Welcome to Part 2 of the Gut-Brain Connection
I wrote this blog post series to tell you all about how gut healing can help with your anxiety and depression.
In Part 1, I told you about my struggle with depression and anxiety, and how working on my digestion and healing my gut changed my life, and vastly improved my mental health.
We talked about how a damaged intestinal wall, ie. intestinal permeability or ‘leaky gut’, and chronic inflammation, can impact your mental health. And symptoms to look out for that may indicate that you need to heal your gut. Read more on that here.
Today we’re going to talk about the second major link between the gut and the brain, an imbalance of the good and bad bacteria in the digestive tract. Also, we will look at potential causes of the digestive disturbances talked about in Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, and some basic gut healing strategies that you can start with today.
Imbalance of gut bacteria – aka dysbiosis
An imbalance of the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria that reside in the gut is what naturopaths call dysbiosis.
There is a vast number of bacteria in the gut, and they are collectively called the microbiota. The microbiota work together with the cells that line our digestive tract, and are involved in many basic bodily processes, including digestion and immunity.
So, how does the gut microbiota impact the gut-brain connection? Firstly, dysbiosis (imbalance) of the microbiota is a causative and driving factor for leaky gut. Which we discussed in detail in Part 1.
Also, the microbiota in the gut communicate with the brain in a variety of ways. These include; an impact on the vagus nerve, a nerve coming directly from the brain that interfaces with the digestive tract, and; the microbes creating inflammatory compounds, we covered the impact of chronic inflammation on the brain in Part 1 .
The microbiota also produce neurotransmitters
These microbes are also capable of producing most neurotransmitters (chemical messengers that carry neurologic information) normally found in the human brain. A few examples:
Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species produce gamma-amino butyrate (GABA).
Escherichia produce norepinephrine, serotonin and dopamine.
Streptococcus and Enterococcus produce serotonin.
Bacillus species produce norepinephrine and dopamine.
A quick explanation of what these neurotransmitters do:
GABA – the main calming neurotransmitter, nicknamed ‘mother natures Xanax’.
Norepinephrine – too much leaves you anxious and hyperactive, too little can leave you foggy and apathetic
Serotonin – creates feelings of self-worth and happiness and helps protect against both depression and anxiety.
Dopamine – activates reward centres in the brain, and gives us motivation, interest, focus and drive.
As you can see from the above, your gut microbes have a significant impact on the way we think and feel. And therefore keeping them healthy and happy is essential for your mental health.
The role of prebiotics and probiotics
The link between the gut mirobiota and the brain is such an area of interest that several studies have looked at whether prebiotics and probiotics have an impact on people with depression and anxiety.
In case you were wondering what prebiotics and probiotics are, let me tell you. Prebiotics are foods and/or supplements that preferentially feed the good bacteria in your gut, and probiotics are beneficial bacteria that you take (usually in capsule form) to help repopulate the gut and crowd out the ‘bad’ bacteria, allowing your own good bacteria to flourish.
The outcome of these studies on the use of pre and probiotics have been promising, as they found the intake of these leads to a significant improvement in the mental health status of those suffering from depression and anxiety.
But wait, there’s more
I want to add that what I have talked about in both parts of this blog series are not the only mechanisms where gut health can impact mental health, however I think I’ve covered most of the key drivers. And if I tried to cover everything I think this blog series would most likely end up as a book! So I will leave it at that for now.
What causes dysbiosis and intestinal permeability?
So, you may have been reading this post and wondering. What could possibly cause these digestive problems in the first place? Well, the primary causes of these gut issues are:
Poor diet – high in refined carbohydrates, processed foods and trans-fats
Stress – this is a big one and is a huge problem in modern society
Food poisoning or other illness
Non-Steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (ie. Nurofen)
Oral Contraceptive Pill
As you can see, these reasons are all too common in today’s society and you could probably tick a few off this list.
Gut healing basics
Now to the good stuff. Here are three tips you can implement into your daily life to start healing your gut today:
- Lots of orange fruits and vegetables. The orange colour is beta-carotene (the pre-curser to Vitamin A), and is a gut healing nutrient that I recommend you eat as much as possible. Sweet potato, carrots, pumpkin, rockmelon, and even dark leafy greens are packed full of this nutrient.
- Bone broth is an awesome addition to anyones diet, it contains compounds such as gelatin, glycine and glutamine that help heal the intestinal barrier and reduce inflammation. Here is a recipe I recommend. Have at least 1 cup per day, up to 5 cups per day for super gut healing goodness.
- Prebiotic foods feed the good bacteria in your gut, allowing them to flourish, and crowd out any bad bacteria. Aim for 2 or more serves of prebiotic foods daily. The best prebiotics foods are oats, asparagus, garlic, onion, lentils and beans, chicory and jerusalem artichoke.
Thanks for taking the time to read my blog. If you have any questions about this post or anything else please get in touch.
If you were interested in working with me one on one, you can book a naturopathy consult online. Or if you had a few questions before you booked in, I now offer FREE 15 minute discovery session calls which you can also book online.
Now, go enjoy the rest of your day 😉
Disclaimer: The information provided by Victoria Heath is for educational and informational purposes only. The information provided is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional advice or care. Please seek the advice of a qualified health care professional before making any changes to your current regime.
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