We all know that our digestion is connected to our level of stress. Just think about how your stomach feels before you give a presentation or how you lose your appetite when you are upset. But what about the other way… can your digestive system be driving your mood?
The Gut-Brain Connection
This issue is of great fascination to researchers today who have indeed found a close relationship between the bacteria in your gut and your mood and behavioral well-being. The gut is connected in multiple ways to the brain via the vagus nerve, the enteric nervous system, and the gut-brain axis. These connections link the emotional and cognitive centers of the brain with various gastrointestinal functions. For example, the enteric nervous system enables the brain to influence the activity of the gut wall and glandular secretions such as digestive enzymes, mucus, stomach acid, and bile. Microorganisms in the gut have been found to play an important role in mediating effects on the brain and behavior through these connections.
Happy Microbiome = Happy Mood
For one thing, gut microbiota impact the production of serotonin and dopamine – two of our “feel good” neurotransmitters – which are manufactured in the digestive system. A 2014 study found that probiotics, or substances which help to stimulate gut microbiota, may have an impact on anxiety and depression. And one of the most influential leaders in the field, Stephen Collins, a gastroenterology researcher at McMaster University in Ontario, has found that strains of two bacteria, lactobacillus and bifidobacterium, reduce anxiety-like behavior in mice. Other studies conducted on humans have linked a prebiotic—a group of carbohydrates that provide sustenance for gut bacteria—to reduced stress levels among a group of 45 healthy volunteers while another study on 25 healthy women who ate yogurt, an excellent source of probiotics, twice a day for four weeks found that the yogurt-slurping women reacted more calmly to stressful stimuli than the non-slurpers.
Keep Calm and Eat Probiotics
While there continues to be so much to learn in this area, it is very likely that nurturing a healthy gut is an essential component to restoring mood balance and relieving anxiety and depression. Probiotic supplements and probiotic-rich foods can are critical to healing our digestive tracks and introducing beneficial bacteria to our systems. Probiotic-rich foods include yogurt, tempeh, miso, naturally fermented sauerkraut, kimchi and kombucha. Prebiotics, or those foods that help fuel the beneficial bacteria, are also important to include in your diet. Prebiotics can be found in raw garlic, onions, asparagus, chicory root and Jerusalem artichokes. Not only are these foods healthy, but they are delicious and enjoyable!
For a great way to enjoy both probiotics and prebiotics, check out this amazing Miso Soup with Dandelion Greens. Here's to your healthy belly!
· Group, Edward, MD, DC, NP, DACBN, DCBCN, DABFM, “Surprising Link Between Depression, Anxiety, and Gut Health,” Global Healing Center, updated August 30, 2016, retrieved from: http://www.globalhealingcenter.com/natural-health/link-between-depression-anxiety-and-gut-health/
· Kohn, David. (June 24, 2015) “When Gut Bacteria Changes Brain Function”, The Atlantic, retrieved from: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/06/gut-bacteria-on-the-brain/395918/
· McKean J1, Naug H1,2, Nikbakht E1,2, Amiet B1,2, Colson N1,2., “Probiotics and Subclinical Psychological Symptoms in Healthy Participants: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis,” J Altern Complement Med. 2016 Nov 14. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27841940