We keep learning more about the importance of good gut bacteria for physical well being, and research is also showing how gut microbiome affects mental health.
The 10^14 microorganisms in your digestive system have a major influence on your digestion, metabolism, energy, and immune system. By looking at sheer numbers alone, the number of these microorganisms is “10-fold greater than the number of human cells . . . 150-fold more genes than the human genome.”
Did you know that means you are made up of more microbiome then you are DNA!
Their presence is clearly enormous. But,
how exactly does this gut microbiome affect mental health?
Information is still emerging. We do know that gut bacteria influence mood through a link called the gut-brain axis. For example, Candida, Streptococcus, Escherichia, and Enterococcus produce serotonin (a brain chemical that helps to regulate mood), while Bacillus and Serratia produce dopamine (which helps to regulate emotional responses). These gut bacteria communicate with the brain via the vagus nerve, which gives the digestive system influence over hormones and neural pathways. What?! Your your gut is taking to your brain? Seriously!
Problems can arise when your gut microbiome is compromised due to diet, stress, or antibiotics, as just three examples, with both physical and mental problems arising. These changes can lead to a less diverse microbiome and increased intestinal permeability, also known as leaky gut syndrome, which are associated with physical ailments and psychiatric disorders such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and autism.
Focus on Gut-Brain Axis and Anxiety
Researchers are just beginning to understand the link between gut health and mental health, but available evidence does show clear connections between gut bacteria and depressive behaviors. One study cited in Clinical Psychopharmacology and Neuroscience used probiotic therapy to soothe rats who had been separated from their mothers and placed in a swimming test, which led to “relaxation in neural processes” and helped the rats cope with stress. Another study in the same review found that rats who had taken Lactobacillus helveticus and Bifidobacterium longum for 14 days showed lower levels of anxiety.
Another review on the link between gut bacteria and mental health shows that inflammation in the digestive system, which puts stress on the microbiome, leads to the release of stress hormones such as cortisol. One study cited in the review gave probiotic treatments to human patients with chronic stress. Those who took the probiotics reported feeling on average more energetic, composed, elated, clearheaded, confident, and agreeable.
Treating Gut Health and Anxiety
Here are three steps to take.
First, eat a balanced diet low in sugars and simple carbohydrates. Sugar is one of the biggest enemies of a healthy gut, contributing to yeast build-up and inflammation. Instead, eat lots of fiber to feed the good bacteria and stay balanced. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are a great way to incorporate fiber into your diet.
Next, available evidence shows that probiotic therapy is a valuable tool in combating anxiety disorders. If you suffer from anxiety, consider adopting a probiotic-rich diet. Foods like yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, miso soup, and brined pickles have high amounts of probiotics to balance your gut microbiota. Probiotic supplements are also an option to easily increase your probiotic intake.
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