How Mental Health Impacts Gut Health

Today’s blog post is written by Patrick Bailey. Patrick is a professional writer and his area of expertise is on mental health, addiction, and living in recovery. He stays on top of the latest news relating to addiction and mental health. He enjoys writing about these topics to help break the stigma that is associated with them. You can learn more about Patrick here.

The English phrase “You are what you eat,” echoing earlier similar German and French expressions, is more than just a metaphor. 

Those tiny little microscopic creatures living inside of your gut play a huge role in your health, including mental and are reflected in your mood and behavior. Gut bacteria can cause anxiety, depression, super-sensitivity to stress, and an inability to focus.    

According to experts, we have a “second brain” in our gut. Our large intestine contains actual brain cells. Our gut is lined with more than 100 million nerve cells, which is more than in the spinal cord or in our entire nervous system.

More than 90 percent of the body’s serotonin supply is manufactured in the digestive tract. Bacteria in your gut also produce dopamine, norepinephrine, acetylcholine, and GABA: neurotransmitters essential for regulating mood, calming anxiety, and enhancing concentration.

A Direct Link

The way these “two brains” react depends on the health of the microbes inside of the gut, as the two are in constant communication with one another. This two-way connection is known as the gut-brain axis.

Feelings of surprise, sadness, anger, and anxiety can bring about physical manifestations in the gut. The sensation of having “butterflies” in the stomach is a perfect example of this connection. 

Anxiety and Gut Health

The brain and gut interact very closely. When some people feel sick to their stomach before public speaking or feel pain in their gut during times of great stress, it’s not necessarily only in their heads. Physical and mental factors often work together to create these bodily sensations. Stress can affect the operation and contractions of the gastrointestinal tract.

A Delicate Balance

Thousands of “good” and “bad” bacteria live inside your gut. Some people have an overgrowth of bad bacteria, which can be particularly harmful to your health. However, what isn’t clear is if the person’s bad health causes the overgrowth of bad bacteria or if the overaccumulation of bad bacteria caused the person to have poor health.

There is even strong speculation within the field of mental health that conditions such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and other neurological problems may be directly related to bacterial problems within the gastrointestinal tract.

While probiotics haven’t proven a treatment for alcohol abuse directly, some evidence suggests they can help treat alcoholic liver disease.

Restoring Health

To ensure that your gut is kept as healthy as possible, you need to make sure the beneficial bacteria outweighs the bad by eating a well-balanced diet, including foods with probiotic and prebiotic elements.

Probiotic Foods

Some probiotic foods that promote the growth of beneficial live bacteria, common and exotic, include:

  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Plain yogurt 
  • Cottage cheese 
  • Kimchi
  • Kombucha 
  • Miso
  • Sauerkraut

Prebiotic Foods

Unlike probiotics, prebiotic foods contain no living organisms. Instead, indigestible fibers in prebiotics keep your gut healthy by fermenting in your gastrointestinal tract, where they feed probiotics. 

Prebiotic foods include many fruits and vegetables containing complex carbohydrates, including: 

  • Oats 
  • Onions 
  • Garlic 
  • Cabbage 
  • Chicory 
  • Asparagus 
  • Artichoke 
  • Legumes 


Probiotic supplements are also becoming popular but have shown mixed results. None have been definitively shown to improve symptoms of any specific neurological conditions. A Journal of General Psychiatry review suggests that probiotics might relieve anxiety symptoms. Non-probiotic interventions were more successful, however. 

It may depend on the specific probiotics used. Different probiotics may be helpful for different conditions. If more than one probiotic is used at a time, they may compete with each other. Always keep your healthcare provider informed about what medications and supplements you are using due to possible interactions. 

Keep in mind that there are many different probiotics on the market, and none are as closely regulated as prescription medications. Still, no matter your condition, probiotics may be something to consider. 

 Choose your foods wisely, and your body will thank you for it.

 Author Bio: Patrick Bailey is a professional writer mainly in the fields of mental health, addiction, and living in recovery. He attempts to stay on top of the latest news in the addiction and the mental health world and enjoy writing about these topics to break the stigma associated with them. 

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