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The Brain Gut Connection: How to Eat for Better Mental Health

Anxiety is the most common mental illness in the US, affecting more than 40 million adults age 18 and over annually. This makes up for about 18% of the population (Anxiety and Depression Association of America). There is new and emerging research suggesting that inflammation and overall gut-health has a big impact on your brain health.

Recent research suggests that there is a strong link between inflammation, specifically in the gut, and mental health. We now know that depression and anxiety are associated with a chronic, low-grade inflammatory response and activation of cell-mediated immunity, as well as activation of the compensatory anti-inflammatory reflex system. It is similarly accompanied by increased oxidative and nitrosative stress (O&NS), which contribute to neuroprogression in the disorder. The obvious question this poses is ‘what is the source of this chronic low-grade inflammation? (BMC Medicine).

“Bad” bacteria in the gut, can increase immune responses, leading to inflammation. This cycle suggests that decreasing inflammation could in fact, promote health and healing. So, how do we reduce inflammation? I’m going to share five healthy habits that could help reduce inflammation and perhaps offer some relief.

  1. Move daily. Regular exercise has been shown to improve symptoms of depression. It also coincidentally decreases inflammation.
  2. Practice Healthy Sleep Habits. Healthy sleep habits, including enough sleep, can also dramatically improve inflammatory conditions and depression. While not everyone needs eight hours a night, it’s a good goal to start with. Not getting enough sleep, even when every other lifestyle factor is on point, can have a damaging effect on overall inflammation levels.
  3. Reduce your alcohol consumption. Alcohol tends to be a source of inflammation in the body, so limiting consumption may be beneficial.
  4. Switch to decaf. Although it may seem like caffeine temporarily improves symptoms and mood, it’s long term effects of overconsumption, can perpetuate the depressive cycle, increase inflammation and lead to adrenal stress.
  5. Reduce your sugar intake. Sugar increases the inflammatory response within the body, and can also wreak havoc on leaky gut and digestive issues. A few simple ways to decrease your sugar consumption would be to reduce processed and refined foods from your diet, and choose instead whole foods, particularly healthy meats, fats, and vegetables.

Written by Amy Stoks, MA, LPC


Ali Madeeh Hashmi, Zeeshan Butt, Muhammad Umair. Is depression an inflammatory condition? A review of available evidence. (July 2013). US National Library of Medicine. National Institutes of Health.

Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

Complementary Therapies in Clinical PracticeVolume 15, Issue 2. (May 2009). Pages 102-104

Journal of Affective DisordersVolume 89, Issues 1–3. (December 2005). Pages 13-24.

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By | 2019-02-05T16:18:51-05:00 April 7th, 2019|Blog|0 Comments
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