How Your Gut Microbes Affect Your Mental Well-Being
This is Longevity Partner Content. When your gut is healthy, the rest of you also tends to be healthy – by now we accept that as fact. We also know that there are approximately one hundred trillion microbes in your digestive system – both good and bad ones. And just like your fingerprints, your system of microbes is unique!
Science has shown us that our gut health affects the following regions of our overall health:
- digestive health
- cholesterol levels
- kidney health
- brain health
- immune system
- skin health
That said, it’s probably worth ensuring your microbiota is well-balanced and that you take good care of it. But it doesn’t stop there. Scientists are still discovering more facets of our health where the “inner zoo”, as it’s been dubbed, is vitally important. Recently, researchers discovered another important link. As it turns out, what goes on in your digestive tract can affect your mind and mental well-being.
Your inner zoo of microbes
According to Dr. Elizabeth Hohmann of the infectious diseases division at Harvard-affiliated Massachusets General Hospital, this is still a new frontier of medicine. “Many are looking at the gut microbiota as an additional organ system,” she says. “It’s most important to the health of our gastrointestinal system, but may have even more far-reaching effects on our well-being.”
How does it affect our minds?
This is where it gets interesting. You may already be familiar with the gut-brain connection. But what would you say if we told you that 90% of your serotonin receptors are found inside your digestive tract? Not to mention the gut produces neurotransmitters, much of the dopamine in your body, and gamma-aminobutyric acid. All of these have a direct effect on how you feel.
According to Harvard Health School, when a doctor prescribes a patient with an antidepressant – like an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) he or she is most likely to experience gut-related side effects, as well as:
- gastrointestinal issues
And it’s a two-way street. We know that when we sense trouble and feel stress, we experience digestive problems like an upset stomach. However, gastrointestinal issues can also lead to severe mood changes, anxiety, and depression.
The vagus nerve is the highway in our bodies through which anatomical and physiologic two-way communication takes place. It also connects the gut and the brain to one another. As a result, we can clearly see the connection between what goes in our gut and mental issues, such as depression and anxiety.
So how can you keep both the gut and brain healthy?
We’ve discussed the fact that you’re born with a wide variety of bacteria in and on your body – good and bad. If you want to have a healthy gut – and a resulting healthy brain – you need to feed it. By including probiotics in your diet and supplements, you’re increasing the good bacteria that your body needs to function. Moreover, having the right probiotic cultures in your gut, you can decrease the effects of mental illnesses and mood swings.
On top of helping to care for your mental well-being, there are several other functions for probiotics. According to Dr. Ela Manga, medical director of the Woodlands Wellness Centre, probiotics can be used specifically in the following scenarios:
- Chronic bowel problems or ongoing infections
- Prevention of food poisoning when traveling
- High cholesterol
- Radiation treatment
- Chronic skin conditions
- Recurrent bladder and vaginal infections
- When taking antibiotics
Antibiotics, probiotics and your gut microbes
The human gut is a surprisingly big place, with the small intestine measuring about six meters and the large intestine another one and a half meters. And in a healthy person, the microbes should be well-balanced. But in the typical Western lifestyle, which usually features high-fat, sugary and processed foods, coupled with a general lack of exercise, the consequences are often weight gain and a sluggish digestive system. Add this to an increased intake of alcohol and painkillers, and you have a cocktail of toxins that clog the liver and disrupt the bowel. To make matters worse, with age there is a definite decline in the level of digestive enzymes produced in the stomach, pancreas and small intestine.
“This causes an overload of harmful bacteria that can prevent certain vitamins and nutrients, such as folic acid, iron, and calcium, from being absorbed,” warns Manga.
Especially when you’re taking antibiotics, a good probiotic is something you need to counter the effects. That’s because when we take antibiotics, we not only do away with the harmful bacteria but also with all the others that we need for balanced gut microbiome.
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