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Mental Health & The Gut

Mental health is more relevant today than ever before. Whether the cause is health, finances, family, job or any number of other things, a large number of people are struggling with mental health issues. In fact, by the time Canadians reach 40 years of age, 1 in 2 have, or have had, a mental illness.[1]

While we may think it’s all in our head, a lot of it may in fact, be in our gut. When you get “gut feelings”, have a “gut reaction” or experience butterflies in your stomach, you’re likely getting signals from your second brain; the brain in your gut.

This second brain is also referred to as the enteric nervous system and it contains over 100 million nerve cells that line the GI tract from the esophagus to the rectum.[2] The enteric nervous system includes neural circuits that control motor functions, local blood flow, mucosal secretion and transport, modulates immune and endocrine functions and has extensive, two-way connections with the central nervous system.[3]

This gut brain does not function like the brain in your skull, “Its main role is controlling digestion, from swallowing to the release of enzymes that break down food to the control of blood flow that helps with nutrient absorption to elimination,” explains Jay Pasricha, M.D., director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Neurogastroenterology, whose research on the enteric nervous system has garnered international attention. “The enteric nervous system doesn’t seem capable of thought as we know it, but it communicates back and forth with our big brain—with profound results.” The ENS may trigger big emotional shifts experienced by people coping with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and functional bowel problems such as; constipation, diarrhea, bloating, pain and stomach upset.

“For decades, researchers and doctors thought that anxiety and depression contributed to these problems. But our studies and others show that it may also be the other way around,” Pasricha says.

Researchers are finding evidence that irritation in the gastrointestinal system may send signals to the central nervous system (CNS) that trigger mood changes. “These new findings may explain why a higher-than-normal percentage of people with IBS and functional bowel problems develop depression and anxiety,” Pasricha says.[4]

So, with this understanding, let’s look at the bacteria in our gut. Bacteria have been shown to produce and/or consume a wide range of neurotransmitters, including dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, and GABA. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter that plays a big role in emotions and happiness. An estimated 90% of the body’s serotonin is produced in the gut, and nearly 95% of the body’s serotonin resides within the gastrointestinal tract.[5],[6] Keeping the gut happy may keep the brain happy.

Calm From Within
For a lot of people, one of the first signs of stress is gastrointestinal discomfort such as abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and loose stools. Renew Life® Ultimate Flora® Probiotic Plus Mood & Stress is formulated to help reduce gastrointestinal discomfort in those experiencing mild to moderate stress resulting from life events, and helps moderate feelings of anxiety. It includes 6 unique probiotic strains which provide 30 billion active cultures in a convenient once a day dose, no need to take any other probiotic supplement.

Renew Life® Ultimate Flora® Probiotic Plus Mood & Stress is formulated to not only support good digestive health but it also contains the clinically studied probiotic strains Lactobacillus helveticus R0052 and Bifidobacterium longum R0175 to help moderate feelings of anxiety and reduce gastrointestinal discomfort related to mild to moderate stress.[7]

By: Caroline Farquhar RHN, EMP, BA
[1] CAMH authors. (2011). Mental Illness and Addiction: Facts and Statistics. Available: https://www.camh.ca/en/driving-change/the-crisis-is-real/mental-health-statistics. Last accessed 22 Apr 20.
[2] M. Rao et al. (2016). The bowel and beyond: the enteric nervous system in neurological disorders. Available: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5005185/#!po=2.23881. Last accessed 15 Jan 20.
[3] Costa, M. et al. (2000). Anatomy and physiology of the enteric nervous system. Available: https://gut.bmj.com/content/47/suppl_4/iv15. Last accessed 15 Jan 20.
[4] John Hopkins Medicine authors. The Brain-Gut Connection. Available: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/the-brain-gut-connection. Last accessed 22 Apr 20.
[5] Strandwitz, P. (2019). Neurotransmitter modulation by the gut microbiota. Available: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6005194/. Last accessed 22 Apr 20.
[6]   Stoller-Conrad, J. (2015). Microbes Help Produce Serotonin in Gut. Available: https://www.caltech.edu/about/news/microbes-help-produce-serotonin-gut-46495. Last accessed 18 Oct 19.
[7] Michaël, M. et al (2011) Beneficial psychological effects of a probiotic formulation (Lactobacillus helveticus R0052 and Bifidobacterium longum R0175) in healthy human volunteers, Gut Microbes, 2:4, 256-261, DOI: 10.4161/gmic.2.4.16108

Renew Life® Ultimate Flora® Probiotic Plus Mood & Stress


About the Author: Caroline Farquhar R.H.N., E.M.P., B.A.

Caroline Farquhar

Specializing in digestive care and cleansing, Caroline has been educating audiences through seminars, TV and radio appearances across the country on the topic of how to achieve better health naturally. Caroline has written and published articles for magazines and websites, has created educational programs and taught at the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition. Learn more about Caroline at renewlife.ca.

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