Did you know your mood can be affected by your gut? Learning this made me even more passionate about getting the word out of how naturopathic medicine can help anxiety and depression. New research is showing that the state of our gut actually plays a big factor in regulating the neurotransmitters that help our mood.

As we eat our food- specifically proteins- they give us the building blocks that are needed to make neurotransmitters (serotonin, dopamine & adrenaline). These neurotransmitters are substances that create a happy, motivated & energized mood. The building blocks of these neurotransmitters need to be broken down and ABSORBED in our gut in order for our BRAIN to use them. For this to happen, our gut needs to be working in tip top shape- let me explain!

In order for our digestive system to break down these building blocks, stomach acid is needed. This acid breaks down the PROTEINS we eat- beef, chicken, fish, nuts & cheese. If stomach acid is low– we will not be able to digest this protein efficiently- leading to a decrease in absorption of AMINO ACIDS. AMINO ACIDS are our building blocks to those “FEEL GOOD & MOTIVATION NEUROTRANSMITTERS” like serotonin and dopamine. Everyone needs those!

Another important factor of our gut that directly affects our MOOD is INFLAMMATION. Inflammation in the gut produces an enzyme that will BREAK DOWN our “feel good” neurotransmitter– serotonin. Yes- that’s right- if we have inflammation in our gut- it can actually cause serotonin to break down- which means we don’t get to use it! For those of you who don’t really get what serotonin does- let me give you an analogy. I’m sure you have heard of anti-depressant medications? Maybe some of you have even been on or are on these medications? Serotonin is the neurotransmitter that some ANTI-DEPRESSANT MEDICATIONS try to keep elevated in our system longer. Serotonin helps us feel CALM, HAPPY, RELAXED, it helps us SLEEP RESTFULLY, and even CONTROLS our APPETITE. 90% OF SEROTONIN is found in the intestinal cells– wow- that is a lot of responsibility the gut has- picture 90% of the body’s serotonin in our intestine. My concern with excess inflammation in the gut is that serotonin can get broken down!! If inflammation in the intestine increases, a person can get more DEPRESSED, ANXIOUS & INSOMNIA. It’s like a WAR in the gut- inflammation vs serotonin!!

To visualize further what our intestine looks like inside picture this. Picture the gut in a healthy state by visualizing a long hallway that has clean, smooth walls, the doors open smoothly letting us walk into all the rooms easily. If the gut is in an inflamed, unhealthy state- the hallway would look cluttered with lots of dust bunnies, cobwebs, paint and drywall falling off and the doors so hard to open to get into.   We want to avoid this state!

How do we get this clean, smooth hallway or healthy intestine? There are many ways to accomplish this.

  • Eating a healthy diet with lots of fibre, minimal sugar, 6-8 servings of veggies and fruits. This is a great start.
  • Addressing food allergies – many people are eating foods that could be causing inflammation in the intestine. A simple elimination diet or blood test I often recommend to clients to do can identify what foods you could be allergic to. Eliminating the foods causing inflammation = a happy gut and clean hallway!
  • Avoiding other sources of inflammation:
    • The Standard American diet- high sugar, processed foods and trans fats– avoid these!!
    • Stress– this is the most common cause of inflammation. Working on stress management will help your gut & therefore your mood.
    • Nutritional deficiencies– all the more reason to eat whole grains & fresh fruits and vegetables.
    • Did you know- Not enough sleep can cause inflammation- having a healthy sleep routine will have you sleeping like a baby! Regular bedtimes, quiet time before lights out and avoiding stimulating activity all help with a comfy, soothing sleep.

Next time your mood is off- think of your gut. Inflammation & low stomach acid could be causing a decrease in those “happy” & “motivating” neurotransmitters in your brain. These hormones affect your mood and may cause it to plummet! To clean up the gut, consider a healthy diet with avoidance of food allergies, minimizing stress and getting a restful sleep. A healthy gut equals a happy mood!

Jennifer Bunzenmeyer Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine

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