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The Gut-Brain Connection: How an Imbalanced Gut Affects Mental Health

You’ve probably noticed that your intestinal tract reacts to your emotions. Perhaps you felt a fluttering in your stomach when you were nervous about performing in a play, a sports event, or delivering a speech. Maybe you felt sick to your stomach when you got bad news. In situations like these, it’s easy to recognize how your mental state affects your gut.

However, what you might not know is that the connection goes both ways. Your gut health can also affect your brain, often causing mental health problems. Fortunately, you can find a solution for issues like depression, stress, and anxiety at TriCities Functional Medicine in Tennessee by addressing the root cause of what’s making you feel mentally unwell. Let’s take a look at this gut-brain connection and what it means for your mental well-being.

Is your gut affecting your mental health? Start with our free webinar to learn more.

The Gut-Brain Connection

You may already know that the brain is a part of the central nervous system. There is another type of nervous system in your body, and it’s the peripheral nervous system. Within this second is the enteric nervous system, which is like the brain of your gut. It controls digestion and other intestinal functions.

The central nervous system and the enteric nervous system communicate with each other, and this is how the gut-brain connection happens. So, when you’re mentally distressed, the brain shares that information with the gut. But also, when your gut is out of balance, your brain responds. The ideal situation is when your gut and brain are both healthy and communicating that to each other. You can achieve that kind of mental and physical relief with functional medicine.

Recognizing Signs of an Unhealthy Gut

Humans have what doctors call a “gut microbiome.” This term refers to the collection of microorganisms present in your gut. You naturally have them in your system, even before you are born. Then, after you begin to eat solid foods, the microbiome changes to become more adult-like.

Everyone’s gut microbiome is different, so there is no one specific mix of microorganisms you need to be healthy. You simply need to keep your gut in a balanced state for you. If it is in a state of imbalance right now, the first thing you need to do is recognize the problem. Here are some of the signs of poor gut health.

  • Problems with digestion: any digestive disturbances, including upset stomach, diarrhea, constipation, gas, or stomach pain
  • Losing weight without trying: significant unintentional weight loss of at least 10 pounds
  • Mood problems: unstable or troublesome moods
  • Food allergies, sensitivities or intolerances: foods that cause negative reactions in or on your body or trouble digesting certain foods

Dealing with these problems is difficult enough, but not knowing what to do about them is even harder. Yet, once you can recognize the source of the problem, you can move towards regaining your health.

Conditions Related to Poor Gut Health

If you have a medical condition related to gut health, you might also notice that your mental health suffers. In fact, imbalances in your gut could be at the root of these issues and your mental health directly.

During flare-ups, you not only have to deal with the pain or discomfort from the condition, but you might also experience mental health issues at the same time. Below are some of the conditions associated with gut health.

  • Fibromyalgia
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Thyroid problems
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Chronic pain

If you have any of these conditions, you might need extra help improving the natural balance in your gut. You can get that help from a doctor of functional medicine in Tennessee.

Impacts on Mental Health

Your gut health can impact your mental health in several ways. Researchers have found that gut health can influence the development or continuation of several mental disorders, such as:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Autism

In one review of the scientific literature on the gut-brain connection, researchers found many studies that established this link from gut to brain. Some of the studies also showed that treating gut problems helped relieve the mental health issues in cases where psychiatric medications alone didn’t help enough.

Furthermore, several studies cited in that review showed how toxins in the gut play a significant role. In one of the studies, mentally healthy subjects’ were infused with gut toxins, and they quickly began to have symptoms of depression.

Gut Health and Anxiety

These days, anxiety is extremely common. In fact, anxiety is the most common mental health issue in the U.S and affects nearly 30% of adults within their lifetime. Poor gut health may cause or worsen symptoms of anxiety, so improving that aspect of your health could bring a good measure of relief.

Gut Health and Depression

Depression is another mental disorder that has a high prevalence in the U.S. Statistics from the National Institutes of Health show that about 19.4 million American adults had at least one episode of major depression in 2019. Many studies have shown how the gut and the central nervous system impact each other. For example, one 2018 study investigated the effects of altering gut bacteria and found that depressive symptoms followed. That’s one reason we provide functional medicine in Tennessee for people who suffer from depression. Our holistic approach can bring some relief from these symptoms.

Gut Health and Brain Fog

You’ve probably heard of brain fog, and it’s likely that nearly everyone has experienced it at some time in their life. It’s that feeling that you can’t concentrate or think clearly. Brain fog isn’t a specific medical condition, but rather it can be the symptom of one.

Gut health can contribute to brain fog in several ways. Too much inflammation, histamine, or malabsorption of nutrients in the gut may cause the gut to impact the brain, leading to brain fog as well as other mental health issues.

Causes of Gut Imbalance

Ideally, your gut microbiome would be perfectly balanced. Here are some of the factors that can change that balance over time.

Gut Toxins – In today’s world, it’s common to be exposed to toxic substances. When these toxins enter your gut, they can change the way your intestinal tract works and even lead to mental health issues.

Inflammation – Scientists see inflammation as one of the leading culprits in poor gut health. Inflammation happens when a virus, bacteria, or toxin enters your body. Your immune system fires up and immediately sends out inflammatory cells, as well as cytokines, which stimulate even more inflammatory cells. This condition can become chronic if your body doesn’t stop sending out those cells. Reducing inflammation in your gut is an excellent way to improve your mental health. You can accomplish this with help from functional medicine in Tennessee.

Diet Changes – Changes in your diet, of course, will lead to changes in your gut microbiome. If you make a temporary change, your gut will return to its usual balance quickly. However, if you make a longer-term change in the way you eat, it could have a profound effect on your gut balance and mental health.

Antibiotics – Sometimes, you need antibiotics to overcome a serious infection. The problem is that these medicines can kill the good bacteria and have a lingering effect on your gut. So, after taking them, you may need some help getting your gut back to its usual balance.

Getting the Gut Back in Balance

Improving your mental health is just one reason to improve your gut health. For all that motivation, though, knowing what to change can be difficult. Talking with our team at Tri-Cities Functional Medicinein Tennessee is a good place to start. Here are some of the ways we approach this issue.

  • Improving Your Diet – We create a therapeutic diet plan that works for you guided by your symptoms, the results of labs and other tests, history and physical findings.
  • Probiotics – Consuming probiotics can change your gut health in a positive way. You learn what probiotic supplements are best and when to use them.
  • Stress Reduction – Using stress reduction techniques, such as, meditation and prayer, deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and learning how to overcome strong-holds, you reduce the stress that is causing unhealthy reactions in your gut.
  • Decrease Inflammation – We  recommend several ways to reduce your inflammation. Besides eating anti-inflammatory foods, you can begin to exercise, lose weight if needed, control your blood sugar, and eliminate some other sources of inflammation such as toxins in your environment.
  • Hormones – If hormonal imbalances are impacting your gut health, we will focus on   restoring the balance in your hormones naturally through our 5 pillars of health.

As the head of Tri-Cities Functional Medicine, Dr. Joseph Radawi is dedicated to helping people with health issues and chronic conditions. Dr. Radawi and Tri-Cities Functional Medicine in Tennessee empowers people to regain their health. Our focus is on addressing the root causes of your health problems or chronic conditions using holistic methods and treatments to improve your physical and mental health.

Ready to make the right changes to improve your gut health? Take the first step:

  1. Watch a free webinar to learn about our approach to the health concerns you are facing.
  2. Schedule a Free Discovery Call to discuss your health concerns and goals to see if our practice is a good fit for you.
  3. After your discovery call – if we are a good fit, you’ll schedule a consultation with our doctor to dive deeper and formulate an individualized treatment plan for you.

Tri-Cities Functional Medicine is located in Johnson City, Tennessee, and serves patients throughout Tennessee and into Virginia, North Carolina, West Virginia and Kentucky. These areas include but are not limited to: Washington County, TN, Sullivan County, TN, Carter County, TN, Greene County, TN, Knox County, TN, Bristol, TN, Holston Valley, TN, Tri-Cities, TN, Walnut Hill, TN, Elizabethton, TN, Greeneville, TN, Morristown, TN, Blountville, TN, Bluff City, TN, Kingsport, TN, Jonesborough, TN, Colonial Heights, TN, Limestone, TN, Knoxville, TN, Bristol, VA, Abingdon, VA, Grundy, VA, Asheville, NC, Boone, NC.