What do you do when your mood is off or you’re stressed? Eat ice cream and binge watch Netflix? Research is showing a significant connection between our gut health and our moods and stress levels. So after reading on, you may consider turning to yogurt, a handful of walnuts, or even dark chocolate to reduce stress and boost your mood.
There are trillions of microbes that happily live in our gut that help us by digesting foods, making vitamins, and protecting us from the not-so-friendly microbes that may get in there. In addition, these friendly microbes have mood-boosting and stress-busting functions too.
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 cabbage into sauerkraut; and they are great for both your gut health and mental health. Special probiotics that have mental health benefits are called “psycho-biotics”. They’re live organisms that can benefit our psyche.
Stress can affect our friendly gut microbes.
Several studies show that stressed rodents not only have increased stress hormones and stressed behaviors; but, they also have different gut microbes. This has been studied, to a smaller 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. Other studies have shown that changing our gut microbes can affect change in our moods and stress responses as well.
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.
Bad microbes can mean bad moods
“Gut microbiota and probiotics alter behavior and brain neurochemistry.” (Ait-Belgnaoui, et. al., 2012)
Many animal studies show positive effects on behavior 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. There is exciting research on the positive effect that probiotics can have on moods and stress.
How your gut can influence your moods…
It may not seem obvious or intuitive, but your body is interconnected in many ways. And more and more research is figuring out the “microbiota-gut-brain axis.” It’s a 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. The other ways are through “biochemical messengers.” Biochemicals that 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). The exciting thing is that this 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.
How can you nurture your own healthy gut microbes?
First, eat and/or 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 will be refrigerated in your local grocer. There are a number of probiotic supplements available too. Look for one that’s refrigerated and has at least 10 billion active cultures. We recommend finding one that has been “third-party tested,” which means someone outside the company has tested it and says it’s a quality product, and always read the label before taking any supplements.
Second, consider that our resident gut microbes don’t just live inside us to help us, they also seek to thrive. And to do so, they require food. PREbiotics are compounds that, when fermented in the gut, produce specific changes in bacterial composition or activity. They are your friendly gut microbes’ favorite delicacies so they’ll happily grow, and multiply. Prebiotics are basically foods that contain fiber, like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and dark chocolate (70%+ cocoa). Studies show that taking psycho-biotics along with prebiotics can improve both the microbes in our gut, as well as our mood.
The science behind the interactions of gut microbes and mental health is ongoing. Research is showing significant links and promising potential to help with moods and other areas of mental and brain health. Meanwhile, we recommend optimizing your gut for more than just gut health, but mood-boosting and stress-busting too, by:
- eating more probiotics found in yogurt, kefir, miso, kimchi, and kombucha
- eating more prebiotics found in fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, and dark chocolate
- taking probiotic supplements
Wellness at Belcara Health
If you are ready to improve your health, performance, and quality of life, we can help. Our world-class wellness specialists are renowned for providing unparalleled experiences and solutions that change lives. We will listen carefully to your concerns and goals, answer all your questions, and help you make informed choices.
Dr. Eric Nager, Integrative Medicine Specialist
Dr. Eric Nager uses his extensive knowledge of the body as a foundation for identifying and treating disease processes. He focuses on preventing chronic diseases through the integration of functional and traditional medicine, education and lifestyle changes to help patients enjoy healthier, happier, more vibrant lives – now and for the years ahead. Whether you’re suffering from a medical condition or you simply want to optimize your health, Belcara Health’s Integrative Medicine services can help you enhance your overall wellness, now and in the years to come.
Integrative Medicine views and treats the body as one integrated system instead of as isolated parts. Dr. Nager uses extensive, proprietary diagnostic assessment methods to identify the root causes of disease, as well as any early indicators of future disease. He then recommends the treatments you need to restore your body to a healthy, balanced state that is energized, youthful and sustainable. Our program begins with a comprehensive Diagnostic Assessment.
Our Diagnostic Assessment provides a baseline of vital information about your overall condition. Dr. Nager considers your medical history, concerns, and goals, and examines all your major body processes to learn how they are working together. Testing can include thorough lab workups of your blood, saliva, urine or stool. This provides a deep understanding of your current condition and identifies the root causes of your symptoms. Dr. Nager then designs a treatment plan that works with your specific body chemistry and lifestyle to help you improve your health and proactively prevent future ailments from ever occurring. Treatment options include:
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