5 Things You Didn’t Know about the Gut-Brain Connection

Your gut and brain communicate constantly — impacting not just your digestive health — but also your mental health. In celebration of Mental Health Awareness Month, the Terrain Health team wants to explore the gut-brain connection on a deeper level.

Dr. Robin Rose and Tracey Sheedy, PA-C, know that your gut is the secret to good health, and that includes good mental health too! 

Read on to learn more facts about the gut-brain connection and what the Terrain Health team can do to support your gut health.

5 Ways Your Gut Health Affects Your Mental Health

The term gut-brain connection (or gut-brain axis) refers to the bidirectional communication network between your gastrointestinal tract (aka your gut) and your brain. This communication occurs through various pathways, including your nervous system, hormones, and your immune system.

One of the biggest pathways on this axis is your vagus nerve, which runs from your brainstem to your abdomen. Your vagus nerve helps to transmit signals between your gut and your brain, and it carries information about the state of your gut — such as its motility, nutrient absorption, and the presence of harmful pathogens — to your brain.

It’s not just a one-way street. It’s bidirectional, so that means that your brain can also influence your gut through signals sent via the autonomic nervous system and the release of stress hormones like cortisol. 

Your gut health affects your mental health in several ways:

Gut Microbes Influence Your Mood

You may not realize it, but the trillions of microbes residing in your gut play a crucial role in regulating your mood. These microorganisms produce neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which help maintain emotional balance. 

When your gut microbiome is out of whack, it can contribute to mood disorders such as anxiety and depression.

Mental Stress Affects Your Digestion

Ever experience butterflies in your stomach before a big presentation? That’s your brain and gut in action. Stress triggers a cascade of physiological responses, including changes in gut motility and secretion. You might refer to this as a “nervous stomach.” 

Chronic stress can disrupt the balance of bacteria in your gut and contribute to digestive issues like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) while exacerbating mental health conditions.

Your Gut Talks to Your Brain Through the Vagus Nerve

Your vagus nerve serves as a direct communication highway between your gut and brain. This cranial nerve relays information about the state of your digestive system to your brain and vice versa. 

Fun fact: vagus means “wandering” in Latin, a suitable name considering this cranial nerve “wanders” from your brain down to your abdomen! 

Through this bi-directional communication, your gut can influence your emotions, cognition, and even decision-making processes.

Gut Health Impacts Neuroinflammation

Inflammation in your gut doesn’t just stay there—it can affect your brain too. Emerging research suggests that gut inflammation may contribute to neuroinflammation, a hallmark of various mental disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and mood disorders. 

By nurturing a healthy gut, you could potentially mitigate the risk of inflammatory conditions in your brain.

Probiotics Can Support Mental Well-being

While you may associate probiotics with digestive health, their benefits extend to mental well-being as well. Certain strains of probiotics — specifically Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains —  have been shown to alleviate symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress. 

According to a 2023 article published in the journal Pharmaceuticals, probiotics may even play a big role in managing psychiatric disorders. This can be a beacon of hope for those trying to manage mental health conditions without pharmaceutical drugs. 

Bottom line: By replenishing beneficial bacteria in your gut, probiotics can help restore microbiota balance and promote a positive mood.

Support Your Gut to Support Your Mental Health

Here at Terrain Health, we believe that your gut is the gateway to good health. It’s why we look at the whole picture and focus on your unique biochemical individuality when assessing your gut health. 

From there, we review your gut symptoms and mental health concerns and order advanced diagnostics such as:

  • Next generation sequencing of the gut microbiome
  • Genomics testing/DNA analysis 
  • Tests that examine the exposome (i.e. mycotoxins)
  • Metabolomic testing of Hormones
  • Other novel biomarkers/blood tests
  • Stool tests 

All of these tests paint the whole picture of your gut health — information that’s used to shape your treatment plan. To get your gut health (and therefore your mental health) back on track, our team may suggest nutritional modifications, sleep hygiene best practices, tips to manage stress, health coaching, probiotics, and other natural supplements. 

We’re even happy to take you on a grocery tour so you feel empowered to fuel your gut with probiotic-rich foods.

Prioritize Your Gut Health This Month

This Mental Health Awareness Month, remember to listen to your gut—it might just have something important to say about your well-being.

Book your free discovery call today.