This was written for the Behavioral Health Task Force Ketchikan Wellness Coalition as a part of the Healthy Minds monthly series.
Now, let’s talk about the connection between your gut health and your mental health.
The gut-brain connection is no joke. Furthermore, the gut and the brain are connected physically and biochemically. It is called the gut-brain axis, or connection, and their Facebook relationship status is listed as “Permanently Complicated”.
I’m sure you’ve heard the buzz in the past few years that refers to your gut as your “second brain” and how important your gut’s microbiome health is to your overall health. Interestingly, many people do take a probiotic, yet most people have no clue which one they are taking or if they need it.

Getting back to the gut-brain connection, first, it’s important to realize that there is no one single nutrient or food or food group that will magically improve your gut health, which will in turn help improve your mental health.
Everything in your body works together; there’s this pre-pandemic handshake (or hug), which is a harmonious relationship between all your self-care inputs, including how you choose to feed yourself, move your body, sleep, cope with stress, and connect to others. This is also a complicated relationship of layers, so don’t settle for the one supplement everyone at work is talking about. Keep seeking answers for YOU!

So, what is the gut-brain connection, and specifically, how does your gut microbiome affect that co-regulation? Interestingly, the research about this relationship has shed light on how anxiety, depression, and stress can impact your gut health, and how gut issues (indigestion, bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation, cramping) can in turn negatively affect your anxiety, depression, and stress levels. Back and forth… and on and on. There are endless reputable resources on this subject. For today, I want to spotlight a few ROCKSTAR examples:
Did you know? Your gut bacteria produce hundreds of neurotransmitters that your brain uses to co-regulate your mental functions like learning, memory, and mood.
Did you know that your gut bacteria make about 95% of your body’s serotonin, which is our mood stabilizer? RIGHT! WOW!
So, now what? Suppose you are struggling with chronic gut issues or wish to work on improving your gut-brain health with food.
Now, let us start with the basics:
• Drink plenty of water
• More food fiber, please
• Limit ADDED sugars (no food police here)
• Add a fermented food daily
• Add at least 2 different colors with every meal (eat those fruits and vegetables – fresh, frozen, or harvested)
• Enjoy our local seafood
• Play, get outside and belly laugh often

“But Janai, I’m already doing all these things. What’s the next level?”
So, I would suggest you speak with a qualified gut health-trained provider or Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. They will likely talk with you about testing to find out exactly what YOUR gut microbiome panel is made up of, including all the good and not-so-good stuff. With this trained, professional, and individualized support, you will move forward with a personalized, intentional gut health protocol. One example that is used in the profession is the 5-R Protocol developed by the Institute of Functional Medicine, which is an ideal approach for healing digestive conditions; this includes removing, replacing, repopulating, repairing, and rebalancing your gut microbiome with diet and tailored supplements.
Seeking care from a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, who is a food and nutrition expert that has met certification requirements, is one way to ensure you are getting accurate, appropriate, and evidence-based recommendations to meet your gut-health needs. So, no more guessing or hoping for the best with the latest probiotic, only to have your symptoms return. Further testing could reduce your guesswork and set you up for the ideal gut-brain healthy happy relationship.

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