The Relationship Between the Gut and Mental Health


Are you aware of the connection that your brain and gut share? What about the pivotal impact it has on your mental and physical wellbeing? Many people aren’t, and they’re often surprised to learn just how crucial the relationship these organs have is to their lives and to how they feel. Understandably, they're often equally amazed to find out just how much they can benefit by focusing more attention on this area.  


Why is the Brain and Gut Connection So Important?


It turns out that this relationship is much more complex than we previously believed it to be, this is due to the incredibly high level of signalling that occurs from the brain all the way through the gastrointestinal (GI) tract – also known as the gut microbiome. They share a very close connection, communicate constantly and greatly influence one another.  

A striking example of just how intimate this connection is might be when something makes you jump and for a split second you feel as if your stomach drops, or when you’re feeling anxious and you get the notorious ‘butterflies’ sensation in your belly. First, your brain is stimulated, and then your gut follows, reacting accordingly.  

The gut alone is so powerful and responsible for so many different functions that it’s often referred to as the ‘second brain’ by healthcare professionals, sometimes even functioning independently from the brain itself. PhD phycologist and author of ‘When Food Hurts’, Andrea Nazarkeno, tells us - “It’s an entire ecosystem of bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms that we rely on for survival”. 

Along with the digestion of vital nutrients to nourish your body, the gut microbiome is also responsible for fighting life-threatening infections and regulating the creation of new blood vessels. 

However – remember that these organs share an important two-way connection, so just imagine how big of an impact the aliments you put into your stomach will have not only on the health of your immune system and body’s natural defence mechanisms, but on your brain and overall mental health. The deeper understanding that we now have of this connection gives us profound insight into not just the physical benefits, but also the life-changing mental health benefits we can realise by caring for our gut and what we feed it. 


The Gut and Mental Health


Speaking of the impact the gut microbiome has on mental health, results are truly astounding. New scientific findings strongly suggest that if there is an imbalance of the bacteria held within the gut, a number of significant mental health conditions may be more likely to occur. This is most often influenced by one’s diet and the choices they make regarding nutrition, however, it could also be the result of conditions such as IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease), which can cause damage to the gastrointestinal tract overtime.  


Some of the mental health conditions commonly associated with a bacterial imbalance within the gut are: 

  • ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) 
  • Anxiety 
  • Alzheimer’s disease 
  • Bipolar disorder 
  • Dementia 
  • Depression 
  • OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) 
  • PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) 


This link is becoming more widely known as research continues, evidence grows, and the word is spread by healthcare professionals, among others. 


How Can We Protect Ourselves and Fortify Our Mental Health?


First, if you believe you may have a physical health condition like IBD, or a mental health condition such as bipolar disorder, the most important thing you can do first for your well-being is to consult a healthcare professional who can properly assess you, providing specialised medical advice, as well as treatment if necessary. 

However, the vast majority of us do not suffer from such a condition, and so naturally we wonder – how can we look after ourselves, using the gut-brain connection to strengthen our mental wellbeing, leading to healthier, happier lives? And the answer is diet. 

As each of us know, the decisions we make regarding what food we consume are responsible for lasting changes within our body and to our overall health, be it good or bad. Now, equipped with this new information about the gut-brain connection, we’re more empowered than ever to make meaningful choices that will improve our mental health. Let’s explore what foods you should be eating to gain the most benefit from these new advances in science. 


Vitamin D 


Vital for a feeling of general wellbeing and happiness due to its involvement in the production of feel-good neurotransmitters like serotonin, vitamin D also helps to regulate the bacteria of our gut. For those of us living in a cold environment, it’s even more important to ensure we’re getting adequate levels, this is because its best source is from the sun. So, if you were looking for an excuse to escape on a luxury wellness holiday to a gorgeous tropical location, look no further. Alternatively, some good food sources for vitamin D are oily fish and egg yolks. 




Similar to vitamin D, omega-3 provides wonderful benefits to both the brain and gut, exponentially increasing your overall wellbeing as these organs work in unison. It will increase cognitive ability as well as strengthen the integrity of the intestinal barrier within your stomach, helping to block harmful toxins from entering the blood stream. Oily fish is undoubtably the best source of omega 3, you may opt to take this in a gel capsule for your convenience. 




Fibre is another important component in a healthy diet that supports your gut, and therefore your brain. Responsible for improving memory and overall mood, fibre will also help to decrease inflammation within the gut, further contributing to your mental health by compounding positive effects as your brain and gut communicate. Oats, fruit and vegetables are all fantastic options to meet your daily requirements. 


Mediterranean Diet


Interestingly, the Mediterranean diet acts as a fantastic source of each of the things we’ve discussed above, as well as a delicious cuisine for you to savour. Oily fish, fruits, vegetables, and nuts are all staples in this diet and make for a particularly tasty way to improve your physical and mental health. It’s just one of the reasons why Greece is an excellent destination for a wellness holiday. You can also enjoy this cuisine to its full potential in other destinations such as Spain, Italy and Turkey 




Last but certainly not least, it’s vital to ensure you’re always drinking enough water throughout the entire day, somewhere between 1.5-2.5 litres should be sufficient for most people, depending on their level of activity. 


A final important note – as individuals, our minds and bodies are unique and respond differently to any given aliment. The intention of this blog is to teach you first and foremost the importance of the gut-brain connection and how it can benefit your life and overall wellbeing, but it’s also worth considering that what may work for one person, may not work for you. The best approach is a mindful one, experimenting with the advice available whilst paying careful attention to how you feel. 

For the perfect opportunity to learn more about this topic surrounded by a beautiful environment, you may consider one of our nutrition-friendly retreats. Here, you’ll benefit from expert teams of nutritionists and chefs working together to serve delicious, nutritious food that’s just right for you, all the while teaching you invaluable information about your body. At Health and Fitness Travel we also advise our clients the best healthy gut holidays to book which are for those starting or continuing their journey towards optimal wellness.  


Talk to one of our Wellness Travel specialists on 0203 397 8891 or contact us here to discuss tailor-making your perfect wellness retreat. 

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