Introduction to Gut Health and Mental Health

Mental illness or mental health issues are something most of the population is susceptible to. Although not everyone will suffer a mental health issue, anybody can get one.5

Mental illnesses can be described as health conditions involving changes in emotion, thinking or behaviour. It can be a combination of these changes, or a singular one.5

Mental illness is usually associated with feeling distressed, and limited ability to function in everyday life.5

Common Mental Health Issues

Mental health issues are increasingly common worldwide. The most common mental health conditions are:1,4

Depression

Those with depression describe feeling 'low' and losing pleasure in things they once enjoyed.

Symptoms such as irritability, tiredness, loss of appetite or increase in appetite, memory issues, trouble sleeping and lack of concentration can all come hand in hand with depression. In any given week, 8 in 100 people will be diagnosed with depression.

Anxiety Disorder

Those with an anxiety disorder will have extreme worries that are out of proportion regarding the particular situation. They will have difficulty regulating their worries.

They can also feel irritable, restless, tired, tense and have trouble sleeping. In any given week, 6 in 100 people will be diagnosed with anxiety disorder.

Panic Disorder

Panic disorder involves having unexpected and recurring panic attacks. The thought of having another panic attack can cause them anxiety.

Panic attacks can include having an increased heart rate, sweating, shaking, lack of concentration and fear. Less than 1 in 100 people will be diagnosed with panic disorder in any given week. 

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

OCD sufferers may have thoughts, images or pulses that recur and are hard to get rid of. These are referred to as obsessions. They may feel a strong urge to carry out certain physical acts or mental processes which are known as a compulsion. 1 in 100 people will be diagnosed with OCD in any given week.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD often occurs after a particularly stressful or traumatic event. The symptoms of PTSD often include repeated and intrusive memories of the event that sufferers find distressing.

Physical symptoms such as shaking and sweating can accompany the mental processes. In any given week, 4 in 100 people will be diagnosed with PTSD. 

These mental health issues can range from mild to severe and can be debilitating for some. A diagnosis isn’t necessarily lifelong, and diagnosis’ can change throughout your lifetime, too.

Many other mental health issues impact the population, too. 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience mental health issues each year.

The Gut and Mental Health

Our gut health plays an important part in the way our brain works; this is called the gut-brain axis. The brain and gut communicate bidirectionally, meaning they send signals between the central and enteric nervous systems.2

The gut-brain axis is involved in many physiological processes in the body. This includes:3

  • Satiety 
  • Food intake
  • Regulation of glucose and fat metabolism
  • Insulin secretion 
  • Sensitivity and bone metabolism

The mind-gut connection tells us if we’re hungry, stressed or if we’ve ingested a disease-causing microbe.

You know when you eat something and begin to feel unwell? Perhaps you get sweaty, feel sick or have an urgent need to run to the loo? That’s your gut providing feedback through chemicals and hormones to your brain to let you know what’s going on.

The physical and chemical connection between the gut and the brain being skewed can lead to emotional and cognitive issues. This suggests that some mental health conditions can be caused or worsened by gut issues. 

Additionally, 95% of serotonin is made in the gut, so if the gut is unhealthy, the production of serotonin is limited. This can lead to depression, anxiety and other mental health issues.

Serotonin is our “happy hormone” and plays a key role in body functions such as mood, sleep, nausea and sexual desire which can all impact our mental health. 

The Bottom Line

There is much to learn when it comes to the relationship between the gut and mental health. Mental health is an absolute epidemic across the UK if not the world, and understanding our gut's role in this can help us to make better choices that may alleviate symptoms.

 

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