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Is It My Anxiety Or Is It My Gut Health?

Is It My Anxiety Or Is It My Gut Health?

We sat down with Dr. Kat Bodden for her insight into the gut-mind connection. Sneak peek: 90% of your serotonin is made in the gut!
May 03, 2023 by Henny Rau

There is an undeniable link between our mental health and the overall health of our bodies. Mental health can impact our physical health, but the opposite is just as true. Our gut health and hormonal health both directly impact our mental health. 

We sat down with Dr. Kat Bodden, a Naturopathic Doctor based in Portland, OR who specializes in gastrointestinal health, chronic fatigue and detoxification. Kat shared insight into the gut/mind connection, the importance of mindful eating and how to avoid overwhelm from conflicting wellness trends.

What is gut health, and how does it impact mental health?

“Gut health is determined by our gut microbiome and digestive system. If we’re not breaking down our food properly or assimilating nutrients, this can lead to vitamin + mineral deficiencies, protein malabsorption and a plethora of other symptoms. Digestion also involves how we release food and nutrients from our bodies. Healthy and regular bowel movements are necessary to ensure that our bodies are releasing toxins. If toxins build up in our digestive system, it will leave us feeling sluggish, irritable and often anxious.

Prioritizing a healthy gut is SO important for our mental health, because 90% of serotonin is made in the gut. A compromised gut leads to low serotonin levels, which directly impacts mental health and can lead to depression or anxiety.”

As a naturopathic doctor, what are the most common symptoms of gut health issues that you see?

“On average, 90% of my patients are experiencing gut health and mental health symptoms - which doesn’t come as a surprise, because the two are so closely linked. It’s pretty rare in today’s political and social climate for someone not to have some stress affecting their body.

Some of the most common symptoms I see are bloating, heartburn, diarrhea, constipation and irregular abdominal pain or discomfort. However, gut-related symptoms can also manifest in different areas of the body, including fatigue, brain fog, dull skin, hair loss, dark circles under eyes and joint pain.”

With the overload of health-related buzzwords and conflicting diet trends, how do we avoid overwhelm?

“I think that avoiding overwhelm starts with being mindful of the type of media that you choose to consume. Approach research and media consumption with a healthy level of skepticism, because there is so much opposing information out there.

Trends come and go, but one approach that remains successful is seeking balance in your diet and relationship with food. Rather than choosing extremes (diets, eating schedules, etc.), seek balance in your eating choices. Most importantly, if you do try certain food recommendations or trends, listen to your own body.”

What advice would you share for improving our relationships with food?

“We’re so focused on what we eat, but I think how we eat is even more important. The practice of mindful eating starts before you sit down, by engaging the preparation of your meal as a sensory experience. Touching and smelling the ingredients signals to your brain that it’s time to stimulate your digestive system, by producing digestive enzymes to help process your food.

I suggest starting by committing to a practice of mindful eating for just one meal per week.

"Make your meal a ceremony - a ritualistic and intentional experience."

Create a calm, relaxed environment, to reduce stress and allow your nervous system to rest. Practice presence by turning off screens and eliminating distractions. Eating is a pleasurable and sensual experience when we slow down enough to enjoy it.

Additionally, when choosing foods, think ancestrally, as these diets have been proven beneficial for many centuries. Eat whole foods as much as possible, and prioritize purchasing from a farm rather than a factory.”

How does hormonal health affect mental health, especially in women?

“The gut microbiome plays such a large role in regulating estrogen, a key player in women’s hormonal health. The estrobolome, a group of bacteria in the gut, controls the processing + elimination of estrogen. If the estrobolome is compromised, estrogen elimination is compromised; and estrogen levels directly affect overall mood and mental health. Common symptoms of hormonal imbalances in women are menstrual cycle irregularities correlated with mood challenges. However, to get the most accurate picture of your hormonal health, ask your doctor to test your hormonal levels through a lab test.

Cortisol also directly impacts mental health (hello stress!). When cortisol is elevated because of increased stress, the vagus nerve can’t do its job of lowering cortisol, which impacts digestion. And if you’ve ever heard the phrase “rest and digest” - that’s the vagus nerve. When the vagus nerve is compromised by high cortisol, it not only impacts digestion, but also our ability to rest.”

Kat Bodden (she/her) is a Naturopathic Doctor in Portland, OR who specializes in gastrointestinal health, chronic fatigue, and detoxification. Her individualized wellness programs address the root cause of disease and empower clients to take control of their health.

Helen Rau

Henny Rau

Henny is a coastal California-based writer. When not writing or sipping on Clevr, you can find her exploring trails in the backcountry, paddling into waves or sharing a meal in the garden with friends.