Taking care of your mental health is as important as maintaining your physical health. It is estimated that about 1 in 4 Americans have a mental disorder, and while mental health practices have become more normalized in modern society, they have not necessarily become easier.
There are all sorts of practices that people can implement on a daily basis that have the tendency to increase peace of mind, affect, and ability to not only handle the responsibilities of life but also thrive while doing so. In fact, there exist a few things which carry a tremendous amount of influence on mental health and at the same time are underutilized by a great number of people.
One of the biggest determinants of mood and mental health is diet. We all know the expression “mind over matter,” but, in fact, the mind is matter—at least in so much as we are talking about the brain. Because the brain and the body work together closely, it makes sense that to affect the body is to affect the mind. It is commonly known that exercise, diet, and good mental health all impact one another, but there may be many interesting connections between the foods you are eating and your mental state that you didn’t know existed.
It turns out there is a superhighway of information traveling between your intestines and your brain. The contents of what we call the gut can significantly affect the potential for having a healthy, happy brain in the long term. A person’s diet will, in a large part, determine what types of microbes live in the latter portion of their digestive system. These little germs can be extremely beneficial to our health in several ways. They make up most of the body’s immune system, produce vitamins, aid in digestion, and play a role in disease prevention.
Sometimes what lives in the gut is killed off or otherwise replaced with other microscopic species which do not provide benefit and can sometimes even be harmful to people. The state of the gut is communicated to the brain directly through a large connection called the Vagus nerve. This conversation between your digestive system and brain affects things like stress level, anxiety, mood, and depression.
The connection between diet and the state of the nervous system is a useful thing to leverage to provide the best possible starting point for all other mental health practices. Foods that provide benefit to this system include some vegetables and fruits, because of their indigestible fibers, and things like yogurt and other fermented foods because of the microbial cultures they contain.
It has also been shown that things like alcohol and processed sugar can have detrimental effects on the condition of the gut and its contents. In the end, the more we can understand how the digestive system impacts our mental health, the more we can set ourselves up for success. A great strategy for optimizing quality of life is healing from the inside out.