Gut bacteria linked to mental health

While anticipating an upcoming event, nervousness can make for an upset stomach. Though the feeling of fear is located in the brain there are still bodily feelings and repercussions. Recently, researchers found that the opposite is true as well. Gut bacteria can be directly related to mental health.

In the intestines there are different types of bacteria, some that are healthy and others that are not, that makeup what’s called a microbiome. This bacteria can be related to depression and anxiety.

This too works both ways: in some cases people with depression had fewer types of a certain bacteria than those without, researchers in Belgium found. It was also found that people with irritable bowel syndrome(IBS) had higher percentages of depression and anxiety than those without.

This is in part because nerve cells in the gastrointestinal tract can communicate with the brain and create mood changes.

There is also a link between celiacs, an autoimmune disease that makes it hard to digest gluten, and mental health, as untreated celiacs can often show symptoms similar to mental health issues.

The health of microbiomes can be related as well to diet, and from there mental health. Allergies, too, are linked to microbiome health.

In some cases probiotics and nutrition may be the answer for helping to boost mental health. Though this may not be the cure in anxiety and depression, in other microbiome issues, a healthy diet and eating foods with probiotics can have positive effects on the mental health impacts from the gut, such as positive mood changes.

Eating foods with probiotics can have positive effects on the mental health impacts from the gut.

Though gut health concerns are often associated with older people, students too are at risk for unhealthy guts.  One study found that stress in college students can have harmful effects on gut health and decrease the amount of helpful bacteria in the gut. The same was true for sleep deprivation. Both things that are common in teenagers could be harmful to their guts.

Actions like, getting more sleep, reducing stress, and eating probiotic heavy foods, like chocolate, yogurt, and pickles, can be beneficial to gut health. Avoiding eating too much sugar or fried foods can as well.

For sophomore Mia Schubert, her discovery of her lactose intolerance had changed both the way she eats and feels. Which for Schubert means,

“Avoiding cheese, and things that I like a lot honestly.” Schubert said.

Schubert only made this discovery recently during the fall cross country season.

“I was running and I started not feeling… and my coach was like ‘oh what did you eat today?’” Schubert said. “and then he said ‘did you have any milk today?’ and I was like ‘yeah, I had a lot of milk today’ and he was like ‘well  you should probably stop drinking milk before you run because that makes you nauseous.’”

After talking with her coach Schubert made the changes to her diet.

“I just quit lactose for the entire season and then I tried to start having it again and I couldn’t have it without getting sick or feeling sick.” Schubert said.

The mental impacts on Schubert haven’t been drastic, as she still integrates dairy into her diet, but she does mention one change.

Getting more sleep, reducing stress, and eating probiotic heavy foods, like chocolate, yogurt, and pickles, can be beneficial to gut health.

“I feel lighter.” Schubert said.

She also notes that changes in her general diet can make her feel better.

“I tried drinking a lot more water and I found that it really helped with cramps and just made me feel better and like gave me less headaches,” Schubert said. “I find that if I eat really unhealthy then I don’t necessarily feel bad about myself but like I should have eaten healthier because I know that taking care of your body is something that’s important and that I wish that I would have eaten healthier.”

This however does not stop Schubert from giving up the foods she enjoys entirely.

“Whipped cream, I really like that, and ice cream, and if I wanna eat those things then I usually take a pill to make it so that I don’t get a stomach ache,” she said. “I do [eat lactose] sometimes, but I don’t feel well, but sometimes the reward is greater than the risk.”

But overall removing lactose from her diet Shubert has noticed some positive changes.

“I find that stuff without lactose just tends to be a lot more healthy like I’ll be like ‘oh, I could have ice cream or I could have a popsicle’ and popsicles are mainly just water and ice cream is mainly milk,’” Schubert said. “I just find that the alternatives to stuff that has lactose in it are usually a lot better for you and they make me feel better just in general.”

Whether it’s removing or adding something, small changes can be beneficial to gut health and which may just be beneficial to mental health as well.