YES! I am serious.
What do you usually do when your mood is off and you are stressed to the max? Do you do things like: eat ice cream, binge watch Netflix or call your BFF? Or all of them?
Read on, as I will make your new best remedies things like yogurt, walnuts or dark chocolate. They all contain ingredients that boost your mood and beat stress.
In this article we will unpack some of the exciting – and preliminary – new research about the link between your gut health, moods and stress.
You will learn about your friendly gut microbes (mostly bacteria), probiotic foods and supplements, as well as foods that feed them, called prebiotics.
WHAT THE HECK ARE FRIENDLY “GUT MICROBES?”
They are the trillions of microbes that happily live in our gut. They help us by digesting foods, making vitamins and even protecting us from the not-so-friendly microbes that may get in there.
Believe it or not, these friendly microbes have mood-boosting and stress-busting functions too!
FUN FACT: There are more microbes inside our gut, than all of the human cells that make us. Yup, we’re more than half microbe! So, how can they NOT impact our health?
It’s a hotbed of research right now, and we’re finding out more about their awesome health and mood/stress benefits, every day.
And, while the research is just starting to figure out the many gut microbe-brain connections, it’s such a cool new topic, that I couldn’t wait to share it with you!
In the past, you heard me say that we need to look at our gut to resolve chronic health conditions. You can read my article about the gut-brain connection here.
And we see a strong connection between gut health and autoimmune conditions as a key indicator in resolving our health issue.
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN GUT MICROBES AND PROBIOTICS?
The microbes that live in our guts are known as our “gut microbiota”.
The microbes that we can ingest are known as “probiotics”.
“Probiotics” are live organisms that you can eat, drink or take as a supplement. They’re what turn milk into yogurt and kefir, and cabbage into sauerkraut; and they are great for both your gut health and mental health.
Special probiotics that have mental health benefits are called “psychobiotics,” (psycho = mental health, and biotics = live). They’re live organisms that can benefit our psyche.
So, what’s the link between gut microbes, probiotics and moods/stress?
BAD MOODS AND/OR STRESS CAN MEAN BAD MICROBES
Stress can affect our friendly gut microbes.
Several studies show that stressed rodents not only have increased stress hormones and stressed behaviours; but, they also have different gut microbes, meaning the composition of gut/bad bacteria is different from less stressed rodents.
And this has been studied, to a small extent, in people too.
One study showed that moms with high levels of stress hormones during pregnancy had infants with more of the “bad” gut microbes.
This is another reason why we need to support soon-to-be-moms and help them alleviate stress as best as we can. Giving the newborns an unfavourable gut microbiome, can cause many problems for that child down the road.
So let’s think about it the other way around.
Can changing our gut microbes affect our moods and stress responses?
Studies of rodents that grow up without any gut microbes at all (in a “bacteria-free” environment), respond to stress more than mice with normal gut microbes. Then, when they’re given either a probiotic or gut microbes from non-stressed mice, their stress responses often go back to normal.
Light bulb finding here for me! The gut microbe, probiotic and mood/stress connections are starting to get interesting, aren’t they?
BAD MICROBES CAN MEAN BAD MOODS AND FEELING MORE STRESSED
When researching this topic, this is what we found:
“Gut microbiota and probiotics alter behavior and brain neurochemistry.” (Ait-Belgnaoui, et. al., 2012)
That’s a pretty powerful statement, don’tcha think?
Many animal studies show positive effects on behaviour, when they get probiotic supplements.
For example, after a probiotic, stressed rats had lower levels of both stress hormones and an inflammatory molecule associated with depression (“LPS” – lipopolysaccharide).
Human studies show that after a few weeks of taking probiotic foods or supplements, healthy people have reduced stress hormones, feelings of stress, negative thoughts and sad moods.
One fascinating study showed that when people took probiotics, brain MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) tests showed reduced brain activity for negative and aggressive thoughts!
So, as you can see, there is some exciting research on the positive effect that probiotics can have on moods and stress.
You might be wondering how exactly your gut can influence your moods…
HOW IS YOUR GUT AND BRAIN CONNECTED AND HOW DO THEY COMMUNICATE WITH EACH OTHER?
It may not seem obvious or intuitive, but your body is interconnected in many ways. As a holistic practitioner, we are trained to connect the dots between body systems that are out of sync and how to bring them back into balance, but for many people, this is real news as we don’t usually get taught how this works in our education system.
And more and more research is figuring out the “microbiota-gut-brain axis.” It’s the very complex connection between your gut, its microbes and your brain.
This new field has been called a “paradigm shift in neuroscience” (Dinan, 2017).
In fact, there are a number of ways that we’re beginning to understand how our gut microbes can affect our brain.
One is via the “vagus” nerve, which is a nerve that directly connects your gut to your brain. In fact it is the longest nerve in our body and has been called the “communication highway” between the gut and the brain. I did a video on the vagus nerve, which you can watch here.
The other ways are through “biochemical messengers.” Biochemicals are made in your gut and travel through the body, to communicate with other parts, including your brain. Biochemicals like short chain fatty acids, cytokines and even tryptophan (the amino acid that the neurotransmitters melatonin and serotonin are made from). Think the stuff that tells your body to calm down and go to sleep.
The exciting thing is that these findings may help us with not only moods and stress, but the microbiota-gut-brain axis may one day prove to be helpful for other conditions like autism and Parkinson’s.
So, your trillions of gut microbes seem to be more closely interconnected with our moods, than we used to think.
So, what can you do to nurture your own healthy gut microbes?
HOW TO NURTURE HEALTHY GUT MICROBES WITH PROBIOTICS
First, eat (and drink) probiotics.
Probiotics can be eaten in yogurt, sauerkraut (and other fermented veggies), miso, tempeh and kimchi. You can drink them in kefir or kombucha. Be sure to choose unpasteurized ones that is refrigerated in your local grocer.
Of course, there are a number of probiotic supplements available too. Look for one that’s refrigerated and has at least 10 billion active cultures. I also suggest you look for one that has been “third party tested,” which means someone outside the company has tested it and says it’s a quality product.
Make sure your supplement has an expiry date on it and a registered NPN number. This will help you make sure the product is still potent and registered to be sold in Canada.
Oh, and always read the label before taking any supplements.
The probiotics with the most research are of the Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus types. But we still don’t know enough about the psychobiotic effects to make specific mood-boosting recommendations… just yet. If we do, you will be the first ones to know. 🙂
HOW TO NURTURE HEALTHY GUT MICROBES WITH PREBIOTICS
Second, consider that our resident gut microbes don’t just live inside us to help us – they get something out of the deal too.
Prebiotics are “compounds that, when fermented in the gut, produce specific changes in bacterial composition or activity”. They are your friendly gut microbes’ favourite delicacies, so they’ll happily grow and multiply.
Prebiotics are basically foods that contain fibre. Things like fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Even dark chocolate (preferably with at least 70% cocoa).
(Remember what I said at the beginning? Walnuts and chocolate = new BFF)
Giving animals prebiotics can reduce stress hormones, and anxiety-related behaviours.
And in people, studies show that taking psychobiotics along with prebiotics can improve both the microbes in our gut, as well as our mood.
How amazing is that?
I think this takes a big stance and a real option to pharmaceutical solutions, to boost mood and help cope with stress, don’t you think?
The science behind interactions of gut microbes and mental health is still new and ongoing. Much of it is in rodents, with a few studies in people. Some show interesting links and promising potential, to help with moods and other areas of mental and brain health.
More research, especially in humans, is needed; so I’ll be on the lookout for new studies in this young and promising area of mood-boosting and stress-busting nutrition.
What if one day, we were able to help mental health by fixing gut health? What an amazing and less moody world that could be!
Try eating more probiotics like in yogurt, kefir, miso, kimchi and kombucha. Consider taking probiotic supplements (making sure you read the label and follow directions).
And don’t forget their favourite foods, called prebiotics. Those are in fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds (and even dark chocolate).
Optimize your gut for more than just gut health, but mood-boosting and stress-busting too.
Bye bye blah moods, hello sunshine! The world is yours!
If you want to speak with me, on how we can help you get your gut health back in check and nip your chronic health condition in the butt, schedule a free call with Pamela here.
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