Lifeline Connections

Gut Microbiome and Mental Health

Microbiome is the community of viruses, fungi and bacteria that are living within our gut. Many of these are organisms that we need for optimal health. With the discovery that our microbiomes and mental health might be related, there has been increasing interest in the last few years regarding gut microbiome. This has raised some concerns about the relationship between the gut microbiome and mental health.

There are a number of factors that affect the development of the gut microbiome, how it works and its effectiveness in fulfilling its role. Genetics play a large role in the development of the gut microbiome as well as many lifestyle factors. Diet is the most obvious factor of what can change our gut microbiome; others include levels of alcohol consumption, sleep disruptions and smoking. The gut microbiome has been found to be home to a number of neurons, earning it the name as a “second brain” which implies that the role of the gut may include more than digestion. Studies have shown that the gut produces neurotransmitters and that this may play some role in its interactions with the brain. Neurotransmitters in our brain play an important role in our actions and are necessary for nearly everything that we do.

The discovery of neurotransmitters in our gut has produced questions of how they might influence our mental health, directly or indirectly. The gut-mind connection has received a lot of media attention in recent years, resulting in people emphasizing the importance of diet. While many mental health disorders such as autism  have been correlated with gastrointestinal issues, it is still difficult to ascertain whether these gut disturbances are a precursor or result of mental health disorders. Often there are combinations of factors that lead to complex mental health disorders. While there are cases where dietary changes might be helpful it may not always solve the root of the problem. Understanding how our guts work has a lot of implications, starting with mental health. However, there are many different mental health disorders and each has its own complex risk factors. Living a lifestyle with a healthy diet is the best route for optimized health both mentally and physically, but it is not always possible in our busy, modern lives. There are also many uncontrollable external factors, like stress, our jobs and pollution that might be affecting our gut microbiome. Therefore, while it is good to be informed about diet and gut microbiome, it is not the end all, be all. It is important we do our best to stay healthy and receive help from doctors, nutritionists and psychologists when necessary.

There are many different ways to combat mental health disorders and each patient is different. If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental health disorder, like depression or anxiety, please contact the professional team at Lifeline Connections. You can visit Lifelineconnections.org or call (360) 397-8246 for more information.

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