If you’re looking to improve your mood and mental health, and boost cognitive function, the first place to start is with your digestion. Because it has its own nervous system, called the enteric nervous system (ENS), the gut is the most abundant source of mood and brain enhancing neurotransmitters and neuro-peptides outside the brain. In fact, it’s believed that the majority of your brain neurotransmitters are actually produced in the gut. For example, serotonin, the main feel-good neurotransmitter, is at its highest concentrations in the gut. So it makes sense that when we improve gut health, our mood and mental health can dramatically improve as well.1,2
What is the gut-brain axis?
The vast cross-communication network between your gut and your brain is called the gut-brain axis. Probiotics in the gut also produce neurotransmitters and other beneficial compounds such as short chain fatty acids that support a healthy mood, reduce stress, improve brain function, and support neurological wellness.
On the other hand, inflammation in the gut can directly trigger inflammation in the brain—and vice versa. Neuroinflammation is a major contributing factor in depression, mood imbalances, chronic stress, and other related neurological issues. In addition, when digestive function is hindered and nutrients aren’t being properly broken down and absorbed into circulation, you are depriving your body of the nutritional building blocks that are essential for healthy neurological function. For example, if protein is not well-digested (a common issue for many people), it limits the amount of available amino acids needed to produce adequate neurotransmitters. A deficit in neurotransmitters will directly impact your mood, quality of sleep, and other issues.3,4
Because of these vast and vital connections, the gut is often referred to as “the second brain.” That’s why choosing the most beneficial ingredients in your diet is so important for improving your brain function, stress levels, sleep, and overall mental health.
Nutrients that Boost Digestion AND Brain Function
Many of the herbs, nutrients and other compounds that are used to support gut health, also work to boost mood, reduce stress, and support brain health. Targeted natural supplements and herbs can be especially helpful for improving digestion and gut health, because they can offer fast-acting relief while delivering long-term balancing support for aspects of digestion that are not functioning optimally, like nutrient absorption, bowel motility and regularity, enzyme production, and more
Here’s a list of select botanicals and supplements that improve not only digestive health, but mental health as well, enhancing and supporting the gut-brain connection:
- Probiotics and Prebiotics: These are two of the most important supplements you can take to help restore healthy digestion AND promote neurological wellness. Probiotics are crucial for digestive health, mood and brain function, immunity, and more. Prebiotics ensure that your friendly flora are provided with a nourishing environment in which they can thrive.5,6
- Zinc: An important nutrient for digestive health, which also plays critical roles in mood balance, stress, cognition, and neurological function.7
- Chinese Cardamom: Offers numerous benefits for digestion, increases antioxidant levels and boosts immunity. Cardamom is used in Ayurveda and other systems to treat depression, anxiety and other mental health concerns.8
- Chamomile: Soothes digestive discomfort and improves digestive capacity. Chamomile has been shown to alleviate symptoms in people with diagnosed depression and anxiety.9
- Ginger Root: Improves digestion, reduces inflammation and purifies GI tract, increases antioxidant levels and boosts immunity. Ginger extract is shown to reduce aggression and memory loss in mice with Alzheimer’s symptoms.10
One of my top recommendations for optimal gut health and function, as well as mood and brain support, is an organic liquid probiotic formula that also contains 19 digestive herbs including those listed above, with prebiotic modified citrus pectin, and gut healthy organic acids to promote a healthy gut environment and optimal probiotic viability. Patients report that this unique probiotic formula provides rapid relief from digestive upset, while resolving long-standing, inflammatory gut health issues. It also directly supports brain health and mood with 8 clinically studied probiotic strains.
Best Foods for Digestive Health
An anti-inflammatory diet consisting of unprocessed, fiber-rich foods like green vegetables, low starch vegetables, pseudo-grains like quinoa and amaranth, and raw nuts and seeds can help reduce inflammation in the gut, and support healthy digestion and neurological wellness. Legumes and whole grains can be soaked and sprouted for better digestibility and nutrient content. Fermented foods like sauerkraut, yoghurt, and kimchee can be beneficial for gut health and digestion because of their abundance of probiotics.
Your gut is the central hub for nearly all major functions in your body. From neurological health, hormone balance, immune protection and much more, your digestive system works hard to maintain system balance, while nourishing your body with essential nutrients and eliminating toxins. Keeping your digestive system running smoothly with the right diet and supplements, along with other neurological wellness practices like healthy stress relief and proper sleep hygiene, can give you the foundational support you need for optimal mood, brain health, and overall wellness.
1. Strandwitz P. Neurotransmitter modulation by the gut microbiota. Brain Res. 2018;1693(Pt B):128-133.
2. Nezami BG, Srinivasan S. Enteric nervous system in the small intestine: pathophysiology and clinical implications. Curr Gastroenterol Rep. 2010;12(5):358-365.
3.Stevens BR, Goel R, Seungbum K,et al. Increased human intestinal barrier permeability plasma biomarkers zonulin and FABP2 correlated with plasma LPS and altered gut microbiome in anxiety or depression. Gut 2018;67:1555–7.
4. Banerjee A, Sarkhel S, Sarkar R, Dhali GK. Anxiety and Depression in Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Indian J Psychol Med. 2017;39(6):741-745.
5. Savignac HM, Tramullas M, Kiely B, et al. Bifidobacteria modulate cognitive processes in an anxious mouse strain. Behav Brain Res. 2015;287:59-72.
6. Luczynski P, Whelan SO, O’Sullivan C, et al. Adult microbiota-deficient mice have distinct dendritic morphological changes: differential effects in the amygdala and hippocampus. Eur J Neurosci. 2016 Nov;44(9):2654-2666.
7. Anbari-Nogyni Z, Bidaki R, Madadizadeh F, et al.Relationship of zinc status with depression and anxiety among elderly population. Clin Nutr ESPEN. 2020 Jun;37:233-239.
8. Shahrajabian MH. Powerful Stress Relieving Medicinal Plants for Anger, Anxiety, Depression and Stress during Global Pandemic. Recent Pat Biotechnol. 2022 Mar 21.
9. Amsterdam JD, Li QS, Xie SX, Mao JJ. Putative Antidepressant Effect of Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla L.) Oral Extract in Subjects with Comorbid Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Depression. J Altern Complement Med. 2020 Sep;26(9):813-819.
10. Zeng GF, Zhang ZY, Lu L, et al. Protective effects of ginger root extract on Alzheimer disease-induced behavioral dysfunction in rats. Rejuvenation Res. 2013 Apr;16(2):124-33.