Explained: How gut health can affect mental health issues

There are a lot of factors at play when we say mental health and finding a sustainable solution of them will help us lead a peaceful life

Luke CoutinhoUpdated: Sunday, August 07, 2022, 04:41 PM IST
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We work in the field of integrative and lifestyle medicine, and over the years, we have noticed that almost 80-90% of the cases that come to us have their roots deep in emotions. Whether stemming from childhood, relationships, marriage, divorce, recurrent miscarriages or not being able to conceive, teenage problems, or low self-worth, emotional health remains one major obstacle to people's health and healing.

It doesn't matter if a patient is given superfoods or supplements, access to yoga experts, or sleep aids, without balanced emotional health, our bodies will never be able to respond to any of the treatments.

Thus, emotional wellness remains our critical pillar of wellness. Talking about mental health, there is no doubt that it is on a decline. In spite of access to technology, the internet, social media, and professionals from the field of wellness and medicines, people feel unhappy and empty. The reasons could be many but the fact is that we cannot heal physically if we haven't addressed the well-being of our minds. There is an intricate connection between emotions and physical health. This is a scientifically documented fact. Even medical journals and research papers prove the physical manifestations of deep-rooted emotions.

Symptomatic approach vs root-cause approach

Most patients who come to us with mental and emotional health issues are often prescribed medications for the symptoms they might be experiencing like anxiety attacks, palpitations, loss of sleep, low mood, and so on. While medicine has an important role to play, an approach toward mental wellness needs to also involve a focus on addressing why the person is feeling a certain way. If the person is running low in neurotransmitters, then why? A lot of times, people are slapped with medications with zero focus on lifestyle, and soon they need higher doses of medications. This which might make them feel better but only symptomatically.

There is a huge gap in how mental health conditions are approached -- the gap is treating our mind and bodies as two separate entities, whereas they are one. Here’s why:

Poor gut health

Rarely does any health professional include gut health in the equation of mental health, but even an 8th standard science textbook teaches us how the gut and mind have a hand-in-glove partnership. In fact, our gut is called the second brain and an entire system of nerves called the Enteric Nervous System runs from the brain to the anus. Many of them have poor gut health and face issues like - constipation, acidity, low stomach acids, bloating, indigestion, food intolerances, leaky gut, SIBO, dysbiosis, and so on. Eighty per cent of serotonin (the same neurotransmitter present in pills like SSRIs) is produced in the gut. How can a poorly functioning gut produce enough? Doesn't it then make sense to assess the gut health of these patients?

Sedentary lifestyle

When we consult our patients on emotional and mental wellness, we find so many of them living a sedentary lifestyle. They don't work out because they never felt like it, not realising that even a stroll in nature can help them feel better. This might sound simple, which is why people do not try it because they feel they need complicated solutions to their problems. Movement and activities change the entire chemistry of your body. You experience a surge of endorphins and dopamine, which are feel-good hormones.

Vitamin deficiencies

Micronutrient deficiencies can also impact the way we feel about ourselves in a huge way. We often see how Vitamin D3 and B12 are the two most overlooked vitamins not just for mental health, but for any condition. This is a basic requirement for your body to function optimally. The moment we put patients on Vitamin D3 and B12 supplements and upped their levels close to the higher range, their symptoms started to get better.

Information overexposure and distractions

Cutting down time on social media would be my first prescription for anyone going through anxiety and depression. This is not to say that it's the only thing one needs to do to feel better, but it has a huge role to play. We are living in the age of information overexposure, and our mind wasn't designed to be so stimulated all the time. We are being bombarded with information all the time. This is slowly robbing us of our peace and connection with our spirit. To stay connected with the external world, we are losing connection with our own selves.

Besides these, there is - nutrition, the quality of sleep, the outer environment, relationships, childhood experiences, and other factors that come into play to determine the mental health of an individual.

So, is the pill the only answer? They are important and we must use them when really needed under professional guidance. However, to truly heal, it's necessary to take a 360-degree approach towards changing lifestyle.

(Luke Coutinho, Holistic Nutrition and Lifestyle – Integrative and Lifestyle Medicine, Founder of You Care - All about YOU)

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