Authors: Katie Morra, MS, RD, LDN | Jen Unruh, MS, CNS, LDN
Do you want to be let in on a little secret?
Did you know that 90% of your serotonin and 50% of your dopamine is actually made in your gut and not your brain? That means that there is a 50-90% chance that you gut microbiome is controlling your mood. Wild, right?
Let’s break this down a little more so we are all on the same page.
SEROTONIN is a neurotransmitter that helps to regulate mood and social behavior, appetite and digestion, sleep, memory, and sexual desire and function.
DOPAMINE is a neurotransmitter that plays a major role in the motivational component of reward-motivated behaviors. We already know that imbalances in neurotransmitters can contribute to a higher prevalence of anxiety, depression and mood disorders. So, you may be asking, where am I headed with this?
The gut microbiome is constantly affected by your stress levels, dietary choices (your gut bugs eat what you eat), medications and supplements, digestive output and absorption, as well as infections (i.e.; parasites, candida, bacterial imbalances).
Get ready for the longest thought process in history (welcome to my brain):
If you are eating a Standard American Diet (high in carbs, sugars and low in nutrient dense foods and fiber), on medications such as antacids which set you up for a greater chance of being exposed to parasitic infections by lowering your stomach acid (which is responsible for digestion and absorption of protein and stimulating your digestive enzyme and bile output which are responsible for digestion and absorption of carbohydrates and fats), then your gut can no longer absorb the necessary nutrients for optimal brain function, increasing the likelihood that you may suffer from anxiety and/or depression. Second fun fact of this article, did you know that a majority of individuals (50-90% to be exact) that suffer from anxiety and depression also have a diagnosis of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)? Welcome to the vicious cycle and chaotic connection between your gut and brain.
OKAY (gasps for air..), let’s slow down, breathe and regroup. As you can see, the gut-brain connection is the ultimate chicken or the egg dilemma and you’re probably wondering, “where do I even start?”.
Here are our 5 tips for supporting your gut-brain connection daily:
Focus on eating whole foods - choose minimally processed and pre-packaged foods, ideally organic, nutrient-dense foods that nourish the body.
Practice mindful eating and chew more efficiently - simply chewing your food thoroughly can improve your body’s ability to absorb nutrients from your food, as well as prevent bacteria and yeast overgrowth from large food particles making it to the intestines undigested.
Incorporate apple cider vinegar before meals - 1 tsp. of apple cider vinegar in 8 oz. of water before meals helps to stimulate stomach acid production, therefore improving your body’s ability to digest important amino acids, vitamins, and minerals.
Choose foods daily that increase serotonin - these foods include: cage-free eggs (especially the whites), spirulina, wild-caught fish like cod and salmon, pasture-raised poultry, sesame seeds, cashews and walnuts, grass-fed beef or lamb, 100 percent whole grain oats, brown rice, corn or quinoa, beans/legumes, including chickpeas and green peas, potatoes, bananas.
Choose foods daily that increase dopamine - these foods include: chocolate (dark chocolate, cacao), blueberries, healthy nuts and seeds, pasture raised animal products, cruciferous veggies and alliums (onion and garlic).
These daily tips may seem simple but if a root cause of most chronic illness is low stomach acid production and chronic stress, these tips above will add support to the cycle of proper digestive performance and optimal absorption to help support general brain health and gut health.