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The Gut-Brain Connection : Exploring the Link Between Gut Health and Mental Well-Being

There is a noise about the connection between gut health and mental well-being. But is that true?  It is factual that people suffering from stress and anxiety also complain about having stomach problems. Researchers have also identified a connection between the gut and the brain, and this connection affects your digestion, mood, and also the way you think.

We have talked more about the connection between gut health and mental well-being. So, read further and explore the same.

The Gut-Brain Connection: Exploring the Link Between Gut Health and Mental Well-Being

The Gut-Brain Connection: Exploring the Link Between Gut Health and Mental Well-Being

Gut As Our ”Second Brain”

Like the brain, our gut is packed with nerves known as the Enteric Nervous System (ENS), also known as the “Second brain”. The neurons and neurotransmitters found in the enteric nervous system are of the same type as that of our central nervous system. The enteric nervous system lines your entire digestive system and comprises more than 100 million nerve cells forming two different layers. This runs from your esophagus to the rectum.

The Gut-Brain Connection

How Are The Gut Health and Mental Health Related?

This Enteric Nervous System (ENS) plays a crucial role in improving your digestive or gut health and also your mental well-being. This specific connection involving ENS, neurotransmitters, and gut microbiome is a two-way communication system between the gut and the brain. This connection between the gut and brain includes the Vagus nerve, neurotransmitters, and gut microbiome. There is increasing evidence that symptoms of mental health issues like depression and anxiety can be reduced by improving the health of your gut microbiome.

Mental health conditions, such as anxiety are usually associated with chronic gut conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).(1) Research has suggested that gut bacteria can affect symptoms of depression and anxiety. Specific gut microbes are identified by scientists that might be connected with mental health conditions.

A study has found that patients with depression had fewer of two types of gut bacteria, namely Dialister and Coprococcus.(2) Participants of the study who had more of these gut bacteria reported higher scores when researchers asked them about the quality of their lives.

Scientists have also found encouraging results when investigating the use of FMT or Fecal Microbiota Transplants as an experimental treatment for mental problems. Fecal microbiota transplants use samples of poop that contain bacteria from a person’s gut microbiome, which are transplanted into the gut of another person.

Various studies have shown that FMT taken from donors with no mental health conditions could improve symptoms in patients with depression and anxiety. However, in many of these cases, the symptoms returned a few months after the treatment was done.(3)

Our Enteric Nervous System (ENS) communicates with the brain via the hormones and nervous system. An exchange of information also occurs between the gut and our immune system, thus affecting overall mental health. This is also believed to contribute to various diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, anxiety, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and autism.

Stress-Related Gut Symptoms and Conditions

Our body releases specific chemicals and hormones when we are anxious or nervous, and these hormones and chemicals enter our digestive system. This can affect the microbes that live in the gut, helping in the process of digestion while reducing the production of antibodies. This chemical imbalance can result in various gastrointestinal conditions like constipation, indigestion, nausea, loss of appetite or unusual hunger, diarrhea and stomach upset, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Feed The Gut Bacteria Well, and Feel Happy

By feeding our gut bacteria, we can feel happy. A neurotransmitter known as Serotonin or the ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitter is made in high supply in our gut. 95% of our body’s serotonin is prepared in our guts and not the brains. This has been mentioned by Mike Hoaglin, M.D., the San Francisco-based medical director of DrHouse (a telehealth company).(4) When we feed our healthy gut bacteria, they start sending signals to our brain that benefits in boosting our mood. 

Gut-Friendly Diet, Probiotics, and Mental Well-Being

Evidence suggests that by improving our diet, we can also help in improving our mental improving. Certain studies have suggested that taking higher-quality diets and plant fibers called prebiotics (which are good for gut bacteria) can also help in enhancing mood.

Research has provided hints that dietary fiber from whole plant food can aid in nourishing the gut-brain connection in several ways; from improving the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut to minimizing inflammation.(5)

A study has also found that patients suffering from depression saw improvements in their symptoms after changing their diet, which was based on personalized advice from an expert nutritionist.(6) Moreover, fast foods and processed foods, or diets consisting mainly of foods that can cause inflammation in the body, are linked to increased symptoms of depression.

Scientists studying over seven hundred people who were extremely prone to anxiety have found that consuming fermented foods containing probiotics was associated with fewer symptoms of social anxiety.(7)

There are several probiotic supplements. However, it is unclear how much these supplements can help in improving your mental health.

A recent review of 21 studies that examined the effect of probiotic supplements and other dietary changes on anxiety symptoms of people has found that although probiotics helped in certain cases, non-probiotic approaches were found to be more effective.(8) One more analysis of 14 studies had also shown similar results.(9)

New Understanding of Gut and Mental Well-Being That Paves the Way to New Treatment Opportunities

Recent understanding of the connection between the Enteric Nervous System (ENS) and Central Nervous System (CNS) or the gut and the brain helps in explaining the effectiveness of IBS and other bowel-disorder treatments like several antidepressants and mind-body therapies, such as medical hypnotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Gastroenterologists might prescribe some antidepressants for irritable bowel syndrome because the medications can calm symptoms in certain cases by acting on different nerve cells in your gut. Since both our brains talk to each other, therapies that work for t gut would also help mental health.


  1. Popa SL, Dumitrascu DL. Anxiety and IBS revisited: ten years later. Clujul Med. 2015;88(3):253-7. doi: 10.15386/cjmed-495. Epub 2015 Jul 1. PMID: 26609253; PMCID: PMC4632879.
  2. Valles-Colomer, M., Falony, G., Darzi, Y. et al. The neuroactive potential of the human gut microbiota in quality of life and depression. Nat Microbiol 4, 623–632 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41564-018-0337-x Valles-Colomer, M., Falony, G., Darzi, Y. et al. The neuroactive potential of the human gut microbiota in quality of life and depression. Nat Microbiol 4, 623–632 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41564-018-0337-x
  3. Chinna Meyyappan, A., Forth, E., Wallace, C.J.K. et al. Effect of fecal microbiota transplant on symptoms of psychiatric disorders: a systematic review. BMC Psychiatry 20, 299 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12888-020-02654-5
  4. Sjostedt P, Enander J, Isung J. (2021), ‘Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors and the Gut Microbiome: Significance of the Gut Microbiome in Relation to Mechanism of Action, Treatment Response, Side effects, and Tachyphylaxis’ Front. Psychiatry. V. 12. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2021.682868
  5. Swann OG, Kilpatrick M, Breslin M, Oddy WH. Dietary fiber and its associations with depression and inflammation. Nutr Rev. 2020 May 1;78(5):394-411. doi: 10.1093/nutrit/nuz072. PMID: 31750916.
  6. Jacka, F.N., O’Neil, A., Opie, R. et al. A randomised controlled trial of dietary improvement for adults with major depression (the ‘SMILES’ trial). BMC Med 15, 23 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12916-017-0791-y
  7. Hilimire MR, DeVylder JE, Forestell CA. Fermented foods, neuroticism, and social anxiety: An interaction model. Psychiatry Res. 2015 Aug 15;228(2):203-8. doi: 10.1016/j.psychres.2015.04.023. Epub 2015 Apr 28. PMID: 25998000.
  8. Yang B, Wei J, Ju P, et al. Effects of regulating intestinal microbiota on anxiety symptoms: A systematic review
  9. General Psychiatry 2019;32:e100056. doi: 10.1136/gpsych-2019-100056
  10. Reis DJ, Ilardi SS, Punt SEW. The anxiolytic effect of probiotics: A systematic review and meta-analysis of the clinical and preclinical literature. PLoS One. 2018 Jun 20;13(6):e0199041. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0199041. PMID: 29924822; PMCID: PMC6010276.
Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:June 20, 2023

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