Evidence is making it very clear that there is a strong association between gut health, brain function and mood. All of us know that worry can cause stomach problems and a change in bowel movements, but researchers around the globe are showing that problems that start in the gut can be just as responsible for our mood and memory. In other words, what is transpiring in your gut may directly influence central nervous system function, influencing neural circuitry, and can therefore have an effect (positive or negative) on behavior.
The newest research suggests populations of gut pathogens, like unhealthy bacteria or yeast, can pave the way for the development of anxiety and depression. As one recent study demonstrates, inflammatory bowel disease in animal experiments can have an adverse effect on the hypothalamus and make us more sensitive to stress.
Regarding the inflammatory process and depression, one study went so far as to suggest that addressing inflammation in new moms could possibly go a long way in helping to prevent the symptoms of postpartum depression. As some of the previous studies have established, the research evidence makes it quite clear that our gut communicates directly with our brains through our nervous system – – especially through GABA receptors in the vagus nerve.
Let me give you an example of how your gut influences your brain and mood:
Several studies have shown that one particular strain of probiotic, Bifidobacterium Infantis, was shown to significantly influence the stress response, the immune response and cytokine modulation in an interesting model of stress and depression. Take away: probiotics influence mood. Second take away: the health of the gut influences the health of the brain and, if good bacteria can contribute to brain health then unhealthy bacteria in our intestines can be a mechanism for mood disorders.
So, what digestive conditions can influence mood disorders? Irritable Bowel Syndrome; Inflammatory Bowel Disease; Chron’s, Ulcerative Colitis; anything that depletes probiotic bacteria like diarrhea, constipation, laxatives, antibiotics, corticosteroids and other medications, reflux, lack of stomach acid (we all think we have too much but many of us actually have too little).
In other words, if you have been diagnosed with a mood disorder or have problems with anxiety, melancholy, obsessive thinking or compulsive behavior or mood swings, and if you have the kinds of digestive conditions mentioned or you have ongoing bouts of digestive complaints that have not been diagnosed, your gut problems may be major factors in your mood problems. Your gut health and brain health are that closely related.
Here are some tips to help maintain a healthy gut:
- Eat More Fiber… Fiber from healthy fruits and vegetables and grains you tolerate are the food that feed your healthy bacteria. Strive for 35-40 grams per day but go slowly. Start where you are and don’t raise your intake more than about 5 grams per week.
- Eat More Fermented Foods… About 100 trillion bacteria call your gut home, so improve the ratio of good to bad bacteria by eating foods that contain probiotics: yogurt; kefir; miso; kimchi; sauerkraut.
- Eat Foods with Fermentable Fibers… like chicory root, sweet potato, yam, yucca, Jerusalem artichoke, garlic and onions.
- Have a Serving of Bone Broth Daily… There are many YouTube videos and books on Amazon that will teach you how to make your own. Bone broths are packaged for convenience and found in Whole Foods Markets and similar stores, as well. Ancient Nutrition and Dr Kellyann’s Bone Broth products are two brands that make flavored powders that you can use to make smoothies, soups, and even hot chocolates and coffee.
- Avoid Laxatives… Find alternatives to steroid medications. Keep your sugar levels down. Avoid refined and processed foods.
Take care of your gut and it will take care of your brain. In this case, your brain doctor is advising you to keep your gut healthy to keep your brain healthy.