Gut flora continues to become a top priority for millions of health-centric people around the world, but it turns out there are still plenty of others who don’t fully understand why. A recent survey reveals that although 90% of adults think about their gut health to some degree, 40% weren’t aware that the gut is linked to mental health.
The poll of 2,000 Americans shows that there’s a long way to go for people to grasp just how deep the connection between the gut and the brain goes. While three in five respondents had heard the term “gut-brain axis” before, only one in five felt confident that they knew what it meant.
Similarly, less than half of the respondents specifically consume foods, drinks or supplements for their gut health. Conducted by OnePoll on behalf of Hope Foods, results show that another one in 10 respondents don’t think about gut health at all.
That may change as awareness of the gut-brain axis continues to spread. Forty-four percent of survey-takers already believe it’s lack of education that has the biggest negative impact on mental health. But even if they’re fuzzy on the science, 72% of respondents admitted that eating healthier often does make them feel better.
A happy gut ensures a happy you
“Eating a variety of nutritionally dense foods and limiting consumption of damaging foods, like sugars and highly processed foods, helps the body and mind operate at their best,” says Integrated Nutrition Health Coach Nicole Pavlica, in a statement per SWNS. “You can support your physical and mental health by dramatically increasing your consumption of colorful vegetables at every meal, and by taking a daily probiotic. These support the microbiome and provide the body with needed nutrients.”
And if faced with the knowledge that their all-time favorite food was harmful to their health, three out of four people said they would cut back — or else give it up entirely. That’s despite the finding that Americans are more likely to turn to food as a mood-booster above any other coping mechanism.
In fact, when mired in a bad mood, 43% will “eat something” to feel better. And the most popular food category they reach for? For half of all respondents, it was “sweet treats,” with “salty snacks” trailing behind as a distant second (38%).
Other commonly-recommended methods for lifting one’s spirits didn’t prove to be nearly as popular. For example, only 32% of respondents say they stretch or exercise, while even fewer (29%) will go outside for some fresh air.
Informing the uninformed
But although eating turned out to be the most popular pick-me-up in the short term, only 25% of those polled believe that their diet has a major impact on their long-term mental health. Instead, they were more likely to blame a bad mental health day on stressful life events (43%), poor sleep (34%) and stress in general (34%) before citing the effects of a poor diet (25%).
Similarly, respondents also cited stress (42%) and lack of sleep (42%) as bigger mood-killers than hunger (35%) or even digestive problems (15%).
When asked what steps they’ve taken to improve their mental health on a long-term basis, Almost 4 in 10 respondents preferred to focus on their sleeping habits (38%) and workout routine (36%).
So far, the results of those efforts appear to be mixed; 45% of respondents said they frequently struggle with issues of mental illness, while another one in ten only feel like they’re in an actively good mood for one day out of the week.
“What we choose to eat can have a huge impact on how we feel,” says Pavlica. “Serotonin, the hormone that influences mood and feelings of happiness, is regulated by the gut. When the microbiome of the digestive system is optimized, all the body’s systems work better — including the brain.”