Fixing This One Thing In Your Body Could Completely Change Your Mood

Feeling stressed and distressed? You're not alone. It seems like it's getting harder and harder for any of us to find our happy place these days. While there's no magic potion that can fix everything that's going wrong for so many of us, there are still some steps we can all take that are actually surprisingly effective mood boosters. Dr. Jim LaValle, a clinical pharmacist and board-certified clinical nutritionist who works as an expert advisor to, spoke with The List about something he called "the Gut Immune Brain connection," meaning "the impact our gut health can have on mental health."

LaValle explains that our intestines contain certain types of antibodies that are necessary for killing harmful bacteria, but they can get out of whack and once that happens, this can affect the body's ability to produce both serotonin and dopamine. These two chemicals are the "feel good" substances that allow us to feel relaxed and happy. If something goes wrong in the gut, serotonin and dopamine levels can drop, and this may leave us feeling anxious and unhappy. While LaValle admits researchers still don't know exactly how intestinal issues affect the brain, he told us "they see a direct link between gut immunity and mental health," and warns that an unhealthy gut may lead to an increased risk of mental health issues including anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and even schizophrenia. The good news, though, is that anything that promotes intestinal health may help to relieve some mental distress.

Dietary supplements may improve your mood

LaValle is a big fan of probiotics. He says that many of the things we eat and drink, such as artificial sweeteners, alcohol, and even chlorinated water, can reduce beneficial gut bacteria, but offers: "Taking a daily probiotic is one of the best ways to counteract these losses." He suggests using products where the probiotic bacteria are guaranteed to stat viable throughout the product's shelf life, naming Kyodophilus as one such brand. Several strains of bacteria he also told us to look out for are three he calls "the friendly trio": Lactobacillus gasseri KS-13, Bifidobacterium bifidum G9-1 and Bifidobacterium longum MM-2. All of these bacteria, he says, "have proven immune benefits."

Apart from probiotics, LaValle also recommends dietary supplements including ingredients like holy basil, rhodiola, and Relora®, all of which are able to counteract the effect of excess amounts of stress hormone cortisol, while aged garlic (Kyolic being a major brand) not only supports healthy gut flora, but also helps to deter the production of certain antibodies called inflammatory cytokines that can be potentially harmful if produced in excessive amounts.

Fiber makes you feel better

Nutritionists will tell you to eat plenty of fiber to help control your appetite — the stuff helps fill you up — and regulate your weight, but LaValle says that fiber has additional health benefits, as well. It helps feed the beneficial bacteria in your intestine, and he tells us, "Not only does a high fiber diet help the numbers of good bacteria, it helps the diversity of strains."

While most people, he says only get about 15 grams of fiber in their daily diets, he recommends women consume at least 25 grams and men 38 grams per day. High fiber foods that LaValle suggest you add to your diet include steel-cut oats, beans and other legumes, whole grains, flax seeds, chia seeds, and good old fruits and veggies. If you still can't seem to eat enough fiber, he says one good supplement is hydrolyzed guar gum, something he promises is "tasteless in water, so it's easy to take."

Take some simple steps towards managing stress

In addition to adding supplements and high-fiber foods to your diet, LaValle also says stress management techniques can help to regulate not just those ephemeral things called emotions, but the physically present stress hormones. So how do you get started managing your stress? Simple: just take a deep breath. (Well, more than one breath. Never stop breathing.) LaValle describes a technique called box breathing, which he says starts with "taking a few minutes each day to sit quietly in a chair." While sitting there, you should breathe in while counting to four, then hold the breath for another four counts. Breathe out for — you guessed it, four counts — then hold again for another four counts before you again take another four-count breath. LaValle says to repeat the cycle four times, and says you should try to do it 3 or (yes) 4 times each day.

Besides breathing, the American Heart Association has a long list of stress-busting suggestions including yoga, meditation, exercise, spending time outdoors, and playing with a pet. Find an activity that works for you, anything that will absorb you and allow you to forget about your cares and worries for a while. Not only will you be giving yourself a nice mental mini-vacation, but, as Lavalle points out, you'll be helping your body, which, in turn, will help your brain. It's like the opposite of a vicious cycle — more like a victory cycle!