Bacteria, viruses and fungi, can be found everywhere, in the water, in the soil and of course, inside our bodies. I know that the idea of having trillions of bacteria paired with viruses and fungi inside our bodies is not so sexy, but it is important to understand that not all bacteria are bad; Bacteria can be harmful, but some species of bacteria are needed to keep us healthy.
Gut bacteria line our entire digestive system, but most live in our intestines and colon; they make known as microbiota or microbiome. These little creatures help process food and affect everything from our metabolism and appetite to our mood, sleep, and immune system.
This article will find out the connection between gut bacteria and mood, along with tips to keep these little friends happy and healthy.
Let’s get started!
The gut-brain connection
The gut includes every organ involved 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 or “second brain” operates independently, meaning it communicates back and forth with your actual brain.
These two organs are connected physically, through the vagus nerve https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29593576/and biochemically through hormones and neurotransmitters messages. In other words, our brain affects our gut health, and our gut may affect our brain health.
The gut bacteria produce and respond to the same neurochemicals, such as (1-2)serotonin and dopamine, that the brain uses to regulate mood and cognition. About 400 times more serotonin is found in your gut than your brain, to be exact.
For decades, doctors thought that 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 bad bacteria
We need the bacteria on our skin, in our airways, and our digestive system because they are the first line of defence against “invaders” that can cause infection and other problems.
Our gut bacteria regulate digestion and metabolism; they also synthesize many B-vitamins and up to half of the daily vitamin K requirement. Gut bacteria also plays a crucial role in our immune system and inflammation by controlling what is passed into the body and not.
Problems arrive when one of these bacterial colonies is out of balance, which can lead to dysbiosis. Diet, stress, pollution, and antibiotics, for example, can all affect your microbiota and send your microbiome into dysbiosis, which could onset chronic illness and other serious health issues. In addition, without the right balance of bacteria, our body might suffer from constant inflammation, and diseases may occur.
Examples of such diseases include inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), asthma, obesity, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and cognitive and mood problems.
The chemical messages that pass between the gut and the brain can be affected by the gut microbiome. 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 both, probiotics and prebiotics will help regulate digestion, improve immunity and of course, 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 already living in your gut and help push away the bad bacteria. Foods with prebiotics include apples, Jerusalem artichokes, onions, tomatoes, asparagus and radishes.
Products that contain both prebiotics and probiotics are referred to as synbiotics.
Psychobiotics: are microorganisms that, when ingested in adequate amounts, produce mental health benefits. These bacteria are being explored as treatments for anxiety and depression, reducing stress, and improving overall mood.
Suggestions for a happy gut
- Eat whole foods free from toxins and pesticides that will disrupt your gut bacteria.
- Eat a variety of foods. The wider the variety of healthy foods you eat, the greater the diversity of bacteria you’ll have.
- Add fibre to your meals.
- Add fermented foods to maintain gut health.
- Feed your gut bacteria with probiotic-rich foods and consider a good quality probiotic supplement.
- Reduce stress. Stress plays a big role in gut health and can actually change the gut balance of bacteria. (3)
- Avoid sugar consumption. Sugar will lead to gut bacteria imbalances and affect your immune system. Try to limit your intake of refined sugar and instead stick with natural sugar sources found in honey or fresh fruit.
- Avoid antibiotics when possible. Antibiotics kill all bacteria, good and bad. If you must take antibiotics, ask your doctor to prescribe a probiotic to combat its side effects. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6511407/
Our brains and digestive system are deeply connected. Stress factors that affect the brain can reduce gut bacteria and increase the numbers of harmful bacteria in the gut, increasing the risk of mood disorders such as anxiety and depression. Can you imagine a world where mental health is treated with food as medicine? I definitely can!
In other words, a happy microbiome = a happier you!