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Saint Peter’s Better Health

Gut and Mental Health

Sponsored by Saint Peter’s Healthcare System

How Mental Health and Digestive Health Are Connected

“Gut feelings” are the real deal. Your digestive organs, or “gut,” can react to emotions such as anxiety, sadness, and anger. And your brain can react to signals from your gut as well.

The gut and brain are linked by:

  • Nerve pathways
  • Chemicals that carry messages between these two areas of the body

Bacteria, viruses, and funguses living in your gut can affect these messages. In this way, they play a key role, too.

Gut-Wrenching Emotions

You may have felt the gut-brain connection firsthand. Day-to-day stress sometimes causes an upset stomach. 

Some people have a longer-lasting problem with how the brain and gut work together. This may lead to:

  • Functional indigestion—burning feelings or pain in your upper belly
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)—belly pain with diarrhea or constipation

Depression and Anxiety

Having IBS raises your risk for depression and anxiety. One reason is the stress of living with an illness. Stress can bring on mental health problems.

Changes inside your gut may also affect your brain through chemical messages. And it’s a two-way street. Having depression or anxiety may affect your gut health.

What You Can Do

These steps can help you take care of both your gut and your brain:

  • Learn ways to keep stress in check. You might meditate, take deep breaths or listen to relaxing music.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet. Get plenty of fiber.
  • Ask your health care provider if you should limit certain foods. You may need to cut back on foods with hard-to-digest carbs.

Tell your health care provider if you’re having gut symptoms. At times, you may be referred to a specialist called a gastroenterologist. If depression or anxiety is an issue, a mental health professional can help.


Online Medical Reviewer: Godsey, Cynthia, MSN, APRN, MSHE, FNP-BC
Online Medical Reviewer: M. Trevino, Heather, BSN, RNC
Date Last Reviewed: 2/1/2019
© 2000-2019 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional’s instructions.