How mental health can impact gut health.

Our gut sends signals to our brain to trigger mood swings, and often if it’s in distress so are we. Do you know the signs of poor gut health?

Have you ever heard of the strange relationship that lies between our brain and our gut?

One of the most common complaints I hear from anyone experiencing distress, or mental illness is poor gastrointestinal health. Considering the role that our gut plays, this isn’t necessarily surprising. It’s been well documented that the gut and mind are directly linked. Some would even go as far as to call the gut the body’s second brain. When we’re experiencing an upset in our digestive system it can make us feel like ‘crap’. Our gastrointestinal tract sends signals to our brain to trigger mood swings, and often if it’s in distress so are we. 

*Please be aware that some changes in gut health can be the result of more than just mental health. If you’re concerned please speak to your GP. This is especially true if you experience sudden and continuing changes in bowel habits or discomfort when swallowing.


The gut to brain connection.

It’s very clear that both are very much connected physically and biochemically, and have a significant impact on each other. When it comes to identifying an unhappy gut, it should be fairly simple. We all know our bodies, and should be aware of any changes that occur such as sudden changes in bowel habits, bloating, etc. If you experience any of the following changes it could be a sign that your gut health has gone awry.

> Unintentional weight changes.

Significant weight changes in either direction without making changes to your lifestyle can be a sign of an unhappy gut. When the gut is in distress it can impair our body’s ability to absorb nutrients, regulate blood sugar and store fat.  

Bacteria overgrowth (SIBO) can contribute to weight loss, while weight gain may be caused by insulin resistance. Our body’s may also encourage us to overeat due to a lack of nutritional absorption. 

> An ‘upset’ stomach.

This includes stomach disturbances such as bloating, constipation, diarrhea and heartburn among other things. Although these aren’t uncommon in small spells, if they continue over a long period of time in any combination, it might be time to speak to your GP. 

> Increased craving for sugar.

The imbalance of good to bad bacteria in the gut caused by poor diet can mean you are left craving sugary foods more often than you would like. Continuing to eat like this only increases the problem, creating a vicious cycle. 

> Trouble getting to sleep.

An unhappy gut can play a big factor in sleep disturbances and if left unchecked can lead to chronic fatigue. Serotonin, the mood and sleep hormone, is primarily produced in our gut, therefore an unhealthy gut can cause restless sleep and even insomnia. 

Although sleep disturbances can be caused by other issues it’s advisable to seek medical treatment if poor sleeping patterns continue for longer than a few weeks. 

> Autoimmune conditions.

Researchers are constantly finding more evidence of the impact that our gut health has on our immune systems. An unhappy gut is more likely to increase inflammation and alter the correct functioning of the immune system, which can lead to autoimmune diseases such as IBD, MS, and type 1 diabetes.

Autoimmune diseases are characterised by the bodies inability to control it’s immune system, meaning that it can overreact frequently causing the body to attack itself. 

> Food Intolerance. 

Having a food intolerance means your body has difficulty digesting certain foods. It’s not to be mistaken with a food allergy which is triggered by the immune system reacting to certain foods, and often requires medical assistants. 

Food intolerances are thought to be caused by low quality gut bacteria which leads to difficulty digesting certain foods such as wheat, eggs and dairy. This can lead to uncomfortable and embarrassing symptoms such as bloating, diarrhea and gas. 


How can you improve your gut health? 

> Get enough sleep.

Our bodies repair themselves overnight, so it’s always a good idea to keep on top of your sleeping schedule. If you’re suffering from poor sleeping patterns due to gut complaints then it’s best to see your GP or medical professional for advice. One of the first things that will start to help your gut is a good night’s sleep, and sometimes that might mean taking something to help lull you over. 

It’s advised that the average adult gets between 7 – 8 hours of sleep a night. This can change depending on activity level, illness or circumstance. There are many ways you can prepare a routine to help you get to sleep at night without the help of medication.

Need help getting to sleep? How to get to sleep for night owls.
> Try and reduce your stress levels.

As I’ve learned from experience reducing my stress levels was the number one way to help my gut issues. As soon as I removed myself from a place where I was overwhelmed and afraid constantly, I was able to come off the laxatives and ‘go’ normally for the first time in 4 years

For me it was as simple as removing myself from the stressful environment, for others it might not be as simple. There are, however, many ways you can go about reducing stress levels including;

  • Avoiding caffeine, nicotine and alcohol as these all increase stress levels. 
  • Exercising frequently.
  • Getting enough sleep. 
  • Trying mindfulness, meditation, yoga or other relaxation techniques. 
  • Talking about it. 
Learn more about managing stress here!
> Eat mindfully. 

When it comes to eating we often find ourselves distracted by TV screens. The idea of mindful eating is to taste and experience food fully. By embracing the food we are giving our body permission to slow down and just do what it has to do. By eating slowly and fully chewing our food we are also giving our bodies time to react to fullness, meaning we don’t over eat and feel uncomfortably full. 

Remember:

  • Eat slowly 
  • Chew your food fully
  • Avoid all distractions
> Keep hydrated.

Keeping up with our water intake benefits the mucus lining of the gut and increases our good bacteria activity. It’s recommended that we drink 6-8 cups of water each day, and avoid over consumption of diuretics such as coffee and energy drinks. 

Set an alarm on your phone to gently remind you to seek our hydration. 

> Embrace Pre and Probiotics.

Prebiotics promote the growth of good bacteria in the gut, while probiotics introduce colonies of live bacteria directly to our intestine. Both can be taken together or separately and help create a friendly environment for good gut bugs. 

My mother started on probiotics approximately eight weeks ago and since then has cornered my father into doing the same. She found such success after years of an irritated gut that she now takes them daily alongside her other medications. 

Before buying anything always do your research. Speak to a GP or other specialist before spending money. 

> Get checked for intolerances.

The source of your tummy trouble could be as simple as a food intolerance. Speak to your GP to get started with allergy and intolerance testing. 

> Change your diet if you need to.

If you find that you are intolerant or even allergic to certain foods then it’s time to change your diet. Even if the results are all negative for the above it may still be a good idea to start playing with the foods you’re eating and how you’re eating them. 

Often it could be a case of adding more fruits and vegetables to our diet, or cutting back on red meat. Sometimes your GP may advise you to seek our vitamins from your local chemist. In this case speak to you GP or pharmacist about the best course of action and go from there. 


Have you experienced any gut health issues caused by poor mental health? Maybe you’re like me and have managed to remove yourself from a triggering situation? I would love to hear your experiences in the comments below.

62 comments

  1. My sleep completely messes up my stomach. That and flying also seems to have a detrimental impact. But the really big thing that causes my stomach to completely back up is stress and anxiety. It’s mad.

  2. I know so many people who had stomach issues because of stress and anxiety, yet doctors very rarely mention it as a reason for stomach pain. Or at least that’s what I’ve found over here. My grandfather sadly had bad stomach issues both before his cancer diagnosis in his esophagus, and then while he was in remission for that he developed bowel cancer, stage 4. It’s definitely better to keep an eye on bowel health than ignore it like I did for years.

    Thank you for reading pet. x

  3. I had a friend who recently had the same stomach issues and it wasn’t until she went to the doctor that hew told her that it could be the stress of visiting her mum and dad and balancing everything. Until it happens to you, people really have no idea just how much our stress levels and mental health can negatively impact our gut.
    Thank you so much for reading and commenting.

  4. Yes! I have ‘nervous’ guts as it’s called in my country. when I am stressed so are my guts. I oten can’t leave because of that

  5. It still amaze me how the mind controls every part of the body. No wonder we have mental health problems. Thanks for this informative post.

  6. Such an interesting post to read, I deffo find that when I’m more anxious, my gut health is more of an issue. It’s been an issue for quite a few years and still really affects me even tho I feel better now that I’ve recovered x

  7. I completely agree that there is a link between gut health and your mental health and for me personally it definitely impacts my qualitty of sleep and tolerances to certain foods. I find that some days some foods are ok for me to digest and other days my stomach is just so upset that it does not want to go there. When I am stressed I do find that it aggravates my gut health as well.

  8. Thank you for sharing! My husband suffers from this. We are going to try some of this out.

  9. This is SO true! The first thing that I notice is changes in my sleeping pattern. I sleep well when everything is on track. However, as my mental health slips, I find myself struggling to fall asleep once again.

  10. This has been such an interesting read πŸ™‚ thank you! If I think about it now I definitely crave more sugar and my stomach gets upset when I’m stressed :/

  11. This is such a well-written post! I didn’t realise there was so much for a connection between the two, but it totally makes sense. I definitely crave sugar when my mental health is suffering. I love the tips too, so helpful πŸ™‚

    Anika | chaptersofmay.com

  12. This is so interesting! I never really thought about the impact. My Dad has been really struggling with all kinds of stomach issues, the Doctor is at a loss but I bet it is his mental health. In general he is good but I know being on his own now effects him more than he lets on.

    It got so bad that the Doctor thought his cancer might be back, thankfully it’s not but the issues continue. but reading this, it makes complete sense!

    Thank you so much x x

  13. My first time learning that gut health is somehow related to our mental health! This is very informative x Thank you, I’ve learned something new!

  14. Yes gut health is important I take probiotic every day, as well as nowadays mental health is important too.

  15. My gut health has taken priority in my life. It can get very upset at the drop of a dime.

  16. have read already about this connection but your blog post cleared the entire issue..glad you shared this information with us..These ideas and facts are gonna be very useful one indeed…

  17. Wow this is really hitting home right now. I have been having digestive issues for the past 2 weeks and am so tired of the discomfort. I’ve been having heartburn, upper abdominal pain, reflux, and like constant fluctuations of pain throughout my abdomen and chest. It’s definitely reassuring to see a doctor during this uncertainty because I will google my symptoms so much and make it even worse! Thank for sharing this information!

  18. I absolutely love the information here on how it can help us prevent those. These are really helpful tips to keep!

  19. Thank you for reading. I thought I had IBS, still do, but it was never formally diagnosed. But then again I stopped going to the doctor after they suggested fasting to me, which kick started my eating disorder again.

  20. Thank you so much for reading. I’m exactly like you! My stomach is my anxieties go-to place to cause trouble. That’s how I know I’m stressed but instead of ignoring it or changing my diet, I now know what it means.

  21. These are great information for all us on how to take care not only our gut health but our body healthy. Thank you so much for this, now I will take care mine even more.

  22. I’ve suffered with IBS for years and my mental health definitely impacts it. When I’m stressed or anxious it gets worse!

  23. There is definitely an association between mental health and gut health. It’s shocking how much our mental health can have physical manifestations. I’m working on getting as much sleep as possible and keeping stress down.

  24. There is definitely a link to my stress and my stomach. If I’m worried or anxious I immediately get stomach pains.

  25. This is such an informative post! I never knew how much your mental health can impact your gut health! x

  26. I can see this. And I do try to always drink plenty of water. And I try to avoid stress, which isn’t always easy these days.

  27. I had all these symptoms when COVID first started and I was so stressed. I changed my diet to include more fruits and veggies and started an exercise routine. It did help!

  28. I never knew of this mind-gut conection. I will keep these tips in mind and will try and stay hydrated, avoid stress and eat right to keep ny gut healthy.

  29. Hydration is one of my biggest downfalls! I did almost 80oz yesterday and I was pretty proud of that

  30. My anxiety goes STRAIGHT to my gut. It’s where I get the worst symptoms! I learned in group therapy last year that the reason some people get the upset stomach (or basically pooing a lot when you’re anxious) is because your body is getting ready for fight or flight and getting rid of anything unnecessary from the body so it can focus on the organs that do matters (like muscles and your heart). I find all this really interesting. Great post!

  31. Lord this really hits home. When I’m going through a lot of stress my gut definitely feels it and tells me in the WORST ways. I’ve been trying to be more mindful but recently I had a major slip up and I could totally tell. Thanks for this reminder friend.

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