The digestive tract and the processes taking place in it have a significant impact on our well-being and mood. Scientific research confirms the close relationship between the functioning of the digestive and nervous systems. More and more scientists emphasize the link between dysfunctions within the digestive tract and the development of mental disorders.
What connects the nervous system with the digestive tract?
The enteric nervous system is made up of a huge number of neurons and glial cells that innervate the entire digestive tract. It controls the processes of digestion, absorption of nutrients and excretion. The vagus nerve, which is part of the enterocerebral axis, is a direct connection between the intestines and the central nervous system. Thanks to this connection, the intestinal nervous system participates in the responses to stressful situations, and also sends signals to the central nervous system when the intestinal barrier is damaged, in order to trigger an appropriate protective reaction in the body. More and more research studies emphasize that disturbances in the intestinal microflora and the functioning of the gastrointestinal tract may be one of the reasons for the development of depression and other mental disorders.
Serotonin – an ally of good mood
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that, inter alia, is responsible for a good mood. Over 90% of it is produced with the participation of intestinal microflora from tryptophan, an amino acid provided with food. Apart from its influence on the central nervous system, it is essential for proper intestinal peristalsis. Dysbiosis, i.e. imbalance of the intestinal microflora, may lead to improper synthesis of serotonin and, consequently, lower mood, as well as the occurrence of other psychological symptoms. Serotonin is also involved in regulating many processes, including sleep, libido and pain signaling.
Inflammation and Depression – Does It Affect?
In the intestines, the external environment (food) comes into contact with the internal environment of our body. The intestinal barrier is a specific filter responsible for the selective passage of components from the intestinal lumen into the circulatory system. It inhibits potentially harmful elements such as microorganisms and toxic substances that are neutralized and removed from the body. As a result of inadequate diet, past bacterial and viral infections, chronic diseases, overuse of certain medications (antibiotics, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), stress, alcohol consumption, the intestinal barrier is damaged, leading to the development of excessive gut intestinal permeability (leaky gut syndrome, gut intestinal) permeability). The consequence of the leakage of the intestinal barrier is the passage of bacterial antigens, toxins and metabolic products through it, leading to the activation of the immune system and the development of an inflammatory reaction. Such low-grade inflammation, described in the scientific literature as low grade inflammation, is often observed in patients with depression and other psychiatric disorders. Also, diseases involving damage to the intestinal mucosa, e.g. ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, can increase intestinal permeability. In addition to eliminating the factors contributing to the intensification of excessive intestinal permeability and the diagnosis of food intolerance, it is important to restore the balance of the intestinal microflora through the use of probiotics and prebiotics.
Intestinal microflora – influence on health
The intestinal microflora has many important functions in the body, including the activation and regulation of the immune system of the gastrointestinal tract, the effect on the production of pro-inflammatory compounds, participation in the synthesis of vitamin K and B vitamins, inhibition of the multiplication of pathogenic microorganisms and the production of metabolites conducive to sealing intestinal barrier. It has been shown that a reduced amount of beneficial intestinal bacteria from Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus strains, and an increased amount of bacteria from the genera Streptococcaceae, Clostridiales, Eubacteriaceae, and Ruminococcaceae are associated with the occurrence of symptoms of depression.
Diet is the key to success
The factors that increase the risk of developing depression and other mental disorders that are directly related to the digestive system include food intolerances, damage to the intestinal barrier and intestinal dysbiosis. A proper diet should exclude products that cause intolerance, which can be detected by the MRT test (Mediator Release Test). The diet should include food supporting the development of proper intestinal microflora, e.g. fermented milk products and silage, as well as sources of dietary fiber – vegetables, fruits, whole grains. According to scientific research, in patients with intestinal dysbiosis, supplementation with probiotics containing, among others, Lactobacillus helveticus, Lactobacillus casei and Bifidobacterium longum strains, had a beneficial effect on the mood and functioning of the digestive system. Omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin A are also extremely important ingredients, which can prevent stress-induced intestinal dysbiosis. The sources of omega-3 fatty acids are mainly fatty sea fish, linseed, linseed oil, rapeseed oil and olive oil. Vitamin A, in turn, is contained in eggs, dairy products, fatty fish, butter, and its provitamin, i.e. β-carotene, in plant products such as carrots and red pepper. As serotonin, which is responsible for good mood, is produced from tryptophan (an amino acid), it seems justified to enrich the diet with its richest sources – eggs, nuts, dairy products, fish, lean meats, as well as bananas, cherries, avocados and plants. legumes.
Disturbances in the intestinal microflora may be one of the factors contributing to the development of depression and other mental disorders. Intestinal dysbiosis occurs especially after infections, as a result of inadequate diet, stress, frequent use of antibiotics and other harmful factors. It should be remembered that if you experience symptoms of depression or other mental illness, you should immediately consult a psychiatrist in order to make a diagnosis and, if the disease is confirmed, appropriate treatment should be selected.
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