Your Two Brains: Your Brain, Your Gut and Mental Health

"All diseases begin in the gut."  -- Hippocrates

Have you ever had a gut feeling?  Does public speaking tie your stomach in knots?  When attracted to someone do you feel butterflies in your stomach?  Does a sour stomach sour your mood?

Your body has a second brain, your gut.  Your gut is rich in chemical messengers called neurotransmitters, which are identical to those in your brain. Serotonin, dopamine, glutamine, GABA and norepinephrine are among neurotransmitters found in both the gut and the brain, that allow the two to maintain constant communication. In fact, 95% of the neurotransmitter serotonin in your body can be found in your gut. Researchers often refer to this chemical communication system as the brain-gut axis.  

Medications that target the brain can affect the gut as well.  For example, one side effect of antidepressants that target serotonin is gut discomfort.   Psychiatric medications can increase or decrease appetite.  Such effects of psychiatric medications on the gut are well recognized by psychiatrists and primary care providers.

Nutrient deficiencies are common to people with depression, which may be a by-product of diet and/or poor digestion.  Food intolerances, such as celiac disease (an intolerance of gluten, a component of wheat and other grains, that results in damage to the gut), are found in many people with schizophrenia.  Iron and fatty acid deficiencies are common to persons with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.  The list goes on and on.  Improving digestion and nutrient intake can help people with psychiatric disorders achieve a better quality of life.

It might seem obvious that good digestion supports brain health, and poor digestion sabotages it, yet folks with mental illness seldom receive attention to their diet and digestion.  If you suffer from a mental illness and experience digestive problems it is important to include your second brain, your gut, in your treatment plan.  Consult your mental health and primary care providers.  Improving gut health can improve your mental health.  Your brain, and your gut, will thank you for it.