That Gut Feeling

Forget about your heart ruling your head, your gut is the key player! Let’s expand…

The gut and the brain have a bi-directional relationship known as the gut-brain axis. Signals are frequently communicated and influenced by gut bacteria along with chemically connected neurotransmitters. A massive 90% of the ‘happy hormone’ and neurotransmitter serotonin is made in the gut[1]. Not only does it help the regulation of our mood, it has a role in appetite, sleep and intestinal movements.

So if we can’t get it from our diet, how do we optimise serotonin? Stress can negatively impact the production of serotonin, whilst certain nutritional factors can play a positive role. Vitamin D helps to regulate the conversion of the amino acid tryptophan (think turkey, tofu and pumpkin seeds) into serotonin[2] [3]. As much as 25% of the UK population may be deficient in vitamin D[4] but fortunately we can take control of this by testing, eating the right foods and supplementing. Known as the “sunshine vitamin”, our bodies make vitamin D when the skin absorbs sunlight.  Food sources include mushrooms, tofu, eggs, and oily fish. People more at risk are those with indoor lifestyles – and yes, that is most of us this year. Other things that may contribute are pregnancy and breastfeeding, old age, dark or covered skin, obesity and low magnesium status (see previous article for more information on vitamin D).

Vitamin B12 acts a co-factor for serotonin indicating how B12 deficiency can affect mood, emotions and sleeping and therefore can lead to psychiatric disorders[5]. Vitamin B12 is not present in many plant based foods but naturally found in animal products, including fish, meat, poultry, eggs and milk. Vegans can source B12 from tempeh, algae and seaweed, mushrooms and fortified foods. As vegetarianism and veganism are on the rise, it brings a further societal risk for B12 deficiency and the knock on effect for serotonin metabolism and in turn mental health issues.  Supplementation is often recommend for vegans and vegetarians but seek professional advice if you are unsure of your personal circumstances. 

Bringing new meaning to ‘going with your gut,’ be sure to nourish your body so your mind will flourish.

Amy Young BSc (Hons)


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[1] Yano, J.M., Yu, K., Donaldson, G.P., Shastri, G.G., Ann, P., Ma, L., Nagler, C.R., Ismagilov, R.F., Mazmanian, S.K. and Hsiao, E.Y., 2015. Indigenous bacteria from the gut microbiota regulate host serotonin biosynthesis. Cell161(2), pp.264-276.
[2] Rhonda P. Patrick and Bruce N. Ames. Vitamin D and the omega-3 fatty acids control serotonin synthesis and action, part 2: relevance for ADHD, bipolar, schizophrenia, and impulsive behaviour. FASEB Journal, February 2015 DOI:10.1096/fj.14-268342
[3] Patrick, R.P. and Ames, B.N., 2014. Vitamin D hormone regulates serotonin synthesis. Part 1: relevance for autism. The FASEB Journal28(6), pp.2398-2413.
[4] Department of Health. 2014. National Diet and Nutrition Survey: results from Years 1 to 4.
[5] Valizadeh, M. and Valizadeh, N., 2011. Obsessive compulsive disorder as early manifestation of B12 deficiency. Indian journal of psychological medicine, 33(2), pp.203-204.
[6]Kapoor, A., Baig, M., Tunio, S. A., Memon, A. S., & Karmani, H. (2017). Neuropsychiatric and neurological problems among Vitamin B12 deficient young vegetarians. Neurosciences (Riyadh, Saudi Arabia), 22(3), 228–232.