Your Gut May Hold the Key to Better Brain Health
The secret to improving your mood and brain health is in your gut, as unhealthy gut flora can impact your mental health, potentially leading to issues like anxiety, depression, auto-immune disorders and more.
You’ll never get rid of all the bad bacteria, nor is it necessary. You only need to strive for balance between the good guys and the bad guys for optimal health.
The impact of your microflora on your brain function has again been confirmed by UCLA researchers who, in a study published in the peer-reviewed journal Gastroenterology,found that probiotics (beneficial bacteria) indeed altered the brain function in the participants.
As reported by UCLA: 'Time and time again, we hear from patients that they never felt depressed or anxious until they started experiencing problems with their gut,' Dr. Kirsten Tillisch said. 'Our study shows that the gut–brain connection is a two-way street.'"
You may not be aware that you actually have two nervous systems:
- Central nervous system, composed of your brain and spinal cord
- Enteric nervous system, which is the intrinsic nervous system of your gastrointestinal tract
While many think of their brain as the organ in charge, your gut actually sends far more information to your brain than your brain sends to your gut.
Just as you have neurons in your brain, you also have neurons in your gut -- including neurons that produce neurotransmitters like serotonin, which is also found in your brain. In fact, the greatest concentration of serotonin, which is involved in mood control, depression and aggression, is found in your intestines, not your brain.
Your Gut Microbes Can Affect Your Health in Numerous Ways
Besides research implicating gut bacteria in mental health and behaviour, other research has shown that your microbiota also has an impact on:
- Immune system function: Biologist Sarkis Mazmanian believes bacteria can train your immune system to distinguish between "foreign" microbes and those originating in your body. His work is laying the groundwork for new therapies using probiotics to treat a variety of diseases, particularly autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer's. Cutting-edge research is currently investigating how the second brain mediates the body's immune response; after all, at least 70 percent of our immune system is located in your gut.
- Obesity: The make-up of gut bacteria tends to differ in lean vs. obese people. This is one of the strongest areas of probiotic research to date. The bottom line is that restoring your gut flora should be an important consideration if you're struggling to lose weight.
- Autism: Establishment of normal gut flora in the first 20 days or so of life plays a crucial role in appropriate maturation of your baby's immune system. Hence, babies who develop abnormal gut flora are left with compromised immune systems and are particularly at risk for developing such disorders as ADHD, learning disabilities and autism, particularly if they are vaccinated before restoring balance to their gut flora.
Your Gut Flora Is Constantly Under Attack
Although gastrointestinal (GI) turmoil can sour one's moods, everyday emotional well-being may rely on messages from the brain below to the brain above. It is believed that in coming years psychiatry will need to expand to treat the second brain in addition to the one atop the shoulders.
How to Optimise Your Gut Flora
Your gut bacteria are vulnerable to your diet and lifestyle. Some examples of disrupters of the good intestinal bacteria are: diet with too much sugar, artificial sweeteners, refined grains and processed foods; non organic animal products; antibiotics; protein deficiency; heavy metal exposure; anti-bacterial soap; over acidity of the body; and stress.
Considering the fact that an estimated 70 percent of your immune system is located in your gut, reseeding your gut with healthy bacteria is important for the prevention of virtually all diseases, from colds to cancer. To do so, consider adding traditionally fermented, unpasteurised foods to your diet:
- Fermented vegetables, like sauerkraut and kimchi
- Fermented drinks such as kefir and yoghurt (homemade). Our preferred fermented drink is coconut yoghurt and kefir.
- Miso and tamari (fermented soy products)
Ideally, you want to eat a variety of fermented foods to maximise the variety of bacteria you’re consuming. Some people believe that dairy fermented foods is all they need to supply the intestines with enough bacteria. The truth is there is a good chance your body does not assimilate or even tolerate dairy products and even if it does, you will need to eat raw cheese to benefit from the good bacteria in it. Pasteurised dairy does not contain live bacteria (including milk and commercial yogurt. Most cheeses are pasteurised too).
If you can’t eat enough of these foods to make a difference in your digestive health, consider taking a good probiotic supplement like Vita Biosa with herbs, Vita Biosa with Rose Hip, Miso and Tamari, as well as digestion enhancement enzymes and prebiotics like Baobab powder, Yacon Syrup or Mesquite powder which are edible but indigestible carbohydrates that stimulate the growth and activity of beneficial bacteria like bifidobacteria and lactobacilli in the colon. Unlike probiotics in which beneficial strains are introduced into the gut, the aim of taking prebiotics is to promote the growth of good bacteria that are already in the gut by increasing their food supply. Hence, taking probiotics and prebiotics are complementary.