We have all heard the old adage “you are what you eat”, but science is discovering even more of a connection between our digestive tract and our overall health.
Commonly referred to as 'gut health', the gut microbiota, which consist of trillions of microbes, may influence more than bowel regularity and metabolism. These bacterium make up a 6-pound ecosystem inside of every human and produce hormones, communicate directly with our brain via the vagus nerve, and can even produce neurochemicals which influence behavior. Stomach bacteria and mood are connected in ways we never knew before, and scientists are racing to learn more about this fascinating discovery.
A team of Norwegian scientists recently found significant correlation between certain bacteria and symptoms of depression. Patients with irritable bowel syndrome have been found to have significantly higher instances of anxiety and depression. Even individuals with autism are more likely to suffer from digestive problems. By improving our gut health, we may be able to get a handle on a host of somatic and mental health symptoms. Changing your gut bacteria has also shown to reduce anxiety.
It has been suggested that gut microbes have as powerful of an effect on the brain as psychiatric drugs. Millions of patients are prescribed drugs every year to address somatic and emotional symptoms who might be better treated by simply improving gut health.
There are good and bad bacteria in your gut. Certain foods feed the good bacteria and others feed the bad. Good bacteria are often called probiotics. You can eat certain foods to feed probiotics and you can also take probiotic supplements to increase your probiotic population. When you have too many bad bacteria, you become sick and an antibiotic can kill the bad bacteria that is causing you problems. But antibiotics also kill the good bacteria, which can create a host of negative side effects including decreased mood.
There are 4 simple things that you can do to improve your gut health:
- remove artificial sweeteners from your diet
- eat living food
- take a good probiotic each day
When your gut is unhealthy, it can disturb your brain and cause mood instability. Common diagnoses for unstable mood are depression, bipolar disorder, and dysthymia. Might these disorders be better treated with a probiotic and a daily dose of exercise instead of dangerous psych drugs that have multiple side effects? Even if you do not have a diagnosed mood disorder, might you be able to boost your mood by eating more live food and taking a high quality probiotic.
If bad gut bacteria affects Emotional Health, surely changing our Emotional Health can improve the gut?
Hippocrates once said that "all diseases begin in the gut," and it's also widely known that stress is a trigger that causes multiple chronic disease processes to occur. These two health dogmas are actually intricately intertwined, as stress is detrimental to your gut health, and together stress and a damaged gut can contribute to multiple inflammatory diseases and conditions.
According to Dr Joseph Mercola....
The stress response causes a number of detrimental events in your gut, including:
- Decreased nutrient absorption
- Decreased oxygenation to your gut
- As much as four times less blood flow to your digestive system, which leads to decreased metabolism
- Decreased enzymatic output in your gut – as much as 20,000-fold!
In a very real sense you have two brains, one inside your skull and one in your gut. Interestingly, these two organs are actually created out of the same type of tissue.
During fetal development, one part turns into your central nervous system while the other develops into your enteric nervous system.
These two systems are connected via the vagus nerve, the tenth cranial nerve that runs from your brain stem down to your abdomen.
This "brain-gut axis" is what connects your two brains together, and explains why you get butterflies in your stomach when you're nervous, for example.
Likewise, stress results in alterations of your brain-gut connection, which can contribute to or directly cause numerous gastrointestinal disorders, including:
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)Food antigen-related adverse responses (food allergies)Peptic ulcerGastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)Other functional gastrointestinal diseases
As written in the featured Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology study:
"Stress, which is defined as an acute threat to homeostasis, shows both short- and long-term effects on the functions of the gastrointestinal tract … The major effects of stress on gut physiology include:
- Alterations in gastrointestinal motility
- Increase in visceral perception
- Changes in gastrointestinal secretion
- Negative effects on regenerative capacity of gastrointestinal mucosa and mucosal blood flow
- Negative effects on intestinal microflora
Check out therapies such as Emotional Freedom Technique to help rebalance emotional health.