Bacteria, viruses and fungi can be found everywhere in the water, the soil and our bodies, but did you know that there are more bacteria cells in our bodies than human cells? I know the idea of having trillions of bacteria paired with viruses and fungi inside our bodies is not so sexy, but it is essential to understand that not all bacteria are bad; Bacteria can be harmful, but some species of bacteria are needed to keep us healthy. A good example is the bacteria on our skin, airways, and digestive systems; we need them because they are the first line of defence against invaders that can cause infection and other problems.
This article will discover the connection between gut bacteria and mood and provide tips to keep these little friends happy and healthy.
Let’s get started!
The gut-brain connection?
Gut bacteria line our entire digestive system, but most live in our intestines and colon; they are known as microbiota or microbiome. These little creatures help process food, affecting everything from our metabolism and appetite to our mood, sleep, and immune system. The gut includes every organ in digesting food and processing it into poop. The gut lining is also called “the second brain”, and scientists call this little brain the enteric nervous system (ENS). The gut o” second brain” operates independently, communicating back and forth with your brain. These two organs are connected physically through the vagus nerve and biochemically through hormones and neurotransmitter messages. In other words, our brain affects our gut health. Likewise, our gut may affect our brain health. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29593576/
The gut bacteria produce and respond to the same neurochemicals, such as serotonin and dopamine, that the brain uses to regulate mood and cognition. About 400 times more serotonin is found in your gut than in your brain, to be exact. This means that if your gut is out of balance, this may affect your mental health and the other way around. For decades, doctors thought anxiety and depression contributed to gastrointestinal problems such as constipation, diarrhoea or bloating. But studies are showing that it may also be the other way around. There is evidence that irritation in the gastrointestinal system may trigger mood changes, explaining why a higher percentage of people with functional bowel problems develop depression and anxiety.
“Our two brains ‘talk’ to each other, so therapies that help one may help the other”
Good bacteria vs harmful bacteria
Our gut bacteria regulate digestion and metabolism; they also synthesize many B vitamins and up to half the daily vitamin K requirement; wow! Gut bacteria also play a crucial role in our immune system and inflammation by controlling what is passed into the body and what is not, which is an essential function to keep us alive and protect us from illness. Still, we can only get all these benefits when these creatures are balanced; when these little friends are out of balance, problems may arrive.
Unfortunately, our modern lifestyle doesn’t help us very much. Daily stress, pollution, unhealthy diets and regular antibiotic prescriptions, for example, affect your microbiota and send your microbiome into dysbiosis (1), which could onset chronic illness and other serious health issues, including asthma, obesity, diabetes, skin issues and autoimmune diseases. In addition, without the right balance of bacteria, our body might suffer from constant inflammation, which is the root cause of any disease.
That’s not all; the gut microbiome can affect the chemical messages that pass between the gut and the brain. As we saw before, disruptions to gut health have been linked to psychiatric conditions like anxiety, depression, autism, schizophrenia and neurodegenerative disorders.
“…Inflammation is the root cause of disease…”
Probiotics, Prebiotics and Psychobiotics to the rescue
The right combination of probiotics and prebiotics will help regulate digestion and improve immunity and your mood. Probiotics: are live bacteria that have health benefits if eaten. You can get probiotics from supplements or foods prepared by bacterial fermentation, such as yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, tempeh, and kimchi. Prebiotics feed the good bacteria in your gut and help push away the harmful bacteria. Foods with prebiotics include apples, Jerusalem artichokes, onions, tomatoes, asparagus and radishes.
Psychobiotics are microorganisms that produce mental health benefits when ingested in adequate amounts. These bacteria are being explored as treatments for anxiety and depression, reducing stress, and improving overall mood.
“…Products that contain both prebiotics and probiotics are referred to as synbiotics…”
Suggestions for a happy gut
So how do we keep our gut happy? Below i share five of the most important things you can start doing today to keep your gut and brain happy and healthy.
1) Eat whole foods, more from nature and less from the box. Choose foods free from pesticides and chemicals that will disrupt your gut bacteria when possible. Eat a variety of foods. The wider the type, the wider the gut bacteria you’ll have.
2) Add more fibre and fermented foods to your meals to maintain a healthy gut. No need to go crazy; more is not better because too much fibre can create gut problems. So please keep it balanced. Aim for 25 to 30 grams daily, which looks like 2-3 servings of fruits (2).
3) Reduce stress; yes, emotional and physical stress plays a massive role in our overall health, and your gut bacteria is no exception. So instead, eat in a peaceful atmosphere, add some breathing and meditation routine to your day and chill out as much as possible, which will positively affect your overall health.
4) When possible, avoid antibiotics since they will kill not only the “bad” guys but also the good guys. If you must take antibiotics, add a probiotic to minimize the damage and combat the side effects. Also, don’t forget to keep a healthy diet to support your gut while you are ill. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6511407/
5) Last but not less, avoid sugar and process foods as much as you can. Sugar leads to gut bacteria imbalances and affects your immune system. Again balance is critical; nobody will die from eating once in a while chocolate; try to limit your sugar consumption and, when possible, choices natural sugar sources such as honey or fresh fruit.
Our brains and digestive system are deeply connected. Stress factors that affect the brain can reduce gut bacteria and increase the number of harmful bacteria in the gut, increasing the risk of mood disorders such as anxiety and depression and other health issues such as diabetes, asthma and immune disorders. Keeping our gut bacteria balanced with wholesome foods and a healthy lifestyle will support our physical and mental health and help us prevent illness.
In other words, a happy microbiome = a happier you!