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Mental Health & Intestinal Microbiota: Understand The Relationship

Until recently, when talking about mental health, few people would have imagined that what happens in the gut has everything to do with the emotions produced in our brains. However, recent research shows that the influence of gut microbiota is extremely important, making it a key aspect of effective treatment.

Therefore, if you also suffer from problems such as depression, anxiety, stress, and other mental disorders, continue reading this article. You will find that perhaps your current treatment is neglecting one of the key aspects of fully restoring your health. Check out!

What Is The Gut Microbiota?

Our body is home to trillions of microorganisms. We have more bacteria in our organs than the cells in the body. These microorganisms are of different types; provided they are beneficial, and the proportion between these populations is balanced, they contribute to good health.

Different bacteria, fungi, and even viruses live in our intestines and throughout the gastrointestinal tract, which are the organs of the digestive system. This set of microorganisms is called the intestinal microbiota.

In these organs, they find the ideal environment to survive. In return, they generate a series of benefits to the body. Bacteria contribute to preserving the integrity of the mucosa of the gastrointestinal tract, fight other types of microorganisms that cause disease, produce nutrients (such as vitamins), and influence metabolism and the nervous system.

How Does The Gut Microbiota Influence Mental Health?

What happens in the GI tract is so important to brain function and emotion regulation that researchers call this relationship the gut-brain axis. Others, recognizing how essential microorganisms are for our well-being, speak of the gut-microbiota-brain axis.

As we already mentioned in another article about the intestine’s functioning, at least 80% of the serotonin in our body is stored in the gastrointestinal tract. Bacteria also influence the digestion and utilization of other extremely important neurotransmitters, such as dopamine.

Therefore, we realize that the production, digestion, and use (metabolism) of essential substances for mental health depends on processes in the intestine. In turn, without the balance of the intestinal microbiota, these processes do not occur as they should, contributing to the emergence and worsening of disorders.

How Does Knowledge Of The Microbiota Affect The Outlook For Treating Mental Disorders?

Although the subject seems complex, it holds great hope for treating depression, anxiety, and other disorders of this nature. The main way to combat these diseases is through medication and therapy.

However, the success rate of antidepressants that alter the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain is low. Only 2 out of 10 individuals treated in this way show improvement. A large group continues to suffer from the disease, waiting for a more effective alternative.

Fortunately, some studies have shown that caring for the intestinal microbiota is an effective alternative for the pursuit of mental health. An example is the research done by the Shanghai Mental Health Center.

In that study, they concluded that the regulation of the intestinal microbiota, that is, actions that promoted the balance between the different types of good bacteria, positively controlled anxiety symptoms.

According to the researchers, the analyzed studies showed two types of interventions to regulate the gut microbiota. The first was the introduction of probiotics, and the second was changes in the participants’ diet.

Between these two alternatives, changes in the subjects’ diet were the most effective option. Anxiety symptoms were controlled in 80% of the cases approached in this way. In the studies that used probiotic foods, positive results were restricted to 45% of the analyzed cases.

Analyzing a specific set of seven studies, the researchers also noted that the effectiveness rate of treating anxiety symptoms by regulating the gut microbiota was 86%. These numbers show that this approach to mental health issues is extremely promising.

How To Improve The Intestinal Microbiota?

As you have seen, research has suggested two ways to improve the intestinal microbiota: The first is the introduction of probiotics, which are beneficial bacteria that improve the organism’s functioning. The second is the change in eating patterns.

The introduction of probiotics can be done in two ways. Some foods contain these bacteria, and when we eat them, the amount of these microorganisms in the intestine increases. Generally, they are fermented, and among the prominent examples, we can mention yogurt, kefir, kombucha, and other oriental products made from soy, such as tempeh, miso, natto, and kimchi. There is also the possibility of consuming probiotic supplements in capsules.

The second way to improve the intestinal microbiota is by changing the dietary pattern. It’s very simple: when we consume healthy food, in its necessary and most natural form, the good bacteria are nourished. Thus, these populations grow in our gut, favoring physical and mental health.

On the other hand, unhealthy foods are among the factors that cause inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs). Research shows that low fiber intake and sugar, fat (especially animal fat), meat, and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids increase the risk of developing these diseases.

Inflammation in the intestine, even if it doesn’t cause the typical symptoms of intestinal problems, directly impacts mental health. In addition to the studies we have already mentioned in this article, the chronic state of inflammation is associated with the development of neuropsychiatric diseases, such as depression.

We also emphasize that, in addition to food, other healthy habits contribute to balancing the intestinal microbiota. Some examples are water consumption, physical exercise, and exposure to the sun. Vitamin D helps prevent inflammatory bowel disease and is a factor in combating depression.

Also Read: Gut Health: Why Is It Important And How To Achieve It?

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