Eat right: The link between gut health and mental health

We use phrases like “follow your insides” or “listen to your insides” quite often when we have to make important decisions. Have you ever felt “butterflies in your stomach” or “tingling in your stomach” when you anxious, restless? Well, you’re probably getting signals from an unexpected source: your second brain, the gut. Bowel health can directly affect the expression and management of ours mental health including depression, anxiety and stress.

The intestinal microbiome is the community of microbes and their genes that are found in the gastrointestinal tract and are a key driver of neurobiological and behavioral development.

Studies on the human microbiome clearly link intestinal dynamics to neurobiological development in children.

Dysbiosis (an increase in unhealthy bacteria in the gut) affects the behavior of babies and young children, such as feelings of fear or dread, feelings of depression or fatigue, irritability and anxiety / nervousness, and cognitive development, such as learning, speech, concentration and analytical thinking.

Diet can help your bacteria protect your mental well-being because eating the right foods nourishes happy bacteria. (Source: Getty Images / Thinkstock)

Evidence from human studies for autism spectrum disorder suggests that the microbiome continues to play an active role in behavioral and cognitive development.

The connection between intestines microbiome and subclinical behavioral changes are obviously important, as normal behavior and behavioral disorders develop in childhood and this period of development offers opportunities to intervene and treat many mental disorders or behavioral disorders when they occur.

The microbiome in children communicates with the central nervous system to influence social, academic, and cognitive behavior through several pathways that include neuroendocrine and immune system coordination, vagus nerve stimulation and neurotransmitters.

Let’s look at the different mechanisms of gut health that affect children’s mental and behavioral health:

Like the brain, the lining of the gut is full of nerves called the intestinal nervous system, or ENS, also called the “second brain.” The intestinal nervous system has similar neurons and neurotransmitters that are located in your central nervous system. ENS covers your entire digestive system with more than 100 million nerve cells forming two layers. It passes from the esophagus to the rectum.

This connection between the brain and the gut affects yours digestion, mood and way of thinking. ENS releases chemicals such as dopamine, serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid. These are all mood-regulating chemicals. A healthy intestinal microbiome acts as a shield against anxiety and depression in children to some extent. Diet can help your bacteria protect your mental well-being because eating the right foods nourishes happy bacteria. When there are many different healthy bacteria, your microbiome is more diverse and produces substances that boost mood-boosting chemicals, such as dopamine, serotonin and GABA.

The two-way communication between the central nervous system and the intestinal microbiota is called the gut-brain axis and is associated with several mental illnesses, including anxiety and depression which are becoming common in children today.

Normal or vaginal birth exposes the newborn to various microorganisms, while babies born by caesarean section receive a partially different and less diverse microbiome. Babies born in a normal birth are likely to have better mental health.

intestines Lifestyle has a great influence on the intestinal flora. An active childhood lifestyle can provide good bugs (Source: Dreamstime)

Breastfeeding infants contributes to good intestinal health to a large extent. Breastfed babies have a richer and more varied microbiome than infants fed formula. The oligosaccharides in human milk, the powerful prebiotic that the baby receives through breast milk, affect the gut health and mental health of babies throughout childhood. Exclusive breastfeeding for babies up to six months ensures intestinal biodiversity and allows babies to develop into children with minor cases of depression, anxiety, anger and learning difficulties.

The diversity of microorganisms continues to increase when and when solid foods are introduced, as well as when exposed to the environment (mud, game, etc.). The introduction of various solid foods affects the range of microorganisms in the intestine. A diet rich in different food groups such as vegetables, whole grains, fermented foods, fruits, legumes, give rise to healthy bacteria. While a diet rich in sugary drinks, processed foods, artificial sweeteners and unhealthy foods, gives rise to bad bacteria.

Excessive cleanliness and sanitation practices can compromise the microbiome. Exposure to natural flora through play with mud, play on the floor, etc. can help build beautiful intestinal bacteria. The friendly bacteria present in the mud help the brain release the hormone of happiness. Not only that, it strengthens the immune system and promotes the development of the child in every way. The next time you try to be especially careful with your child’s cleanliness, remember that you can compromise his gut microbiome and cognitive abilities. health.

Lifestyle has a great influence on the intestinal flora. An active childhood lifestyle can provide good bugs. However, a sedentary child will have poor intestinal health. Sedentary lifestyles and pointless eating are the main causes of obesity among children, which makes them boring and anxious for a certain period of time. Obesity also changes the health of the gut, leading to poor mental health.

It is important for your young child to have very good bacteria and a healthy gut microbiome as they grow up to ensure that both physically and mentally healthy individuals develop!

Manjari Chandra is a consultant in functional nutrition and food medicine, Manjari Wellness, New Delhi. Her column appears every two weeks

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