How An Unhealthy Gut May Interfere With Your Concentration + What To Do
Have you been having trouble concentrating lately? (Honestly, same.) Whether it's the idea of seeing friends and loved ones after so much time apart, the incoming summer season, or just the general state of the world—it can be challenging to focus on the tasks at hand these days. While most of those factors are out of our control right now, a persistent lack of concentration may have a manageable underlying cause: the gut.
How the gut affects concentration.
The gut can affect concentration in a couple of ways. "On a basic note, when we have indigestion, bloating, or gas, we are uncomfortable and cannot focus on tasks or conversations," integrative neurologist Ilene Ruhoy, M.D. Ph.D., explains.
Physiologically, the gut can also affect concentration via the gut-brain axis. "The gut-brain connection is a bidirectional highway that transmits critical data between the GI tract and the brain," internal medicine physician Austin Perlmutter, M.D., previously explained.
"A chronically unhealthy gut can lead to an altered microbiome with an imbalance of pathogenic bacteria species. This can impair metabolism, leading to too low or too high neurotransmitters, then cause difficulty with focus, concentration, and lack of mental clarity," Ruhoy says. "It can also lead to lack of substrates for optimal mitochondrial function, which then does not provide enough energy for the brain to perform."
These symptoms are often referred to as brain fog, and thankfully there are ways to manage them. If the problems are persistent or concerning, though, it's a good idea to visit a doctor or neurologist.
How to support a healthy gut and enhance concentration.
If you think you may be suffering from brain fog or find yourself struggling to focus, pay attention to your gut. Here are three tips to support a healthy microbiome, from experts:
Take a probiotic supplement.
Gut dysbiosis occurs when the bad bacteria in the gut begins to outweigh the good. Probiotic supplements help manage dysbiosis by introducing more of those beneficial bugs to the microbiome.*
For many people, an effective probiotic will help manage bloating, gas, or other forms of abdominal discomfort.* "For some, it will translate to less fatigue, less brain fog, more energy," says integrative physician Bindiya Gandhi, M.D.*
Get plenty of sleep.
If you don't accomplish all of your to-do's in one day, it can be difficult to fall asleep. Instead of getting rest, you lie in bed thinking about everything that needs to get done. Unfortunately, lack of sleep can negatively affect the gut and, therefore, lead to less concentration the next day. This can become a vicious cycle if sleep is not a priority.
To promote more restful sleep, many experts recommend establishing a nightly routine and sticking to a consistent bedtime. Winding down the mind with meditation, yoga, journaling, or other stress-management techniques may also help.
Go for a walk.
If you're struggling to focus throughout the day and feel like your list of responsibilities keeps growing, it can feel like time is closing in on you. To shatter that scarcity mindset and reclaim time in your day, psychiatrist Ellen Vora, M.D., suggests going for a walk—even if it's for just five minutes.
"To further improve lack of focus, daily movement and exposure to nature have been shown to improve concentration, improve mood, decrease anxiety, optimize sleep, and enhance optimism about life in general," Ruhoy tells mbg.
Spending time in nature (and away from your computer screen) is also beneficial for gut health. "As we narrow our contact with nature, animals, and other humans, we get a more narrow microbiome," triple-board-certified physician and gut-health expert Zach Bush, M.D., once told mbg. And since the safest thing to do is limit human interaction right now, interacting with nature becomes even more critical.
Many people are struggling to concentrate, even more so than normal these days. Because of the gut-brain axis, gut dysbiosis could be playing a role in brain fog and lack of focus. Prioritizing the gut, along with mental health, may help.
Abby Moore is an editorial operations manager at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine. She has covered topics ranging from regenerative agriculture to celebrity entrepreneurship. Moore worked on the copywriting and marketing team at Siete Family Foods before moving to New York.