The gut bacteria mental health connection

Adding a combination of these foods into your daily diet can work wonders on your digestive system, restoring your good gut bacteria and ultimately healing your colon. Inflammation in your digestive system and colon are key indicators you have a serious digestive problem. Eating anti-inflammatory foods like leafy greens will help your body by promoting a healthy colon.

It’s estimated that the body has ten times more bacteria than human cells. And the intestines are home to more bacteria than any other part of the body, including the skin.

Now, scientists (such as The National Institute of Health’s Human Microbiome Project) are devoting increasing amounts of time and resources to understanding the gut ‘microbiome,’ (the massive collection of bacteria and microbes) and the influence it may exert on the brain and body.

Of particular interest is the effect that gut flora may have on mental health, as a mounting body of research suggests that gut bacteria can have a significant impact on the way we think, feel, and behave, and even on the development of neurological conditions.

Your Gut Is Connected to Your Brain

Embedded in the wall of your gut is your enteric nervous system (ENS), which works both independently of and in conjunction with the brain. Your ENS contains 500 million neurons and is thought to be largely responsible for your “gut instincts,” responding to environmental threats and sending information to your brain that affects your well-being.

“The gut-brain axis seems to be bidirectional—the brain acts on gastrointestinal and immune functions that help to shape the gut’s microbial makeup, and gut microbes make neuroactive compounds, including neurotransmitters and metabolites that also act on the brain.
These interactions could occur in various ways: microbial compounds communicate via the vagus nerve, which connects the brain and the digestive tract, and microbially derived metabolites interact with the immune system, which maintains its own communication with the brain.”

For example, fatty foods make you feel good because fatty acids are detected by cell receptors in the lining of your gut, which then send warm and fuzzy nerve signals to your brain.

Germ-Free Mice Research

So-called germ-free mice, which have no microbiome to speak of, have altered behavior and brain function. In a study by John Cryan from the University College Cork in Ireland, mice without microbes in their intestines are unable to recognize other mice around them.  In addition, mice lacking gut bacteria have been found to engage in “high-risk behavior,” and this altered behavior was accompanied by neurochemical changes in the mouse brain. When examining the animals’ brains, the researchers discovered a number of genetic alterations in the germ-free mice.

“Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) was significantly up-regulated, and the 5HT1A serotonin receptor sub-type down-regulated, in the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus.

The gene encoding the NR2B subunit of the NMDA receptor was also down-regulated in the amygdala. All three genes have previously been implicated in emotion and anxiety-like behaviors.

BDNF is a growth factor that is essential for proper brain development, and a recent study showed that deleting the BDNF receptor TrkB alters the way in which newborn neurons integrate into hippocampal circuitry and increases anxiety-like behaviors in mice.

Serotonin receptors, which are distributed widely throughout the brain, are well known to be involved in mood, and compounds that activate the 5HT1A subtype also produce anxiety-like behaviors.

Further, researchers have discovered that the absence or presence of gut microorganisms during infancy permanently altered gene expression. Through gene profiling, they were able to discern that absence of gut bacteria altered genes and signaling pathways involved in learning, memory, and motor control. This suggests that gut bacteria are closely tied to early brain development and subsequent behavior. These behavioral changes could be reversed as long as the mice were exposed to normal microorganisms early in life. But once the germ-free mice had reached adulthood, colonizing them with bacteria did not influence their behavior.

Research led by microbiologist Premsyl Bercik and gastroenterologist Stephen Collins also found that when the intestines of germ-free mice were colonized with bacteria from other mice, they took on aspects of the donor’s personality.

Other research shows that women who had high prolonged fevers during pregnancy are more likely to have children with autism. The finding held up in mice, too, and the MIA (maternal immune activation) mice were also found to have leaky intestines and abnormal microbiomes – a common occurrence in children with autism as well. Of particular importance, when the MIA mice were treated with a microbe called bacteroides fragilis, their gut permeability was corrected and many of their behavioral symptoms went away. According to the researchers …these findings support a gut-microbiome-brain connection in a mouse model of ASD [autism spectrum disorder] and identify a potential probiotic therapy for GI and particular behavioral symptoms in human neurodevelopmental disorders.” Strains of Bifidobacterium, which is common in the gut flora of many mammals, including humans, have generated the best results so far. Cryan recently published a study in which two varieties of Bifidobacterium produced by his lab were more effective than escitalopram (Lexapro) at treating anxious and depressive behavior in a lab mouse strain known for pathological anxiety.

The gut connection to Autism and anxiety

Research by pioneers such as Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride also shows there’s a profound dynamic interaction between your gut, your brain, and your immune system. Her findings show that children born with severely damaged gut flora are at a significantly increased risk of vaccine damage, which may help explain why some children develop symptoms of autism after receiving one or more childhood vaccinations while others do not.

Autism isn’t the only potential outcome in this case. GAPS may manifest as a conglomerate of symptoms that can fit the diagnosis of either autism, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), attention deficit disorder (ADD), dyslexia, dyspraxia, or obsessive-compulsive disorder, just to name a few possibilities.

Digestive issues, asthma, allergies, skin problems, and autoimmune disorders are also common outgrowths of GAPS, as it can present itself either psychologically or physiologically. It’s critically important here to understand that the gut flora your child acquires during vaginal birth is dependent on your—the mother’s—gut flora. So if your microflora is abnormal, your child’s will be as well. Hence, addressing your gut health prior to, and during pregnancy, is essential.

Much of the research on the gut-brain connection has been conducted on mice, because we don’t have “germ-free” humans around… however, research has been conducted on adults with promising results. For instance, in a proof-of-concept study Mayer and his colleagues at U.C.L.A. uncovered the first evidence that probiotics ingested in food can alter human brain function. The researchers gave healthy women yogurt twice a day for a month. Then brain scans using functional magnetic resonance imaging were taken as the women were shown pictures of actors with frightened or angry facial expressions. Normally, such images trigger increased activity in emotion-processing areas of the brain that leap into action when someone is in a state of heightened alert. Anxious people may be uniquely sensitive to these visceral reactions. But the women on the yogurt diet exhibited a less “reflexive” response, “which shows that bacteria in our intestines really do affect how we interpret the world,” says gastroenterologist Kirsten Tillisch, the study’s principal investigator. Mayer cautions that the results are rudimentary. “We simply don’t know yet if probiotics will help with human anxiety,” he says. “But our research is moving in that direction.”

Mounting evidence is pointing to a powerful connection between the gut and the human brain, with the latest research coming from neurobiologists at Oxford University. Their findings are compelling and have promise for the management and future direction for treatments of depression and anxiety. Researchers at the University of Oxford have found that taking probiotics has an effect on anxiety and depression by influencing the neuroendocrine stress response and by altering the way people process emotional information.

Adding to the promise of the findings is research out of France that found that people who took probiotics for 30 days had reduced levels of somatisation (physical symptoms such as pain and tightness that are brought on by psychological distress), depression, anger-hostility and anxiety.

Low intake of omega-3 fatty acids, found in salmon and vegetable oils, may also be associated with a greater risk of depression. A 2004 Finnish study found an association between eating less fish and depression in women. These fatty acids regulate neurotransmitters like serotonin, which could explain the link. Fish oil supplements may work too; at least one study found they helped depression in people with bipolar disorder.

Cryan believes beneficial microbes could one day be used to treat mental health problems in humans. He dubbed the compounds “psychobiotics.”

“That dietary treatments could be used as either adjunct or sole therapy for mood disorders is not beyond the realm of possibility.”

Tillisch explains, ‘When we consider the implications of the work, the old sayings, ‘you are what you eat’ and ‘gut feelings’ take on new meaning.’ ‘Time and time again, we hear from patients that they never felt depressed or anxious until they started experiencing problems with the gut. Though probiotic cocktails aren’t likely to replace conventional treatments any time soon, there is compelling evidence to suggest great potential in using them as part of a treatment or management plan for anxiety or depression.

So, What’s the Solution…

Great question! In a perfect world, the best way to maintain a healthy colon and digestive system is to avoid harmful foods and toxins altogether. Sadly, due to today’s modern lifestyle, this is virtually impossible. We live in a stressful, preservative filled, artificial ingredient world and there is a seemingly never ending list of toxins that can have a negative impact on our digestive system and colon!

Everything from tap water to doctor prescribed antibiotics can have a negative affect on our digestive system, weakening its ability to digest and eliminate waste properly. Here is a simple 3 step strategy you can follow that will reduce your toxic imbalance and heal your digestive system and colon.

Step 1 – Reduce/Remove:

There are a variety of toxins that affect our digestive system and our colon on a daily basis, but none are more harmful than those found in our food! The standard American diet is filled with colon blocking, gut harming foods like:

  1. Gluten
  2. Industrial Seed Oils (corn, cottonseed, safflower, soybean, etc)
  3. GMO’s
  4. Conventional Dairy (non-organic)
  5. Conventional Meats (non-organic) Conventionally raised meats and other animal products, as CAFO animals are routinely fed low-dose antibiotics, plus genetically engineered grains, which have been implicated in the destruction of gut flora
  6. Processed foods: Refined Flours, Refined Sugar (especially high fructose corn syrup), Processed Soy (soy milk, soy protein, soy flower, etc), Anything Processed with Artificial Flavors or Preservatives (as the excessive sugars, along with otherwise “dead” nutrients, feed pathogenic bacteria)
  7. Alcohol

Everyone’s digestive system is different, but in many cases we have problems digesting or breaking down these types of food. Over time they destroy our good gut bacteria, gut wall and digestive system, leading to a swollen blocked colon. Removing these toxic foods is the first step to healing your colon. Everyone hates eliminating their favorite foods and eliminating everything you love is not always necessary, but you should absolutely focus on fresh “whole” foods that are organic and natural. Avoid processed foods with ingredients you cannot pronounce and stay away from bad fats and sugar. Practice moderation and make decisions based on your long-term health, not the cravings you have in the moment!

Your gut bacteria are also vulnerable to environmental and lifestyle influences, so try to also avoid things like:

  • Antibiotics, unless absolutely necessary (and when you do, make sure to reseed your gut with fermented foods and/or a probiotic supplement)
  • Antibacterial soap
  • Agricultural chemicals
  • Chlorinated and/or fluoridated water, especially in a hot shower, which is worse than drinking it

Step 2 – Repair:

Nearly 2,000 years ago, Hippocrates (who is recognized as one of the most outstanding men in the history of medicine) famously said, “All disease begins in the gut…” and science is starting to prove him right. He is also famous for saying, “Let food be thy medicine” and nothing could be more true for step 2!

Centuries before Big Pharma convinced us we needed drugs, cultures all over the world turned to food for their medicine and healing needs! Ancient remedies were a powerful mix of herbs, spices, and specific healing foods that helped repair the body from the inside out. There are several healing foods and spices that work wonders on your digestive system by soothing your digestive tract, reducing inflammation and helping balance your gut bacteria. A few good gut healing foods are:

  • Fermented foods, as long as you eat the traditionally made, unpasteurized versions. Good choices include lassi, kefir, various fermentations of cabbage, turnips, eggplant, cucumbers, onions, squash, and carrots, and natto (fermented soy) and tempeh.
  • Coconut Oil
  • Turmeric
  • Ginger

Step 3 – Rebalance:

Your digestive system is a complex ecosystem of good and bad bacteria. We have good, beneficial bacteria (probiotics) that aids in digestion and elimination and bad harmful bacteria that leads to fungus, yeast infections, weight gain and dangerous digestive issues.

When our digestive system is balanced with 80% good bacteria vs 20% bad bacteria, our digestive system functions at its best. Numerous scientific studies have proven the beneficial affects of this healthy probiotic balance, linking probiotics to everything from weight management, higher energy levels, mental clarity and a stronger immune system.

With just one daily dose of the right probiotic you can:

  • Put an end to embarrassing and equally painful indigestion, i.e. bloating, gas, acid reflux, etc.
  • Promote around the clock regularity, relieving yourself of constant constipation and/or diarrhea
  • Supercharge your immune system (Remember, 70% of the immune system is found in the gut)
  • For females, rid yourself of yeast infections or other vaginal health issues that are brought on by the overproduction of bad bacteria
  • Revitalize your energy, feel refreshed and recharged.
  • Establish mental clarity, reducing anxiety, depression and aggressive thoughts that plague your mind.
  • Control your weight and help drop those stubborn pounds you’ve been trying to lose for years.
  • Relieve joint pain. Reducing pain all over from inflammation throughout the body
  • Fix your skin. Eczema, acne, and other unwanted skin conditions are all a telltale sign of an unhealthy gut.

Pretty amazing, right? Over 20,000 research papers in the last 10 years have been written about probiotics, and numerous lab tests have shown they have a real, measurable, positive impact on both your digestive system and colon.

The Dirty Little Probiotic Pill Secret

When you take probiotic supplements, you are literally swallowing live, living bacteria and to have any affect whatsoever, this sensitive bacteria needs to make it down your throat, through your stomach, past the harmful stomach acids and into your small and large intestines. If at any point in the process they die or do not make it, taking them is completely worthless and you are literally flushing your money down the toilet!

So before you run out and buy the first probiotic you see, you must know what to look for and what to avoid. There are two big challenges to finding a high quality probiotic supplement:

Challenge 1: Most Probiotics Are Dead Before You Take Them

Commercially produced probiotics are mass produced for cost savings and may sit in warehouses and on shelves for several months or years before being consumed. Because the live bacteria are very sensitive to temperature and die naturally over time, many probiotics are dead or dying before you ever take them when you buy commercially available probiotics. For this reason, staying away from off the shelf probiotics is highly recommended. Studies show they simply do not work as well and are very “hit or miss”.

Challenge 2: Many Probiotics Are Killed By Stomach Acid

The probiotics that are still alive when you take them, struggle to make it through the harmful stomach acids alive. Your stomach is a brew of digestive enzymes and acids designed to breakdown our foods, which also easily kills the sensitive probiotic bacteria. Therefore, probiotic supplements not using an advanced delivery system are doomed to death and devoid of any good! An “advanced delivery system“ is designed to protect the sensitive bacteria while they travel through the harmful stomach acids, ensuring the beneficial bacteria make it to the intestines where they are needed!

So, before you buy any probiotic supplement, do your homework! Make sure the probiotics are produced in small batches to ensure healthy, live bacteria, and that they come with an advanced delivery system to protect the sensitive bacteria as it passed through the stomach.



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