Why is Gut Health Important to Emotional and Mental Health?

Dr. David Wiss

October 30, 2022

Gut Health

We have people that study biology. They're very into biological mechanisms. And then we have the psychological sciences where people are investigating the facets of the mind. And then we have sociology, where people are interested in the social and environmental context. We don’t have enough people that use an integrated biopsychosocial model

 When you look at something like trauma, you could study the effects of trauma from a purely biological lens. Looking at animal models of early life stress, the neurobiological implications, the biological embedding of adversity, and then the psychological implications of it all and the relational health and the attachments, etc. and then looking at them as being socially patterned within a social context.

 The gut is a perfect example of something that is highly favored and slanted toward biological sciences. We're looking at microbes. We're looking at things that aren't easily understood without high-tech equipment. Many people nowadays are struggling with gastrointestinal disorders. 

 Now, when we think about, for example, gut health, that becomes a very specific discipline where people only at universities can study it. And when we start linking gut health to mental health, now we bring in psychology.

 We've got this conversation around nutritional psychiatry, the gut-brain axis, and now we've got to think about nutritional psychology, how we think about food top down instead of bottom up.

 But I think the revolution with the gut-brain axis really started when it was discovered how neurotransmitters were often produced in the gut by way of microbes that would produce what we call postbiotics.

 But then it was sort of discovered that a lot of those don't necessarily cross the blood-brain barrier. Just because the neurotransmitter is in the gut, does that mean that it's active in the brain?

 The area that I've become interested in is the immune system (i.e., inflammation). We know that gut-based inflammation has a wide range of potential implications, one of which is low-grade inflammation, something that someone might not even notice (they don't even know they have it) which can cross the blood-brain barrier and cause neuroinflammation.

 I find this to be an important link. There's a growing field called psychoneuroimmunology and I think that the immune system is going to get a lot more attention. Obviously, it got a lot of attention with COVID-19 but thinking about the immune system as a mediator between the gut and the brain, really seems to be an important future direction for the nutrition for mental health conversation.

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