Fix Your Gut Fix Your Brain -
Updated: Mar 31
The Gut Brain Connection - Psychobiotics and the Microbiome
Probiotics have become big news lately as an important player in the treatment of anxiety and depression. Not to mention they have been touted as natural cures for digestion, skin troubles and even obesity. These brain-friendly bacteria are now coined "psychobiotics" .
“ The gut-brain connection is not a new concept. Most anyone has felt their gut churn when a stressful situation presents itself. Or felt like someone punched them in the gut when nearly involved in a traffic accident. Mental stress can wreak havoc on your GI Tract.”
Psychobiotics Begin effecting Your brain in Infancy. The good bacteria are transferred to the infant during a vaginal birth. These bacteria are crucial to brain growth, and may influence the development of regions that tell a baby's body how to respond to stress. But even when you are a fully formed adult the psychobiotics are still communicating with your brain, possibly via the vagus nerve, which runs from your brain stem to your digestive tract. It's believed that certain bacteria stimulate the nerve to regulate neurotransmitters--brain chemicals that affect your thoughts and feelings.
The Gut Brain Connection
A lot of psychiatrists are now treating psychiatric patients with probiotic therapy with great results. However, psychobiotics are not a quick cure-all for someone who is simply feeling blue. Tests for dysbiosis (a urine test) should be done to look for certain chemicals produced by "bad" bacteria and yeast in the gut. However, a course of high-dose, multi-strain probiotics are safe and many people see improvement in not only their GI distress, but their brain function.
The gut-brain connection runs the other way also
“I Had a Gut feeling"
For instance if your gut bacteria are out of balance they can quite literally stress you out causing anxiety, depression, even obsessive-compulsive behavior, not to mention brain-fog. The correct balance of good verses bad bacteria is critical to a healthy brain and GI tract. You've probably heard the term " I had a gut feeling", that is someone using their gut instincts instead of their brain, but they are connected in more ways that you may think.
There are tens of trillions of bacteria in your gut now termed the "microbiome". A lot of research is currently being done by scientists on the microbiome. They have discovered two strains (Lactobacillus helveticus and Bifidobacterium, have been shown to boost mood and temperament when introduced into the gut. "In animal studies, there's a lot of evidence that probiotics can normalize anxiety and depressive-like behaviors," says Jane Foster, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience at McMaster University in Ontario. A handful of recent studies in humans seem to confirm the findings. In one study, brain imaging showed that a group of women who drank fermented milk enriched with psychobiotics for four weeks reacted more calmly to stressful tasks. In another study, volunteers saw reductions in depression and anxiety after taking a combination of the psychobiotic strains for 30 days. Keep in mind that a balanced microbiome is an important to being healthy. Loading up on good bacteria can't hurt. eating fermented foods like kefir, organic sauerkraut and yogurt are great sources of probiotics, and eating a prebiotic diet of fruits and vegetables helps the bacteria do their job. Unfortunately, it is difficult to determine how much you are benefiting form a hefty side of kimchi, so if you want a probiotic-rich microbiome, consider taking a daily supplement. Other Brain Boosting Chemicals
Two brain chemicals that are particularly key for mental well-being are gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is a calming neurotransmitter, and cortisol, which is a stress hormone produced by the adrenals. Elevated levels of cortisol are often seen in people suffering from major depression and anxiety. A microbiome that is heavy in good balanced bacteria, lowers cortisol levels and can spur the production of GABA, the calming- feel-good neurotransmitter.