How Gut Health Relates to Mental Health

There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that the health of our gut and the health of our brain are closely connected.

The gut and the brain communicate with each other through a complex network of neural, hormonal, and immune pathways. This connection is often referred to as the gut-brain axis.

The Issues With Imbalance of Gut Bacteria

Research has shown that an imbalance in the gut microbiome, which is the collection of microorganisms that live in the gut, can have a negative impact on mental health. Studies have found that certain gut bacteria are associated with conditions such as anxiety and depression.

For example, low levels of certain bacteria, such as Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus, have been linked to anxiety and depression.

Impact of Nutrient Deficiencies and How They Happen

In addition to the gut microbiome, other factors that affect gut health, such as inflammation and nutrient deficiencies, may also contribute to mental health issues. Chronic inflammation, for example, has been linked to depression and anxiety. Nutrient deficiencies, such as a lack of vitamin B12 and zinc, can also affect mental health.

If your gut is unable to properly break down proteins, it can lead to a number of problems, among them, malabsorption. 

When proteins are not broken down properly, they can't be absorbed into the bloodstream and used by the body for energy and growth. This can lead to malabsorption, which is a condition in which the body is unable to absorb enough nutrients from food.

Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins and are necessary for the proper functioning of many important bodily processes, including growth and repair, hormone regulation, and neurotransmitter production. The body breaks down proteins with enzymes called proteases in the stomach and small intestine to obtain amino acids.

The breakdown of proteins is a complex process and requires the proper functioning of the gut, stomach, and pancreas. Deficiencies in the production of enzymes or acidity level in the stomach can make this process difficult or even impeded. Factors such as inflammation in the gut, infection, and certain medications can also interfere with protein digestion and absorption.

When amino acids are not properly absorbed, the body can become deficient in the specific amino acids that it needs to function correctly. 

This deficiency can lead to a number of physical health issues, such as muscle wasting, anemia, and skin disorders. But physical ailments are not the only consequence. A malabsorption of specific amino acids can have negative effects on mental health as well.

Amino Acids Are Important to Mental Health

Some amino acids, such as tryptophan, are precursors to neurotransmitters like serotonin, which is known to regulate mood, anxiety, sleep and other cognitive functions. If malabsorption leads to tryptophan deficiency, it can result in depression and anxiety.

Similarly, low levels of phenylalanine and tyrosine, which are precursors to the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine, can lead to symptoms such as fatigue, apathy, and irritability.

It's important to note that malabsorption is often a symptom of a larger gut disorder, such as celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease or even a simple food intolerance and treating the underlying issue is crucial.

Imagine a tree with a disease. If you just treat the symptoms, you might trim off the dead leaves or branches, but the tree will continue to be sick and eventually die. On the other hand, if you address the root cause of the problem, such as a fungal infection in the soil or a lack of water, the tree can recover and thrive.

Treating the symptoms from a deficiency in amino acids will only get you so far.

There may also be instances where malabsorption may not cause mental health issues directly, but the symptoms of malabsorption, such as chronic diarrhea and weight loss can be quite distressing and can lead to depression and anxiety. And in the long term it can result in physical weakness which can in turn lead to a reduction in the ability to engage in daily activities and work, thereby decreasing the quality of life and increasing the risk of depression.

While more research is needed to fully understand the connections between gut health and mental health, it's clear that maintaining a healthy gut can be an important part of overall well-being. Keeping the gut healthy can be done by maintaining a healthy diet, reducing stress, and avoiding taking unnecessary antibiotics, if possible.