Updated: Oct 4, 2021
Brain and the stomach – connected? Surely not! Well actually research is growing in this area which has allowed us to understanding the complex mechanisms between the gut and our brain – this is called the gut brain axis. It’s a two way communication between the gut and the brain. The brain sends the gut information but the gut can also provide the brain with information. This is how the brain connects cognitions with emotions – it’s that feeling when your anxious and your stomach might feel “tied up in knots”
So, can food be sending negative signals to the brain? Does this have an effect our mood? Well, one research study compared a group of people following the Mediterranean Diet which had 50g fibre in compared to a group who were given counselling. It found that the severity of depression was less in those who followed the Mediterranean diet with the higher fibre content. Another study found that adding a probiotic yoghurt into the diet of a group of individuals made them more resilient to looking at negative stimuli.
So why might this be? The gut has what we call a microbiota (a wealth of bacteria). Part of this is made of beneficial gut bacteria, known as probiotics. It is the fibre in plant foods that are thought to act as food for these probiotics. These foods are known as a prebiotics and when they are broken down by the probiotics they are thought to turn to messenger molecules. Research is ongoing but it looks like these messages are related to improved health including mood.
Prebiotics and are found in artichokes, onion, garlic, legumes, asparagus, leeks and bananas. Different prebiotics will feed different probiotics and so getting a range of high fiber foods is beneficial. Probiotics can be found in fermented products such as yoghurts, kefir, Kombucha , Kimichi sauerkraut and Nattto. But don’t go increasing these prebiotics and probiotics foods in your diet too fast as increasing fibre can also increase wind and bloating. Add them in gradually.
Although the evidence is not conclusive adding pre and probiotics into the diet looks to be beneficial for overall health. Next time you’re out shopping instead of going straight to your usual choices why not add some food that will feed your gut and it might just feed your brain too!
Tillisch, Kirsten, Jennifer Labus, Lisa Kilpatrick, Zhiguo Jiang, Jean Stains, Bahar Ebrat, Denis Guyonnet et al. "Consumption of Fermented Milk Product With Probiotic Modulates Brain Activity." Gastroenterology 144, no. 7 (2013): 1394-1401..
Skarupski KA, Tangney CC, Li H, Evans DA, Morris MC. Mediterranean diet and depressive symptoms among older adults over time. J Nutr Health Aging. 2013;17(5):441-5.
Zhu X, Han Y, Du J, Liu R, Jin K, Yi W. Microbiota-gut-brain axis and the central nervous system. Oncotarget. 2017;8(32):53829-53838. Published 2017 May 10. doi:10.18632/oncotarget.17754
Note: All information is written for general population and not specific conditions. Always consult your doctor or Dietitian