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Mood and Gut Health

Updated: Nov 4, 2020

Do you often find yourself craving processed food?

Are you prone to anxiety or feeling depressed?

If your answers are 'yes' to any of these questions, the cause of the problem might be an imbalance of the bacteria in your gut.

We are made of a community of roughly 30 trillion cells that work in perfect synchronicity, but we also host approximately 100 trillion bacteria. This means that 3/4 of our bodies are made of organisms that are not related to our DNA and that we acquired throughout our lives from our external environment.

These bacterias help our bodies digest food and absorb nutrients, and they produce several vitamins in the intestinal tract. They also protect us against their "naughty" relatives (the ones linked to diseases) by crowding them out in the gut, producing acids that inhibit their growth, and stimulating the immune system to fight them off.

Not only that! The bacteria that live in our guts have also been demonstrated to impact our mood.

Chemicals implicated in depression and happiness such as serotonin are also found in the gut; 90 percent of serotonin is manufactured in the digestive tract and not the brain. Scientists have found that gut bacteria produce many other neurotransmitters such as dopamine, norepinephrine, acetylcholine, and GABA, which are critical for mood, anxiety, concentration, reward, and motivation. The gut microbiome can cause changes in how our brains react.

As it turns out, the healthier your gut flora, the happier you'll be.

It's now widely accepted in the scientific community that depression and anxiety are linked to an unbalanced gut microbiome and an overgrowth of "bad" gut bacteria over the good ones.

We also know now that a link exists between high-stress levels, anxiety, depression, and weight gain.

If you think about it, this makes sense: when we are more relaxed and happy in our daily life, we can make better decisions about food. But not only that! When our gut bacteria is mostly a "good" crowd, we can absorb nutrients better, which also means that the body is not continuously starving and looking to get those nutrients.

You might be wondering: How can I help my gut flora to stay healthy?

Helping the good bacteria to thrive over the bad ones can be done in multiple ways, and it is a good idea to start, as always, with little steps and to build up from there.

  • Starve the baddies! The first thing to do is probably to reduce those things that we know for sure that are responsible for feeding the harmful bacteria. These traditionally are High-stress levels, cigarettes, alcohol, processed food, sugar, red meat, and sweeteners.

  • Feed the right crowd. You can do this by eating foods that good bacteria particularly like; these are mainly vegetables and fruit. These are called prebiotics. Examples are: Chicory Root, Jerusalem artichoke, garlic, onions, asparagus, leeks

  • Include fermented food in your diet:Naturally fermented or cultured foods have been used for thousands of years and contain a wide range of bacteria, so you'll cover all your bases. Yogurt, sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi, miso, and kombucha are some of the most common and easily accessible fermented foods. Here is a recipe to make sauerkraut .

  • Reduce your stress levels. Stress serves an important purpose—it enables us to respond quickly to threats and avoid danger. However, lengthy exposure to stress may lead to mental health difficulties (for example, anxiety and depression) or increased physical health problems. A large body of research suggests that increased stress levels interfere with your ability to deal with physical illness. While no one can avoid all stress, you can work to handle it in healthy ways that increase your potential to recover. We can reduce our stress by introducing some relaxing activities in our daily routine, like yoga, meditation, or even a long walk in nature.

  • Add more good bacteria by taking a probiotic supplement.Probiotics are living microorganisms that, when ingested, provide numerous health benefits .The health benefits of probiotics in clinically verified amounts include promoting the balance of intestinal microbiota, aiding digestion, and supporting the immune system .I've tried many over the years, and I got to like these particularly!

Expert Miguel Toribio-Mateas says

"We used to think that what happened in the gut stayed in the gut and, in many respects, scientific evidence seems to be confirming the exact opposite. It's difficult to provide general advice on neurotransmitters, and you go about managing them from the gut up because they all behave in different ways.

But you can't go wrong eating a variety of different foods, cooked in different ways, so as to feed into the diversity that is required by your gut ecosystem.

Your gut is like a meadow: you need to keep it fertile and balanced with plenty of different types of "flowers". For those who'd like to read more about this, I recommend a 2018 review by Briguglio et al., published in the journal Nutrients: Dietary Neurotransmitters: A Narrative Review on Current Knowledge.

It's an open-access article (free to read) with wonderful illustrations on foods that contain different types of natural substances able to contribute to the generation of neurotransmitters facilitated by your gut bacteria".

So, do you think you've treated your good bacteria well so far, or maybe it is worth it to give it a bit of extra love?

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