Gut Health = Mental Health

A healthy gut is key to mental health. There are trillions of microbial organisms that make their home in our guts that produce molecules which influence our brain, moods and behavior. 1 Below are just a few of them.


Serotonin is known as the “feel good hormone.” Serotonin acts as both a hormone and a neurotransmitter and it influences feelings of wellbeing, contentment, satiety, anxiety and fear. Changes in serotonin levels are associated with moodiness, depression, anxiety and autism.

Medications to treat depression have traditionally focused on increasing the amount of serotonin in the body. We use to think that serotonin was produced in the brain, but recent research has found that 90% of our serotonin is actually produced in our gut! 3


Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is associated with feelings of euphoria, bliss, motivation and concentration. Our brains release dopamine when we experience pleasure. It also contributes to essential bodily functions including movement, sleep, learning, mood, memory and attention.

Half of the dopamine that we require to be well is produced in our guts! 4 Low dopamine is associated with lack of focus, fatigue, mood swings, poor sleep, low energy and loss of sex drive. It also correlates to mental health conditions including anxiety, depression, schizophrenia and Parkinson’s. 5


Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid, better known as GABA, is produced or consumed by multiple species of intestinal bacteria. GABA is the body’s principal inhibitory neurotransmitter. That means that it slows brain activity, which increases relaxation, reduces stress, calms nerves, balances mood, soothes pain and improves quality of sleep. GABA keeps your mind from racing at night while trying to fall asleep.

GABA is “the breaks for the brain.” It helps our minds and bodies to relax and rest. GABA is great for our guts too. It promotes intestinal motility, reduces inflammation and enhances immune function. 6 Low levels of GABA are linked to depression and mood disorders. 7

Short Chain Fatty Acids (SCFAs)

Short chain fatty acids, often referred to as SCFAs, are the product of fermentation of dietary fibers by bacteria in our guts. SCFAs nourish the cells that make up the wall of the intestine, boost the protective capacity of our intestinal wall lining, and support healthy digestive motility. SCFAs are also powerful anti-inflammatory agents. 8

The most famous of the short chain fatty acids produced by the gut is butyrate. It is especially effective at reducing inflammation – not just in the gut, but in the brain as well! Innovative treatments are using butyrate to treat neurodegenerative diseases, depression and cognitive impairment. 9

Butyrate produced by bacteria in our guts enters our blood stream and crosses the blood-brain barrier, where it promotes production of Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF). BDNF supports our ability to learn, remember and form new memories. It is considered as “fertilizer for the brain” because of the way it enhances our neuroplasticity. Loss of neuroplasticity causes the trademark mental decline associated with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

The microbiome produces essential molecules that we require in order to regulate our cognition, moods and behavior. When our guts are healthy, we are healthy. But, when we lack sufficient and appropriate bacterial colonies, we cannot produce the chemicals that we rely on to think clearly and feel happy.

Our gut health accounts for 70% of our immune system – and in these times, is more important than ever.

Call me to learn more about your gut health!

Leave a Comment

Heal Well Nutrition

Chris Latham, MS, CNS, CKNS



918 Chapala St.
Santa Barbara, CA 93101

Certified Nutrition Specialist | Certified Ketogenic Nutrition Specialist