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What you eat directly influences your mental health

You know that what you eat can affect your physical health and appearance, but did you know it can directly affect your mental health, too? The quality, quantity and composition of the bacteria in your gut have enormous influence on your brain and overall health. Your gut plays a key role in your mental health, including stress levels and neurological diseases such as Parkinson's disease — so much so that it’s now commonly referred to as your “second brain.”

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Here's how it works:

The human gut has 200 million neurons — the equivalent of a cat’s or dog’s brain. It also houses nearly 100 trillion microorganisms, which influence everything from biological to emotional functioning. Your upper brain is home to your central nervous system while your gut houses the enteric nervous system. The two nervous systems are in constant communication, connected via the vagus nerve. Your brain and gut use the same neurotransmitters for communication, one of which is serotonin — a neurochemical associated with mood control. However, the message sent by serotonin changes based on the context of its environment.

In your brain, serotonin signals and produces a state of well-being. In your gut — where 95% of your serotonin is produced — it sets the pace for digestive transit and acts as an immune system regulator. Serotonin not only acts on the digestive tract but is also released into your bloodstream, and acts on your brain — particularly your hypothalamus — which is involved in the regulation of emotions.

Your diet plays a major role in determining the health of your gut, and different gut microbiota can have a determining effect on behavior, mood and emotion, for better or worse. Research has linked poor gut bacteria to mental health issues like anxiety, depression and even Parkinson’s disease.

Reseeding your gut with beneficial bacteria is essential for maintaining proper balance, as beneficial bacteria help keep pathogenic microbes and fungi in check and prevent them from taking over. Tips for supporting a healthy microbiota include:
• Eat plenty of fermented foods
• Take a probiotic supplement
• Boost your intake of soluble and insoluble fiber
• Open your windows or spend time outdoors for exposure to diverse microbiomes
• Avoid antibiotics, conventionally-raised meats, processed foods, fluorinated water, agricultural chemicals and antibacterial soap

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