One of my specialty areas in private practice is chronic illness. I love helping those with prolonged illness find emotional balance during times of stress and turmoil. In this article, I want to talk about the importance of gut health from the perspective of pre-biotic and pro-biotic support and would like to help you explore the connection this could have with anxiety, depression and more.
Think of the Gut as a Second Brain
Did you know that 90%+ of Serotonin production occurs in the gut and that the gut is being called our 2nd brain? Healthy gut bacteria produce neurotransmitters like Serotonin, Dopamine and GABA. Shocking, right? When our gut is out of balance and not in a healthy place, it can directly effect our mood. What we eat and the ratio of good vs bad bacteria can impact the balance of the gut and thus directly impact the brain.
Hippocarates said "All disease begins in the gut". Could this mean that many mental health problems can originate here too? ABSOLUTELY. There are many ways to approach gut health. In another post, we discussed the importance of enzymes, in this post, we will look at bacteria's influence.
Good Bacteria Has an Important Role in Overall Health
In the past decade, our culture has become very clean. We like to kill all pathogens and bacteria, thinking this will keep us healthy and free from illness. While killing bad bacteria on a shopping cart or on your little one's hands can be quite helpful, if you are not purposeful in your attempts, you may also be killing the good guys too.
Our bodies have many trillions or up to 3 pounds of good bacteria. Isn't that amazing? This bacteria is very important for maintaing a healthy immune system, the production of vitamins like K and B and for digesting our food. This bacteria is what fights outside pathogenic intruders from invading the body. As you will see below, good bacteria can help us maintain a balanced mental health as well. Increasing this bacteria and protecting it from being killed can be an important first step is establishing balance in the gut.
Too Much Bad Bacteria can Adversely Impact Your Mental Health
When the health of the gut becomes compromised and bad bacteria overtake good healthy bacteria, yeast can grow to unhealthy levels. Sugar can help feed this overgrowth process. The average American consumes 100 pounds of sugar in a year. Think of how much fuel we are giving to the bad bacteria!
An over-population of yeast can impact the lining of the intestine making it permeable and allowing toxins and undigested food particles to leak into the blood stream. But it also can impede the production of Serotonin. An overgrowth of bad bacteria and an unhealthy gut can initiate cloudy thought processing, irritability as well as anxious or low mood feelings.
80% of our immune system lies within our gut. When the intestines chronically leak toxins, the immune system becomes compromised which tends to increase systemic inflammation in the body. Systemic inflammation can impact the body and brain and can lend itself to ailments that span from achy joints to depressive feelings or even feelings of panic. More mental health impact!
We mentioned above that the production of Vitamin B can be impacted with poor gut health. The B vitamins are a wonderful nourisher for the nervous system and an important factor to one's mental health. Sometimes a 50-100mg dose of a multi-B vitamin is recommended for those struggling with mental health symptoms, other times a Methyl version of Folate and B-12 is encouraged. Talking to an informed medical professional about these options is important. BUT helping the body produce what it needs to is a crucial proactive step in maintaining good healthy mental health.
What can be Done to Improve the Health of Your Gut?
We have read what impact an imbalance in good and bad healthy flora can do to one's mental health. Let's look at what a healthy amount of pre-biotics and probiotics can do for one's mood.
Probitocs are live bacteria that are helpful to the digestive system. Pre-biotics are the fibers in natural whole foods that give probiotics the fuel they need to maintain and reproduce. Both probiotics and pre-biotics can be taken in the form of a pill or can be ingested in certain foods.
Good bacteria like lactobacillus and B. Bifidum for example have been used in research studies with mice. Mice that were given these helpful bacteria had a reduction in their anxious like behavior. Other studies have looked at the link between healthy microbes in the gut and the reduction of depression and anxiety.
What a beautiful thing. To learn WHY you may feel down or anxious, or have cloudy thinking. To get ahead of it and tackle it instead of popping a pill or suffering through is a gift. Scattered, splintered energy, feelings of darkness and despair, anxious chatter can all benefit by looking through the lens of the gut. Many other symptoms can be as a result of your body's neurotransmitters not being able to do their job efficiently and effectively.
Take the Probiotic Challenge
Why not try implementing the addition of daily probiotics into your diet for three weeks to see what changes you feel? Your best angle for success is by introducing a well made multi-strain probiotic that also contains a pre-biotic blend.
Also begin to eat foods that naturally contain probiotics. Fermented food choices such as raw sauerkraut, low sugar yogurt, kefir, kombucha are wonderful ways to introduce probiotics into the body naturally.
Remember. Sugar tends to feed yeast. Reducing sugar and simple carbohydrates while targeting yeast and increasing good healthy flora is an important step to changing the environment of your gut. Adding supplements and natural foods into the diet and reducing sugars can be a nice balance.
Gabrielle Anderson is the a family therapist and the owner of the Family Therapy Center of Northern Virginia in Ashburn, Virginia. Although therapy is her specialty, she loves incorporating natural methods and is constantly searching for biological or environmental explanations for mental health ailments whenever possible. This and other posts is NOT to be a replacement for medical attention or advice. Please talk to your medical professional to see if these ideas could help you or a loved one.
Kuhn, Merrily RN, Ph.D. What is in our Food, Institute for Brain Potential: CEU Training
These blog entries are written by our very own clinicians. When inspiration hits, another entry will be logged.
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