Did you know that the health of your gut and your mental health has an inextricable and intimate connection? Whilst it may seem somewhat far-fetched, it is, in fact, true! Otherwise known as the Gut-Brain Axis (GBA), this connection refers to the bidirectional communication between the enteric nervous system and the central nervous system that connects one’s cognitive and digestive behaviour. This simply means that a troubled brain can send signals to the gut, and vice versa. Thus, one’s stomach issues can be the byproduct or cause of one’s stress, anxiety or depression.
By now, we know that a healthy diet is important for physical well-being – specifically for both your gastrointestinal health and your mood. To help you improve communications between both your big brain and the brain in your gut, here are 3 simple yet effective ways to incorporate in your lifestyle.
1. Switching up your diet
Knowing which foods can contribute to a healthy gut is an excellent place to start. Diet significantly impacts the composition of the gut microbiome, communities of bacteria (and viruses and fungi) that lives in and on us. The human microbiome has extensive functions, such as defence against pathogens, synthesis of vitamins and fat storage, development of immunity and more – including influence on human behaviour and mood.
To cultivate a healthy microbiome, you’ll want to start with your diet. Consuming unhealthy foods can be detrimental to your microbiome. For instance, eating a lot of sugar and artificial sweeteners may lead to an imbalance of gut microbes. In a study done with mice, the consumption of artificial sweeteners, particularly saccharin, has affected their glucose tolerance and, by extension, insulin resistance.
Instead of unhealthy foods, you’ll want to incorporate whole foods, lean meats and poultry, vegetables and fruits. For instance, salmon and bone broth are excellent in boosting the protection of your intestinal wall and improvement of digestion. You can also consume foods that are packed with omega-3 fatty acids like mackerel, salmon and flax seeds which have the ability to reduce inflammation and hence, boost your digestion.
2. Consume prebiotic-rich and probiotic foods
In the same vein, including prebiotic-rich and probiotics foods in your diet helps you keep your gut healthy. Such foods will help boost the fine bacteria in your gut flora, mainly in the production of antimicrobial substances, generate nutrients for the cells that line the intestines and more. Foods high in prebiotics can help feed your gut good bacteria, while probiotic foods, on the other hand, add diversity to your gut flora. Apart from supplements, you can find them in foods: kimchi and yoghurt for probiotics, onions and garlic for prebiotics.
It is worth noting that if you’re opting for probiotic and prebiotic capsules, you’ll want to continue incorporating such foods in your diet as these pills are not meal replacements are instead, only supplements.
3. Regulate stress
To improve both mental and gastrointestinal health, it’s not enough to simply focus on the gut – you’ll need to also focus on your mental health. You’ll want to incorporate several lifestyle habits that can help to regulate your stress levels. Here are a few psychotherapy methods that can help you do so:
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
Cognitive behavioural therapy refers to a mind-body therapy that uses a short-term, skill-based approach that focuses on modifying behaviours and influencing the mood. You start by identifying destructive or disturbing thought patterns that can have a detrimental influence on mood, and take a proactive approach to change it.
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation refers to a practice that helps enhance mindfulness by increasing awareness of muscle sensations. By recognising when and which muscles are tense, you can take steps to release the tension before it starts to build up. You do this with breathing and relaxation techniques, which aid in relaxing your body.
- Guided Meditation
It’s not a surprise to find guided meditation on this list. Meditation comes in different forms, and its effectiveness varies from one person to another. Thus, it’s important to explore and find one that promotes feelings of relaxation and peacefulness.
The research on the gut-brain connection is still very much ongoing, but one thing is sure: you’ll need to take on an integrative approach if you wish to reap the benefits of any of the two brains. Whether you’re striving to boost your mental well-being, or aiming for a healthier gut, add the above 3 suggestions into your routine and diet.
However, should you find these tips bearing little to no effects on either your gut health or mental health, you’ll want to seek professional help. With our telemedicine MyCLNQ app, you no longer need to leave the comforts of your home and bear the long waiting time by seeing a doctor online. Seek help from our virtual doctors in Singapore to keep both your gut and mind in the healthiest state possible.