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The Gut-Brain Connection: Understanding How Gut Health Impacts Mental Health

Written By: Kent Hospital Staff on September 27, 2023

Your gut and brain may not seem particularly connected in their function. However, the opposite is true. According to an increasing amount of research, there’s a strong connection between mental health and gut health.

The gut-brain axis shows the information the brain gets from the gut’s microbiome directly affects our cognitive processes along with every aspect of our physical and mental health. The importance of a healthy gut can’t be overstated, so much so that it’s been named the “second brain” constantly informing our central nervous system about the state of our body. 

To add to that, trillions of bacteria in our bowels are in charge of neurotransmitter production, creating a bigger picture: the state of our gut mirrors our mental well-being.

How does the gut-brain connection work?
The connection between our central nervous system and gastrointestinal (GI) tract is complex and still actively researched, but certain conclusions can be considered facts.

The gut-brain axis works both ways, like a walkie-talkie. This means the brain is exchanging information and adjusting bodily functions accordingly. Microorganisms in the gut are the ones in charge of relaying the info to the brain, and unless the gut microbiota is balanced, it will set off the alarms for the brain that something is “off.”

In turn, the brain impacts our everyday mental functions to reflect the problematic situation, which could be one of the underlying factors for developing mood disorders. While gut issues aren’t the biggest cause, the importance of a healthy GI tract is still vital for the optimal function of the entire body.
The Importance of Gut Health for Mental Well-Being
While it’s easy to assume our gut serves only to deal with food, the role it plays is multifaceted. Yes, our bowels digest the food we eat, but they also use it as a map – everything we consume works for or against our metabolism and our gut will know it and sort the nutrients accordingly.

The microbiota in our gut is the epicenter of our immune response. While the biome is healthy, our immune system is on point. However, if the balance is compromised, the gut will share the information with our immune response which will react with inflammation to purge/fix the issue.

The problem is we rarely catch the signs of gut problems in time, and it takes time for them to develop and affect our mental health. By the time we notice our bowels are not well, chances are they’ve been under chronic inflammation for some time. That inflammation can lead to a variety of health conditions like leaky gut and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Gut issues also negatively affect the production of dopamine and serotonin, essential neurotransmitters that have a huge impact on every aspect of mental health. Add to that the fact that an inflamed gut leaks toxins into the bloodstream, which can have a strong impact on cognitive function (brain fog, memory, learning) and mood regulation.

As you can see, an unbalanced gut microbiome brings with it a set of concerns, and it’s not limited to our mental health either. Due to the imbalance in the bowels and toxins wreaking havoc in the bloodstream, the immune response can get out of whack and start attacking the body, causing autoimmune diseases, which in turn further influences our mental health and well-being.
How to Improve Gut Health
If you’ve been having problems with your gastrointestinal tract, getting it back on track should be a priority. It’s important to note it takes time and dedication to cultivate and nurture a healthy gut microbiome. After all, it took a long time for it to get out of whack, so it will take time for it to get back on track. Stay determined and focused, it will pay off.
  • Diet Adjustments: 
    The first thing every gastroenterologist will tell you when they’ve established you’re having gut issues is that you need to take a good look at the way you eat. Cutting back on sugar and fats is the first order of business, as well as focusing on foods rich in fiber, nutrients, and natural probiotics.

    This will look a bit different for everyone – some people will focus on having more of a Mediterranean diet, some will cut back on highly processed foods, and some will try autophagy and intermittent fasting to cleanse and get in tune with the body. The food we eat determines our health to a staggering degree and even if you change everything else, but not the way you eat, your gut will suffer because it’s not getting what it needs to thrive. Diet adjustments can be difficult and uncomfortable in the beginning, but having a healthy gut will keep you healthy for many years to come, which is the top priority.
  • Moving Your Body More: 
    Hand in hand with diet improvements comes some form of exercise. Moving regularly, be it walking, running, going to the gym, or doing yoga, can positively impact your digestion and production of the good bacteria in the gut. 

    Exercise will not only help you digest food more quickly and efficiently, but it will encourage your microbiome to produce more nutrients because your body needs them to function better. That way, you’re forming a positive cycle in which your body and your gut are getting stronger and healthier.
  • Managing Stress Levels: 
    Being constantly stressed can have serious consequences for your metabolism - gut microbiome included. Most people experience an upset stomach when they’re worried or scared, and when those feelings are constant, the damage to the gut is more permanent. 

    That’s why it’s so important to prioritize de-stressing and carving out time for self-care. Breathing techniques, yoga, meditation, or quietly sitting at home and reading a book are ways to come back into yourself, take a moment to calm your thoughts, and with it your body.
Since it has such a profound effect on our mental health, the gut-brain connection, in many ways, shapes our lives. Understanding the inner workings of your body and what you need to do to support it will make all the difference and it will allow you to feel good in your own skin. Pay attention to your gut and what it’s telling you, it will always prove beneficial in the long run.

To learn more about gut health or to find a gastroenterologist (a specialist who cares for the stomach and digestive system), visit  

Disclaimer: The content in this blog is for informational and educational purposes only and should not serve as medical advice, consultation, or diagnosis.  If you have a medical concern, please consult your healthcare provider, or seek immediate medical treatment.