Mental health issues are becoming more common in young people, or are being reported more often. Either way, the question about how society can support young people with mental health issues is an unfolding crisis. Depression, anxiety and eating disorders are on the rise. Currently, 10 per cent of children and young people have a diagnosed mental health issue. Young people’s emotional wellbeing has also been proved to be critical for lifelong happiness. Half of all mental health issues are established by the time a person is 14 years old. Today, World Mental Health Day, we are recognising young people who are experiencing mental health issues in a changing world and discussing how probiotics can help.
Young people and adolescents face anxiety, especially induced by change: leaving home, starting college, changes in family dynamics or beginning a career. Social media can increase the experience of anxiety. There is a growing awareness that young people need to be supported to be emotionally aware, to find ways to handle emotions and to understand the factors that help balance physical and mental health. New understandings of the link between the brain and the gut are central to this.
The gut and the brain are connected. This connection might help to relieve stress. There are around 100 trillion microbes in the gut – more than all the cells in the body. The gut is central to both physical and mental health and it works like this: the brain is the commander-in-chief, it receives nonstop information from the gut and the internal and external environment and decides the best way to respond.
And the gut and the brain are intimately connected by the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve, which is connected to most of the organs in the body, plays a prominent role in activating the nervous system. 90 per cent of the body’s signals that pass through the vagus nerve come from the enteric nervous system, a complex net of about 100 million nerves found in the lining of the gut. This enteric system produces serotonin, dopamine and acetylcholine. Serotonin, known as the “happy hormone”, contributes to feelings of well-being and happiness, and almost all of it is found in the gut. A healthy gut produces more happy hormones and positively impacts the chemicals in the brain.
Conversely, have you ever had a “gut-wrenching” experience? Felt nervous and “nauseous” or had “butterflies in your stomach”? The gastrointestinal tract is sensitive to emotion and feelings like anger, anxiety, stress and sadness will also trigger symptoms in the gut.
Many modern lifestyles impact the gut: bad diets, heightened stress,and the use of antibiotics all affect the gut microbiome. In the 21st century consumption of sugary snacks has increased, especially among young people. In some areas of the UK more than half of children who leave primary school are obese. Processed foods, sugary snacks and takeaways that are high in saturated fats have a negative impact on neurotrophies – proteins in the brain which are essential to protect it against stress and grow new brain cells.
To support your mental health, we recommend eating nutrient-dense foods like fruits and vegetables, ensuring you get enough antioxidants and fibre – which will have a positive impact on your immune system, and taking a high-quality liquid probiotic. Studies suggest eating more fermented foods can decrease social anxiety. Professors Matthew Hilimire and Catherine Forestell found that young adults who eat more fermented foods, which contain probiotics, have less social anxiety. As more information becomes available about the gut-brain connection, there are more choices available about how to look after your gut and brain health.