function. Beyond digestion, the gut microbiome is a bustling community of trillions of microorganisms and has emerged as a key player in influencing our mental well-being.

Imbalances in the microbiome, known as dysbiosis, have been linked to various conditions, including anxiety and depression.

The Gut-Brain Connection
The gut-brain axis is a bidirectional communication superhighway that connects the gut and the brain.

Your diet has a tremendous impact on brain health!

Your brain relies on a continuous supply of nutrients that affect both the structure and function of the brain - everything from brain cell health to neurotransmitter production.

Research continues to prove that a poor diet will lead to negative changes in the brain. For example, research shows people who eat the most ultra-processed food have a faster rate of cognitive decline compared to people who ate the least amount of ultra-processed food.

Neurotransmitter Production and Mood Regulation

Bacteria in the gut microbiome produce several different neurotransmitters that are necessary for balanced brain function and mood regulation.

Serotonin: this neurotransmitter is crucial for mood regulation. Approximately 90-95% of the serotonin production happens in the gut, specifically in the enterochromaffin cells of the intestines. Only a small percentage of serotonin is synthesized in the brain.

Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA): GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter associated with relaxation and a sense of calm. Some bacteria in the gut, such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species, are involved in GABA production. 

Dopamine: Dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with motivation and pleasure. Dopamine isn't produced in significant quantities in the gut, but there is a connection between the gut and the production of tyrosine, which is dopamine's precursor.

Acetylcholine: Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter involved in various functions, including muscle control and memory. While not directly produced by gut bacteria, some bacteria influence choline metabolism, a precursor to acetylcholine.

This intricate connection highlights the potential of a balanced gut to positively influence cognitive function and emotional states. Disruptions in the balance of these neurotransmitters have been implicated in anxiety and depression.

My Four Favorite Foods to Promote Your Mood via Your Gut

It is evident that nurturing gut health is a key strategy for cultivating optimal cognitive clarity and fostering a positive mood. Here are my four favorite foods to include in my diet on a regular basis to not only support the gut, but also my thinking, focus, and mood.

1) Cacao

Pure cacao (and very dark chocolate) impact the brain in a variety of ways.

First, they are high in polyphenols and flavanols, which are powerful antioxidants that promote brain health, including focus and memory.

Second, cacao contains tryptophan, an amino acid which is a precursor to serotonin, the neurotransmitter associated with mood regulation. 

Third, cacao stimulates the release of endorphins, which make you feel good and can act as natural mood enhancer.

Last, cacao is a good source of magnesium, which is involved in neurotransmitter function and supports relaxation and stress reduction, which potentially influences your mood.

The rich, indulgent flavor of cacao can provide a pleasurable sensory experience. Enjoying foods that bring pleasure may have positive psychological effects, contributing to an uplifted mood. In my opinion, sipping a cacao beverage leaves you feeling relaxed and happy.

2) Berries

Like cacao, berries are also full of polyphenols and flavonoids. They impact the brain, and they also play huge roles in your gut health.

They have characteristics similar to prebiotics, helping prompt the growth of beneficial bacteria or other pathogens. The bacteria in your colon also feast on polyphenols and convert them into bioactive compounds that improve health and balance your gut ecosystem.

3) Omega-3 Fats (DHA & EPA)

When it comes to gut health, fiber gets a lot of attention, but healthy fats are just as crucial to your gut microbiome. Omega-3 fats increase the number of bacteria in your gut and contribute to bacterial diversity.

If you don't eat 2 or more servings of fatty fish per week, or have an aversion to fish, I suggest supplementation because this has proven to be one of the most helpful brain supplements available. DHA has proven to increase brain function and strengthen its function, while EPA decreases inflammation to allow for increased blood flow. It is absolutely essential for pregnant women to supplement with DHA and EPA if they aren’t getting enough Omega-3s in their diet already!

4) Glycophagen GI Wellness

If you enjoy using supplement powders, which I personally love, you will like Glycophagen GI Wellness, which contains beneficial bacteria that promote a harmonious and balanced gut microbiome, resulting in optimal immune function. Experience the impact within hours, not days, as it works in both the small and large intestines.

Glycophagen GI Wellness also aids in maintaining healthy gut tissue, ensuring optimal gut functioning. A healthy gut positively impacts brain function, liver function, and the immune system, making this product a comprehensive approach to wellness.

Cultivating Holistic Well-Being

There are many other nutrients essential to the synthesis and regulation of neurotransmitters levels, brain health, mental focus and physical energy. Read more about optimizing brain health with nutrition and supplements here.

By understanding and respecting the interconnectedness of gut and brain health, you will transform you health and well-being on a physical, mental, and emotional level. 

Product Highlighted in This Blog

Glycophagen GI Wellness


Cheers to Your Great Health,

Kelly Harrington, MS, RD

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods

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