The Gut-Brain Connection: What You Should Know

The Gut-Brain Connection: What You Should Know

( Our diets could directly influence our moods, with the types of gut microbes we feed ultimately dictating which signals get sent to the brain. Experts have long suspected that the balance of bacteria, viruses and fungi in our gastrointestinal tracts can affect other systems throughout the body, even possibly being at the root of numerous neurological and autoimmune diseases.

They’re also finding evidence that our gut microbes could affect how we feel, think and behave. The connection could mean that, at least for some people, a change in diet could create a positive new shift in perspective.

The Gut-Brain Connection Explained

The bacteria, viruses, fungi and other microbes that call us home outnumber our own human cells by somewhere between 10 and 100 times, with the bulk of them living in our gastrointestinal tracts. When they’re in good balance, the numbers of beneficial bacteria can keep the numbers of harmful bacteria, which can cause inflammation and disease, under tight control.

Our “good” microbes do more than keep “bad” ones from hurting us; many of them have specific jobs they perform to keep us functioning and healthy. Our gut microbiomes are responsible for much of our food metabolism, and they can even determine how much energy our cells can use. They also produce and distribute many of our neurochemicals, such as serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid, which determine our mental states.

You Are What You Eat

Researchers have found the foods we consume can directly impact our moods. For example, probiotic consumption appears to reduce depression and anxiety levels. And just as our meal choices provide different building blocks for our bodies to grow and function, they’re also necessary for our gut microbes to produce many vital chemicals.

For example, we get much of our serotonin from helpful Candida, Streptococcus, Escherichia and Enterococcus strains. If we don’t consume foods that feed these microbes, we deprive them of the building blocks they need to make this important neurotransmitter. If we deprive them long enough, they may even die off. The result, either way, is chronic depression.

Nurturing the Microbiome

Probiotics eat prebiotics, which come mainly from cellulose, starches and glycogens and are abundant in many plant-based foods. Our gut microbes ferment these compounds, called polysaccharides, and use them to create new chemicals.

Diets high in grains and plant fibers help our microscopic residents perform at their best, whereas diets filled with lots of fast food and empty calories do little to nothing to feed them. It’s possible that many people suffering from depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions could have imbalances in their microbiomes. A change in diet may not reverse all types of damage, but it could improve mood and reduce anxiety in some sufferers.

Depression alone affects an estimated 16 million adults in the United States each year, and even with medication and therapy, too many people continue to suffer. Some of that suffering could be directly related to our diets. A change in our approach to food, with a focus on both probiotics and prebiotics, could be the missing puzzle piece many people have been desperately searching for.

~Here’s to Your Health & Safety!

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