According to the National Institute of Mental Health; the age group most affected by depression and mental health complications are young adults aged 18-25. More commonly known as: college students. What else is common in college students? Poor diet. Coincidence? I think not. Diet affects gut health and gut health has been found to have strong correlations with mental health. So, what exactly is gut health?
Gut health refers to the microbiome of bacteria living in your intestines. We often associate bacteria with germs and disease; however, bacteria can be really helpful and often necessary to the function of our bodies. Gut health more and more has become a topic of conversation within health and science circles, given its newly seen importance in the realm of combating the ever-growing mental health crisis.
A 2022 study about the correlation between gut health and depression was done by Timothy G. Dinan. In this particular study it was found that in adults with depression, whether they were on antidepressants or not, that they lacked key bacteria in their intestinal microbiome. This means that there is potentially a direct correlation between depression and gut health. In one experiment, it was found that when patients were administered a probiotic versus a placebo, the patients who were given the probiotic had significant reduction in anxiety and depressive symptoms.
So, how can you tell if your gut health is suffering? And, how do you improve it if it is? Some of the signs you could be suffering from poor gut health include, but are not limited to; thyroid issues (such as hyper/hypothyroidism), skin rashes, sugar cravings, irritable bowels, unexplained fatigue, and unexplained weight gain/loss. Having poor gut health can make your life miserable, but improving your gut can lead to significant bounds in your quality of life.
There are several ways recommended by physicians to improve your gut health. Firstly, prebiotics; they act like food for the bacteria living in your gut. Prebiotics are whole, raw, unprocessed foods like apples, celery, bananas, and whole grains. In addition to this, taking a supplemental probiotic or consuming natural probiotics (such as yogurt) are extremely beneficial to adding to and protecting your gut biome. It’s also been noted that cutting back on processed foods and switching to a modified Mediterranean style diet is best for maintaining overall health.
If you’re a college student struggling with mental health, the next place you might want to look for solutions is your dinner plate. If you are like me, that may seem like a daunting task, after all, Whataburger is delicious. Here are some psychological tricks that may help you make healthier choices. 1) Go grocery shopping in the morning when you have higher motivation. 2) Shop the perimeter of the store where there is less processed foods. 3) Drink more water. 4) Limit fast food or eat at home. At the end of the day, mental health is a combination of solutions, not just one, but taking care of your gut is always a step in the right direction!