The Link Between Your Head and Gut
05. 19. 2014
A quick trip to the grocery store will tell you that probiotics have become the latest buzzword in health food marketing. These live microorganisms, known as the “good bacteria” are found in fermented foods with active live cultures, like yogurt, aged cheeses, sauerkraut and kombucha (fermented tea). Probiotics have been credited with several health benefits, including increased immunity and digestive health. But research shows that probiotics benefit more than just your gut; they can improve brain chemistry as well.
The human gut hosts over 100 trillion microbes which play a crucial role in our health. They regulate digestion and metabolism, extract vitamins and nutrients from food, program the body’s immune system, and help defend the body against pathogens. They also produce hundreds of neurochemicals used to regulate mental processes, such as learning, memory and mood. In fact, 95 percent of the body’s serotonin – a neurotransmitter responsible for boosting mood and GI activity – is manufactured by bacteria in the gut (Source: American Psychological Association).
The intricate connection between the gut and the brain lies within your nervous system. The body actually contains two nervous systems: the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) and the enteric nervous system (the nervous system of the gastrointestinal tract). Both are composed of the same type of tissue, and are connected by the vagus nerve, which runs from the brain stem to the abdomen.
This direct impact the brain has on the gut can be felt every time you experience butterflies in your stomach from nervousness, or that sick feeling in the pit of your stomach when you hear bad news. But science now shows that the gut also directly affects the brain. Bacterial imbalance in the gut has been linked to mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety. And remarkably, research indicates that probiotics can help alleviate these issues.
A 2011 study published in the Journal of Neurogastroenterology and Motility evaluated mice that had been given the probiotic Bifidobacterium longum NCC3001. The study found that the probiotics normalized anxiety-like behavior in mice with infectious colitis. Separate research found that the probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus affected particular regions of the brain, which lowered the stress-induced hormone, corticosterone, and resulted in reduced anxiety- and depression-related behavior (Source: Mercola.com).
If you’re looking for a natural way to restore balance to your body, improve your digestive health, and increase brain function, probiotics are a great place to start. Try adding fermented foods to your diet, such as sauerkraut, miso and kimchi. Be sure to choose unpasteurized foods, as pasteurization kills the probiotics. You can also take a probiotic supplement to help your body get the “good bacteria” it needs. Avoid processed and sugary foods, which can upset the bacterial balance in your gut and feed the bad bacteria. With a healthy, balanced diet and probiotics, you can help your body find its balance, and healthy results are sure to follow.