Eating Well: The Link Between Gut Health and Mental Health
We quite often use expressions such as “follow your gut” or “listen to your gut” when we have to make crucial decisions. Have you experienced “butterflies in your stomach” or “numbness in your stomach” when you are anxious? Well, you’re probably getting signals from an unexpected source: your second brain, the gut. Gut health can directly influence the expression and management of our Mental Health including depression, anxiety and stress.
The gut microbiome is the community of microbes and their genes that reside in the gastrointestinal tract and are a key driver of neurobiological and behavioral development.
Human microbiome research clearly links gut dynamics to neurobiological development in children.
Dysbiosis (increase in unhealthy bacteria in the gut) affects behavior in infants and toddlers, such as fear or fear, depression or disconnection, irritability and anxiety/nervousness, and cognitive development such as learning, speaking, concentration and analytical thinking.
Evidence from human studies of autism spectrum disorders suggests that the microbiome continues to play an active role in behavioral and cognitive development.
The connection between the intestine The microbiome and subclinical behavioral changes are clearly important because normal behavior and behavioral disturbances develop in childhood and this developmental period provides opportunities to intervene and treat many mental health or behavioral disorders as they appear.
The microbiome in children communicates with the central nervous system to influence social, academic, and cognitive behavior through multiple pathways that include neuroendocrine and immune system coordination, vagus nerve stimulation and neurotransmitters.
Let’s look at the different gut health mechanisms that influence children’s mental and behavioral health:
Like the brain, the lining of the gut is full of nerves called the enteric nervous system, or ENS, also known as the “second brain.” The enteric nervous system has neurons and neurotransmitters similar to those found in your central nervous system. The ENS lines your entire digestive system with over 100 million nerve cells forming two layers. It goes from the esophagus to the rectum.
This brain-gut connection affects your digestion, mood and the way you think. The ENS secretes chemicals like dopamine, serotonin, and gamma-aminobutyric acid. All of these are mood-regulating chemicals. A healthy gut microbiota works to some extent as a shield against anxiety and depression in children. Diet can help your bacteria protect your mental well-being because eating the right foods feeds the good bacteria. When there are many different healthy bacteria, your microbiome is more diverse and produces substances that increase mood-enhancing chemicals, such as dopamine, serotonin, and GABA.
The two-way communication between the central nervous system and the gut microbiota is called the gut-brain axis and is linked to several mental illnesses, including anxiety and the Depression that are becoming common among children today.
A normal or vaginal birth exposes a newborn to a diverse range of microorganisms, while babies born by caesarean section receive a partially different and less diverse microbiome. Children born through normal childbirth are likely to have better mental health.
Breastfeeding infants is a major contributor to good gut health. Breastfed infants have a richer and more diverse microbiome than formula-fed infants. Breastmilk oligosaccharides, the powerful prebiotic an infant receives through breastmilk, influence the gut health and mental health of infants throughout childhood. Exclusive breastfeeding of infants up to six months ensures gut biodiversity and allows infants to develop into children with fewer instances of depression, anxiety, anger and learning disabilities.
The diversity of microorganisms continues to grow with the introduction of solid foods and also with environmental exposure (mud, play, etc.). Introducing a variety of solid foods impacts the range of microorganisms in the gut. A diet rich in various food groups such as vegetables, whole grains, fermented foods, fruits, legumes give rise to healthy bacteria. While a diet high in sugary drinks, processed foods, artificial sweeteners and junk foods gives rise to bad bacteria.
Excessive cleanliness and sanitation practices can compromise the microbiome. Exposure to natural flora through mud play, ground play, etc. can help to develop intestinal bacteria beautifully. The good bacteria present in the mud help the brain to release a hormone of happiness. Not only that, it strengthens the immune system and promotes child development in every way. The next time you try to get extra careful with your child’s potty training, just remember that you risk compromising their gut microbiome and cognitive functions. health.
Lifestyle has a great impact on the intestinal flora. An active lifestyle from childhood can ensure good insects. However, a sedentary child will have poor gut health. A sedentary lifestyle and thoughtless diet are the main causes of obesity in children, which makes them dull and anxious over a period of time. Obesity also impairs gut health, leading to poor mental health.
It’s important for your little one to have plenty of good bacteria and a healthy gut microbiome as they grow to ensure they develop into physically and mentally healthy individuals!
Manjari Chandra is Consultant in Functional Nutrition and Nutritional Medicine, Manjari Wellness, New Delhi. His column appears fortnightly.
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