How Your Gut Affects Your Mental HealthMonday Jul 13, 2020
Your gut microbiome, the trillions of microbes in your gut, influence almost every aspect of your health from your energy level, immune system function, and even mood. It might sound scary that your gut microbiome can affect your health so much, but it shouldn't be, because the ecosystem in your gut can be shifted from an unhealthy environment to a thriving rainforest of gut health. This can be done through dietary changes as well as the use of high-quality probiotics specifically tailored to your needs. And that's great news if you're dealing with anxiety or depression.
What are the Microbes in Your Gut Telling Your Brain?
In the last decade, scientists have conducted ground-breaking discoveries that showed that your mental health can be directly influenced by the microbes in your gut. An entirely new relationship between the gut and the brain has emerged called the Gut-Brain Axis.
It describes how your brain directly communicates with the microbes in your gut through over 500 million neurons (cells in your nervous system that communicate orders and sensations) and how those microbes essentially “talk back” to your brain using the same nerve highways. If you've ever wondered why you crave a certain food over others, it's entirely possible that it was the microbes in your gut that were responsible for that craving. If you have too much Clostridioides difficile, for example, it might be telling your brain to crave saturated fat since that's one of its favorite foods.
It's no secret that over the course of history our feelings can affect how our gut feels. When we get nervous, we feel butterflies in our stomachs and it even used to be assumed that chronic stress led to ulcers. Now we know that ulcers are caused by a bacterial infection, instead, and we know that not only does our mood affect our gut, but our gut affects our mood.
Anxiety, Depression, and Your Gut Health
Scientists have recently shown that if you're feeling anxious or depressed, it could very well be because you're missing key probiotic species, like Lactobacillus reuteri or Lactobacillus rhamnosus in your gut that helps regulate emotion. This should come as no surprise since we now know that a significant amount of your serotonin, the brain chemical associated with feelings of happiness, is produced by microbes in our gut. It also turns out that these microbes, L. rhamnosus in particular, can increase the neurotransmitter called GABA that helps control fear and anxiety.
How to Treat Your Gut Health to Help Your Mental Health:
Now that we know how intimately our gut microbes can affect our mood and vice versa, how can we make sure that we keep our guts healthy so that they help to keep us happy? We're still learning the answer to this question but here are some good places to start:
- making sure that your gut has a healthy microbial profile.
- making sure you're feeding the beneficial microbes in your gut the food that they like.
If it turns out that you're missing the key probiotic species that help to regulate mood, you can intentionally incorporate those into your diet. The World Health Organization defined probiotics as “live microorganisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host”, meaning that they are not only safe to consume, but they'll be helping more aspects of your overall health than just good digestion. Here are a few probiotic strains that you can easily find in fermented foods that you see all the time in the grocery store:
- rhamnosus and L. reuteri are common probiotic strains that are found in many dairy products (think yoghurt and kefir) as well as other fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi.
- Bacillus coagulans is now found added to many health foods like protein bars and cold-pressed juices.
So the next time you're feeling stressed, reach for that dairy (or non-dairy) yogurt and your tiny probiotic buddies will give you an extra boost in your mood.