By Nicki Hayes

08th July 2020

Categorised in Good To Know

Nicki reflects on how gut health is linked to mental health and shares the latest research on the correlation between gut health and dementia… 

When my daughter was diagnosed with ME/CFS in 2015 I did a typical ‘Nicki’ thing: I expended an enormous amount of energy trying to find out the latest research around the illness, got totally confused and almost gave up.  

Unfortunately, ME/CFS and its related condition fibromyalgia are amongst the least under-resourced and under-researched illnesses. This may change if recent reports of increasing incidences of the related conditions of post-viral fatigue (PVF) and post-viral fatigue syndrome (PVFS) amongst Covid-19 patients put it on the map.  


In fact, it was beginning to change already, thanks to the pioneering work of Jennifer Brea and #MEAction. If you haven’t seen her award winning film, Unrest, I highly recommend watching it. Prepare yourself though, especially if you or someone you know has ME/CFS. It’s a harrowing watch. 

Functional medicine

One area we explored as a family was gut health, with the help of a functional medicine specialist. Not only did beginning to look after our gut health help my daughter with many of her symptoms, it helped me too, her key family carer.  

To be fair, this was no big reveal. It is kind of obvious that nutrition is important to our physical health, after all. I had very little understanding though that it wasn’t just me who had a belly that controlled my brain. It was everybody!  

So, how is gut health related to mental health?

Have you ever had a gut feeling or butterflies in your stomach? Has hunger ever changed your mood? Our bellies and brains are physically and biochemically connected in a number of ways. This means the state of our intestines can alter the way our brains work and behave, giving a whole new meaning to the term ‘Food for thought’. Ruairi Robertson explains this better than I ever could in the TED Talk below. 

New research linking IBD with dementia

So, when I became aware of new research linking inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) with gut health and dementia last week, it did not surprise me. As the Guardian reported, there are other conditions for which research indicates the important role of gut health too. These include Parkinson’s and motor neurone disease.  


It got me thinking though, about the importance for us, as carers, to look after ourselves, as well as those we care for. It happens that I am reading a brilliant book at the minute called ‘Tender: The Imperfect Act of Caring ‘ by Penny Wincer (review and, with luck, interview with Penny to follow). It’s bringing the memories of comfort eating whilst caring flooding back. In it, Penny sends out a call for self-care and self-compassion in a way that resonates rather than irritates (as I know some people’s well-meaning platitudes re ‘remember to look after yourself too Nic’ did me). 

More about which soon. In the meantime though, my call to action to you now you know more about how gut health is linked to mental health, is: look after your gut and it will look after you. With this in mind, here’s one quick recipe to help get your morning off to a good start tomorrow. Enjoy!