Ever wonder why we call them “gut feelings?” Or why we say things like “go with your gut” or “butterflies in your stomach?” The connection between our gut and our mind is one of the most powerful in the human body, but it’s only recently getting the attention that it deserves. GI dysfunction is at the root of many modern diseases, especially mental health and psychological conditions, but too often, we don’t address the gut when trying to heal these ailments. Dr. Robert Morse, ND, is famed for saying that the gut is the “trunk of the tree,” and reminds us that whenever we want to treat symptoms in the “branches” (i.e. other systems of the body), we must always address the health of the GI tract first.
The importance of gut health cannot be underestimated. Not only does the gut contain over 70% of our immune system, but it also contains more nerve pathways than any other organ or organ system (besides the brain and CNS, of course). It even has its own name for this- the enteric nervous system, or ENS. You have over 100 million nerve cells in the lining of your GI tract! And major nerve pathways, such as the vagus nerve, run between the gut and the brain itself, constantly sending and receiving signals- that’s right, this is a two-way street! Not only can your brain affect gut function, but your gut can affect brain function too.
The Link Between The Gut and The Brain
Scientists are now understanding that, by addressing gut health, we can relieve things like depression and anxiety, along with boosting things like memory, cognition, and immunity. However, healing the gut isn’t always easy, in today’s modern culture. Highly-processed pseudo-foods, vegetable oils, and refined sugars line our market shelves, while our air, water, and soil quality continues to decline. However, with intentional food choices and the best gut health supplements, you can make great strides towards balancing your moods, while improving your digestion!
Did you know that the human body contains more bacterial cells than it does actual human cells? And it’s all these little critters that we have to thank, for keeping us alive. Your gut is packed with bacteria, and it’s these bacteria that break down your food, as well as make neurotransmitters that affect your mood and brain function. So, if you are currently struggling with any kind of mood disorder, it’s vital to think about your microbiome and find ways to rebalance these microbes in order to restore gut health. This is why some of my favorite strategies for improving mood include gut health supplements!
The Main Culprit: Inflammation
One major factor that can alter your mood is inflammation in the gut itself, and this is often caused by poor diet, too many “bad” bacteria or other bugs in the gut, or a loss of structural integrity of the cells and tissues. Thankfully, all of these things can be healed, with the right food and supplements. Here are some basic dietary guidelines, to help calm the nerves and feed the right microbes in your gut:
- Remove inflammatory “fake foods” such as vegetable oils, white sugar and flour, faux meats, and unnatural additives such as flavorings, colorings, emulsifiers, and preservatives.
- Include naturally-fermented products such as sauerkraut, kombucha, kimchi, miso, kefir, or lacto-fermented veggies.
- Eat enough fiber, preferably from raw fruit and vegetable sources. Emphasize foods that provide “prebiotic” fiber.
- Eat a large variety of foods, preferably in tune with local seasons.
Beyond the nutrition, I’ve found that most people need to include a few high-quality supplements, to restore their gut health. This is especially true for people who have other chronic illness symptoms and/or have taken several rounds of antibiotics in the last decade. Some of the best supplements for gut health include:
Since our soils are so depleted of natural microbes, we often need to supplement with them. But there are so many different choices on the market today, how do we pick the best probiotics? I prefer microencapsulated probiotics, as this extra protection allows more of the bacteria to survive the digestive process. I also like the addition of prebiotics, such as fructooligosaccharides (FOS), which offer food for the bacteria, improving the success rates. These are two reasons why I like this option from Newport Natural Health.
And if you’re wondering about the best time to take probiotics? I suggest taking them with food. When you eat, the high acidity of the stomach is buffered somewhat, plus you’ll get the natural peristaltic action to move them along into the intestines, where they need to be!
2. Black Walnut Hull
In order to bring balance to the microbiome, we may need to do some intentional cleansing, and black walnut hull is one of our best tools for doing this. With potent antimicrobial properties, especially against fungus and parasites, black walnut hulls can help you eliminate any unwanted guests in your GI tract. Many people have an overgrowth of yeast, bacteria, fungus, parasites, and other bugs in their bodies, and taking the step to kill these off will free up the space and food to nurture more health-promoting bacteria.
Not only is black walnut hull a great antimicrobial, it also is high in tannins and antioxidants that improve blood flow and act as a gentle laxative. There are many ways to use this medicine, but I prefer a quality black walnut hull tincture, like this one, as it’s most easily absorbed.
3. Digestive Enzymes
Because of gut dysfunction, so many people struggle to digest certain foods, leading to acute symptoms like gas, bloating, heartburn, cramping, and other discomfort. Incomplete digestion, over time, can also lead to low-level inflammation, which can affect the brain and mood. For some, adding in a quality digestive enzyme supplement can be a gamechanger. These enzymes can directly assist in breaking down food into usable components, reducing strain on the body.
As for the question of digestive enzymes vs. probiotics, I recommend both, since they work in different ways. Enzymes offer short-term assistance and can be used as needed, especially when eating foods like gluten or dairy. Probiotics, on the other hand, are living bacteria that you want to take up residence in your gut, and should be taken daily.
NutriSage Digest Matrix is a good option that contains a wide range of enzymes.
The right blend of vitamins, adaptogens, and calming herbs can assist the gut in becoming less reactive, while giving other great benefits. Products like Tranquilene can support the natural production of serotonin and GABA in the gut- two of our most important relaxing and mood-enhancing neurotransmitters. With relaxing minerals like magnesium, and natural botanicals like passionflower, ashwagandha, bacopa, and green tea, this blend can work well in cases where more traditional gut cleansing and restoration aren’t enough.
Remember that our gut has its own nervous system, and it’s often stuck in overdrive, especially in cases of anxiety. Sometimes, it’s helpful to supplement with a product like Tranquilene, to help things calm down, while rebuilding the microbiome.
The gut-brain connection is a key piece to address in any mood disorder, no matter how mild or severe. Whether you’ve been diagnosed with depression, anxiety, ADHD, OCD, or another illness, or you’re simply feeling less calm and even-keeled than you’d like, restoring your GI tract should be a top priority.
With these nutritional tips and four targeted gut health supplements, you’ll be well on your way to brighter, more peaceful days.