The Role Between Your Gut and Your Emotions
Written by: Greg Ashby
I’ve got a gut feeling about this.
While you have certainly heard about how appetite and digestion are controlled by the enteric nervous system (also known as “The Second Brain” – or your gut), you probably haven’t thought that the gut can control your emotions and mood. It’s no wonder the old sayings like “I’ve got a gut feeling about this“ rings true.
From extensive research, it is now clear that gut microbes have an effect on obesity, inflammation, pain, eating behaviors, food cravings, depression and other seemingly unrelated symptoms, such as depression or uncontrolled anxiety. In addition, it is common for depression and anxiety to co-exist with disorders such as IBS (irritable bowel syndrome).
Biologists now believe that much of what makes us human depends on our individual microbial activity. This comes from the fact that there are 10x more bacterial cells than human cells on your body.
“Scientists have also gathered evidence that gut bacteria can influence anxiety and depression. Stephen Collins, a gastroenterology researcher at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, has found that strains of two bacteria, lactobacillus and bifidobacterium, reduce anxiety-like behavior in mice (scientists don’t call it ‘anxiety,’ because you can’t ask a mouse how it’s feeling). Humans also carry strains of these bacteria in their guts.
In one study, he and his colleague collected gut bacteria from a strain of mice prone to anxious behavior and then transplanted these microbes into another strain inclined to be calm. The result: The tranquil animals appeared to become anxious.” – The Atlantic June 2015.
More and more research is being done to better understand the connection between mental disorders and beneficial bacteria (probiotics).
“Time and time again, we hear from patients that they never felt depressed or anxious until they started experiencing problems with their gut,” Dr. Kirsten Tillisch, the UCLA study’s lead author, said in a statement.
So What Are Probiotics?
Probiotics are edible products containing “good” bacteria that normally live in our intestines. You can either consume probiotic rich foods (kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, miso soup, natto, pickles, tempeh, spirulina algae, etc.) or take a high quality probiotic supplement with numerous species of “good” bacteria. Being sure to get a good intake of probiotics is also important if you are constantly under stress, as most people are. The more stress you’re under, the more the “bad” bacteria you accumulate. The end result? Weight gain, amongst other things.
Then there are prebiotics that are non-digestible fibers that serve as the food to keep your “good” bacteria healthy. You can either consume prebiotic rich foods (asparagus, garlic, leek, onion, artichoke, etc.) or take a supplement. Getting plenty of prebiotics through whole food is actually pretty easy to do though and supplementation is not always necessary.
Now, let’s get down to business…
What Does Your Poop Have To Do With Your Mood?
There are animal studies that showed how mice being fed a probiotic bacterium, called lactobacillus rhamnosus, had an effect on the reduction of their behaviors, such as stress, anxiety and depression.
Research tells us that the makeup of your gut bacteria not only affects your physical health, but has a significant role on your brain function and mental state as well. Past research has also shown that certain probiotics can help alleviate anxiety:
- Other research found that the probiotic lactobacillus rhamnosus had a marked effect on GABA levels – an inhibitory neurotransmitter that is significantly involved in regulating many physiological and psychological processes – in certain brain regions and lowered the stress-induced hormone cortisol, resulting in reduced anxiety and depression-related behavior. It is likely other lactobacillus species also provide this benefit, but this was the only one that was tested.
As mentioned in one of Fitlife.tv’s Saturday Strategy episodes:
It’s important to know that you have neurons both in your brain and in your gut that play a role producing neurotransmitters like serotonin. Our greatest concentration of serotonin – involved in mood control, depression and aggression – is located in your gut, not your brain! This is one reason why antidepressants – that keep serotonin raised and balanced in your brain – can be ineffective in the treatment of depression and that proper diet changes help.
Probiotics could someday treat depression and anxiety.
Integrative Health Coach and Functional Nutrition Consultant
at Ask Dr. Garland
Greg Ashby, CHHC, AADP lives in Ogden, Utah and is an Integrative Health Coach and Functional Nutrition Consultant. Greg has been in the Health and Wellness industry for over 20 years.
Because of his personal experience with Adrenal and Thyroid disorders, as well as Cancer, he’s committed to the areas of Autoimmunity and Cancer prevention and management when it comes to research and his work. He enjoys studying the Psychology of Eating and Behavioral Disorders.
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