“Exploring our Diet from the Inside Out: Why Gut Health Affects our Mental Health” Guest Blog by Alicia Galvin Smith

We often think too narrowly about what success in treatment looks like. Whether you are struggling with mental health or substance abuse, it’s a common mistake to think that the only goal is treating the primary problem – and getting that to disappear. At Innovation360, we don’t just focus solely on the presenting issue. i360 intervenes in all areas of life to rebuild a healthy foundation. One of those areas is physical wellness, which includes taking a deeper look at our diet. Today we are bringing in an expert in this area, someone we have collaborated with frequently to help our clients uncover some of the issues they might be experiencing in the realm of diet, so that we can address wellness from a bigger picture. Alicia Galvin Smith, MEd, RD, LD, CLT was generous enough to share her expert insights, talking about why gut health matters:

“All disease begins in the gut” was a statement spoken by Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine, over 2000 years ago, but recent research is confirming that this is very true. Your gut houses 70-80% of your immune system and you have over 10 trillion bacteria that call your intestines  home. In fact, there are 10 times more bacterial cells in your body than there are human cells. It therefore makes sense, and research is emerging to show, that when there is an imbalance in the gut it can directly impact and throw off the rest of the body. Research showed significantly altered behavior when one mouse’s gut bacteria was swapped with that of another. Researchers transplanted microbes from one group of mice, which were characterized by timidity, into the guts of mice who tended to take more risks. What they observed was a complete personality shift: timid mice became outgoing, while outgoing mice became timid.  What’s happening in our gut can truly determine how we move through life.

Often times the role of nutrition and gut health is overlooked when working with depression, anxiety, OCD, ADD/ADHD, bipolar disorder, and various other mental health conditions. Yet it can make all the difference in the world. For instance, about 90% of serotonin (yes, the same neurotransmitter found in the brain) is actually made in the digestive tract by specialized cells.  And a deficit in that same chemical can lead to depression. So yes, there is a link between our gut health and our mood, memory, sleep, etc.

Additionally, specific vitamins and minerals are required to produce neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine and epinephrine. For instance, vitamin D, iron, vitamin B6, and omega fatty acids should be at optimal levels for the body to efficiently make serotonin. A deficiency in any of these can inhibit the pathway and production.  In addition, deficiencies in zinc, magnesium, vitamin B12, and folate have been linked with conditions such as depression and anxiety.  Evaluating for vitamin and mineral deficiencies is important, as is the consideration of a nutrient dense diet. What we eat influences the balance of gut bacteria – the proper foods and a nutrient dense diet will shift the balance toward good bacteria. As we examine our overall physical and mental health, these are critical factors to consider.

There is a lot to consider beyond therapy and medication when it comes to helping people overcome mental health issues. If you are struggling with mental health or addiction, it’s important to address the essential areas of life which often impact the primary issues. And diet, vitamin/mineral deficiencies, and gut health should not be overlooked. There is a two-way street between what’s going on in the gut and what’s happening in the brain.  So reflect on what you are putting into your body, and maybe what you aren’t.  And see if a change in that area leads to change elsewhere. Because “my gut” says it will.


To learn more about Alicia Galvin Smith, visit her website here. She can be reached at [email protected] or 469.340.8449. She can help you experiment with some changes in diet and nutrition that could lead to positive changes in mental health.


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