How your food choices can impact your gut-brain connection

Changing what you eat can affect your mood, stress and anxiety levels.

Denise Dador Image
Tuesday, April 11, 2023
How your food choices can impact your gut-brain connection
Experts say depression can worsen gut health and vice versa, but eating a balanced diet can lead to improvements.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- For 20 years, 45-year-old Geeta Parmar-Patel endured gut-wrenching pain from a common irritable bowel disorder known as Crohn's disease.

"You're in the bathroom a lot. You've got all this inflammation because everything you're eating is going through your gut," she said. "Nutrients are not absorbed."

Doctors say Parmar-Patel's condition classically illustrates the gut-brain connection and say mental health issues such as anxiety and depression occur two to three times more often in these patients.

"Our gut microbiome and our brain kind of have this bi-directional communication where they talk to each other, and one can impact the other," psychologist Roopal Lalaji said.

Lalaji said depression can worsen gut health and vice versa, so to disrupt the cycle she advises her patients to cut out processed products and eat more foods friendly to gut bacteria such as fruits, veggies and legumes.

"Eating a more balanced diet we can definitely impact the structure of our gut microbiome, which can then impact our mental health," Lalaji said.

Since stress directly affects digestion, Lalaji also recommends managing it with exercise.

Parmar-Patel said she tries to walk at least 10,000 steps a day, and she picked up a tennis racket for the first time in years. Besides taking medication, two years ago, she became a vegetarian.

"I'll do a lot of lentils that have protein and fiber just in those lentils alone," Parmar-Patel said. "When I'm cooking, I think about things like that."

She makes chicken parmesan for her family and eggplant for herself. Not only did her Crohn's go into remission, Parmar-Patel says her outlook on life has never been better.

"If my gut isn't right, I'm not right, and that goes to all parts of me," Parmar-Patel said.

She's learned it's all about finding that gut-brain balance.