Have you ever had a “knot” in your stomach when your anxiety is running high? That’s because of your brain-gut connection. Your gut, or “second brain,” communicates with your actual brain – what’s going on in your stomach can impact what’s going on in your head, and vice versa. Some common gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms you might experience during your mental health recovery include:
- Changes in appetite
- Stomach pain and discomfort
There’s a strong link between having mental health challenges and having GI symptoms. For the most part, focusing on your mental health recovery should help alleviate some of the GI symptoms related to your mental health condition. However, there are still some specific challenges to consider:
Adjusting to New Medication
What should I expect?
Digestive issues are some of the most common side effects of psychiatric medications. In most cases, these side effects are mild and go away within a few weeks of starting a new medication or increasing the dosage.
Why does this happen?
Many mental health medications work by increasing or decreasing levels of certain neurotransmitters – most commonly serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. These neurotransmitters play a role in your moods and well-being, as well as your GI tract functioning. While they usually work well in reducing mental health symptoms, the sudden change can be hard on your stomach.
Unbalanced Gut Microbiome
What is this?
The bacteria, viruses, and fungi – or microbes – that live in your gut are called your gut microbiome. These microbes can be helpful, neutral, or harmful to your health. A healthy gut microbiome is one that is diverse and balanced. When it’s out of balance, harmful microbes can multiply and cause inflammation. This inflammation can contribute to several physical and mental health challenges, especially problems with digestion.
Why does it matter for mental health recovery?
Having a mental health condition may cause changes in your gut microbiome because of what happens in the body during a stress response. Depending on your symptoms, you also might have spent an extended amount of time not getting enough nutrients. This can contribute to your overall gut microbiome being off balance. Medication can play a role in this too, especially antidepressants – they have antimicrobial properties that kill beneficial gut bacteria.
Tips for Taking Care of Your Gut
Eat a balanced and nutritious diet.
You can increase diversity and reduce inflammation in your gut microbiome through your food choices. A healthy gut thrives on fiber, prebiotics, and probiotics. If you’re struggling to get enough of these nutrients through your food intake, you can add them to your diet through supplements.
Take your medication after eating, if possible.
Many mental health medications cause nausea or indigestion, especially when you first start taking them or increase the dose. Eating something before taking your medication can help reduce these effects. Make sure to check with your prescriber first, as some medications need to be taken on an empty stomach.
Be patient as your body adjusts.
It generally takes about two weeks for your body to get over the side effects of starting a new medication. It takes even longer (generally four-six weeks) to feel the benefits to your mood. It can be tough to keep taking your medicine and deal with stomach issues when you aren’t yet seeing any improvement in your mental health. Take care of yourself as your body adapts.
Talk to your doctor.
If your GI symptoms are related to medication, there might be a better medication fit for you. Side effects are normal, but let your doctor know if they last longer than a few weeks or are severe enough to disrupt your life for more than a few days. Stopping medication on your own is dangerous, so regardless of symptoms, talk to a professional before making any changes.