Can Happiness Be Found In Gut Health?

This is Day 26 in my 30-day blogging journey.

The why is on Day 1.

My wife and I were unexpectedly thrown into a journey of gut health over the last couple of years.

While Marissa has always been lactose intolerant, it used to be just an aversion to milk. She could still consume butter, yogurt, ice cream and cheese.

She can no longer consume any of these.

In addition, she’s also identified an intolerance to gluten though it does not appear to be celiac disease.

For as long as I’ve been in this industry, the research and conversation about the gut, the gut microbiota and, in general, gut health has only increased in size.

Unfortunately, there is still so much we don’t understand about the gut which means that the “unknowns” are a great place for fear-mongerers to strike.

Recently, one of my clients asked me if there was any stock behind the connection of the gut and the brain.

There is.

I tried to make a video in one of our closed communities on Facebook to discuss it and wasn’t thrilled with how jumbled it was.

So, I’m going to try and craft something more cohesive with this post.

Let’s start with the understanding that there are several factors which can contribute to both mental health and gut health. Those include but are not limited to:







There is also hormone production occurring in the body. You may recognize hormones such as cortisol, leptin and ghrelin, to name a few.

In addition to hormone production, the brain and spinal cord house the central nervous system while the GI (gastrointestinal) system has the enteric nervous system.

If you’ve ever experienced “butterflies” in the stomach, that’s a simple example of the brain and the “gut” talking to one another.

It’s this sensation that can likely help explain how our brain and our digestive system work together. If you heal the gut, you can heal the brain and vice versa.

The “how” in doing so is where things can become a bit more complicated.

Perhaps you’ve heard that digestive enzymes, prebiotics and probiotics can help heal the gut.

The problem is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

When probiotics have been studied, there is evidence of relieving/reducing symptoms of depression (not necessarily in absence of antidepressants but in conjunction with them), in post-natal symptoms of depression and in IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) patients who have depression. There is little conclusive evidence that probiotics can reduce feelings of anxiety.

It’s important to note that the effective probiotics do appear to influence the amygdala (there’s that gut/brain connection again), however, anyone looking to travel this route will need to determine which particular strain of probiotics they’re consuming. Be aware that a 4-week minimum may be required to take the appropriate probiotic and get the intended effect.

For those individuals dealing with chronic stress and, as a component of the stress, digestive issues, improvements have been found via hypnosis (hypnotherapy), implementing a low FODMAP diet or a combination of both.

I should also add that a low FODMAP diet is quite restrictive and could contribute to micronutrient deficiencies.

There was an interesting study with individuals who had removed gluten from their diets. They struggled with something called non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS). The study participants were blinded and were told they would be given something containing gluten and a placebo. Even when they received the placebo, 40% exhibited similar or increased problems. (Molina-Infante, 2017.)

During the time we’ve been trying to connect with different doctors, dietitians and GI specialists to help Marissa get to the bottom of her food sensitivities, the overarching problem area is stress.

My wife handles stress differently than I do and simply asking her to “calm down” accomplishes little more than a dismissive side eye (well earned, I might add).

So, in efforts to simplify what can be done to improve gut health, here are some points of consideration:

-Focus on better quality sleep. This can improve hormone function, improve recovery from workouts, and reduce stress.

-Consider meditation, prayer, mindfulness practices and/or yoga. All of which can help reduce stress.

-Add in more cardiovascular activity. This does not have to be running or anything intense. It can simply be a focus on increasing step count.

-Be aware that certain medications can affect the way the gut is operating or can reduce the good bacteria in the gut. Speak with your doctor if you believe this is something to look into.

-Increase your intake of fruits, vegetables and other plant based options. You don’t have to be vegan to benefit from this. Dr. Megan Rossi (aka The Gut Health Doctor) suggests expanding your plant based diversity to up to (if not more than) 30 options throughout the week. It may be easier than you think. Remember that this may include nuts, seeds, legumes, vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. I did a count for myself based on an average week of plant based intake and I average around 26 options. That’s as a lifelong omnivore. Dr. Rossi does mention that it make take several weeks to months to gradually get your intake up depending on your current diet plan and any current sensitivities.

-Where fiber needs to be increased, do so in small amounts and make sure that you’re increasing water intake as well.

My favorite people to follow with regard to gut health are: Dr. Megan Rossi, Dr. Gabrielle Fundaro, and Abby Langer, RD.

(Photo courtesy of Chaitanya Pillala)