Although it may seem strange to most of us, we essentially have two brains. There is the one with which we are most familiar (in our head) and another, which is in our gut. Both of our brains developed from the same bit of tissue when we were fetuses. They remain connected by way of the vagus nerve, which runs from our brain stem to our abdomen.

Information moves directly along the vagus nerve pathway from the abdomen to the brain and back. With this primary electrical circuit operating continuously, we can easily see that what we eat or ingest affects our mood, our ability to successfully utilize our creativity, and our ability to process complex thoughts.

The food-mood connection

Food not only fuels our bodies, it also affects how we react to the challenges we face in life. According to researchers, an unhealthy diet on a regular basis is a major risk factor for depression. An unhealthy diet is defined as one that is filled with processed foods and loaded with sugar.

Researchers have also documented a connection between high sugar intake on a daily basis and food addiction.  Sugar and fatty foods impact the same pleasure center in our brain that addictive drugs activate. Often times when we are under stress, we turn to sugar for an energy surge to help us cope.

While the energy surge is great, it is followed by an energy crash, which makes us feel less able to cope with the challenges in our lives. We sometimes end up feeling down and wanting more sugar, continuing the cycle until we bottom out in a true depression.

A 2014 New Zealand study by Jacka et al. found a very important link between food and mood. It showed that persons who ate a high quality diet had enhanced mental health compared with those who ate a poor diet. The reason for the difference is that what we eat directly impacts the delicate balance of neurotransmitters in our brain.

Serotonin and dopamine are two very important neurotransmitters that are directly affected by what we eat. They are derived from food sources. When they are out of balance due to our over-ingesting unhealthy foods on a regular basis, we may experience one of the following symptoms:

  • Insomnia
  • Depression or anger
  • Panic attacks or anxiety
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Chronic muscle pain
  • PMS/ Hormone dysfunction
  • Obesity
  • Eating disorders and other addictions
  • Obsessive/compulsive behavior
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Migraine headaches.

When our serotonin is nutritionally in jeopardy due to an unhealthy diet, we anger more quickly over things that would not ordinarily bother us. We also tend to become hurt more easily by things we would usually just brush off.

Unfortunately, when we are low on serotonin, we unconsciously tend to reach for self-medicating foods filled with carbohydrates such as cakes, crackers, bread, and sugary items like ice cream and doughnuts. These foods trigger an endorphin release of feel-good chemicals but they also further deplete our serotonin. Wheat in particular inhibits serotonin.

Healthy mood elevators

When our serotonin and dopamine are in balance due to our consistently eating a healthy diet, we function better, we are more creative, and our critical thinking is more highly developed.

Mercola suggests some healthy mood elevators:

  1. Dark chocolate produces a neurotransmitter that can block depression and pain temporarily, leaving us with a feel-good status.
  2. Protein which comes from high quality foods tends to stabilize blood sugar and reduce mood swings.
  3. Bananas, with their dopamine, magnesium, and the nervous system-soothing B6 are mood elevators
  4. Coffee improves brain health, affects mood control neurotransmitters, and offers an aura of well-being.
  5. Turmeric, also known as curcumin, has neuroprotective properties that help elevate mood.
  6. Blueberries and other purple berry fruits with their anthocyanins help our brain make dopamine.

Omega-3 animal fats reduce anxiety.

Another very important part of gut health that helps us think better is keeping the flora and fauna that grow in our gut in balance. A good probiotic (preferably human strain) taken daily can help maintain a healthy gut and keep both of our brains happy.