The Gastrointestinal System
The gastrointestinal system is comprised of six hollow shaped organs and three that are solid. This system, often referred to as the GI tract, extends in order, from the mouth to the esophagus, into the stomach, then onto the small and large intestines, reaching the final destination, the anus. The three gastrointestinal solid organs include the pancreas, liver, and gallbladder and together, these nine organs work in concert to help us digest and metabolize our food for maximal health and nutrition.
Depression is a commonly diagnosed mood disorder characterized by prolonged periods of sadness that affect one’s day to day life. Depression extends far beyond simply “feeling down” and can dramatically interfere with interpersonal relationships, self care, self image, and in extreme cases, lead to feelings of hopelessness and suicidal ideation.
What we can extrapolate from research on the mind- gut connection is that gastrointestinal health is significantly connected to our mental health. It may seem almost comical that what we eat will affect our mood, but perhaps overused anecdotes about, for example, chocolate making one happy, are not all that far off.
Eating the right kinds of foods that work best with your particular GI tract is crucial. For many individuals that includes abstaining from alcohol, eating fibrous foods, eating cooked instead of raw vegetables, and staying well hydrated.
Exercise serves as an incredible catalyst for health in both gastrointestinal matters and mood regulation. As you exercise, the production of endorphins, what are sometimes referred to as “happy hormones” increases. In turn, endorphins improve mood, and serve as a natural antidepressant, further supporting the production of serotonin. Additionally, exercise increases the presence of the gut bacteria responsible for the production of serotonin, as well.
While this can be said for many diagnoses, the ways in which you conduct yourself is critical to both your gastrointestinal and mental health. You are at greater risk for poor overall health if you do not get sufficient amounts of sleep, disregard convictions to your diet and exercise regimen, and engage in behaviors that are unsafe as well as dangerous. These include smoking, engaging in illicit substances, and avoiding medically prescribed and supervised treatments for mood or GI disorders.
Lastly, antidepressants that increase the presence of serotonin both in the gut and brain are seen by some as controversial, but contribute greatly to the health and welfare of many in the general public. While any medication you take should be carefully supervised and medically sanctioned, antidepressants are most certainly not a treatment you should disregard or brush off as bad, wrong, or a mere bandage to the pain one is suffering. Antidepressants have a rightful, therapeutic place within the worlds of mental and physical health and for many individuals, they are truly life saving.