25 years ago, every health care professional believed that your thoughts, your mind and your mindset were responsible for your emotional state.
Today, even though that couldn’t be truer, there is still more to the health equation, because your physiology determines your state, so therefore you can’t ignore your biology, and in this case your gut health.
Study after study has found a real connection between the health of your gut, the strength of your immune system, and the impact that it has on your mood and your emotional state.
Your gut health plays a far bigger role than we initially thought.
And whilst it can be hard to sort the wheat from the chaff, as there's alot of conflicting information out there, once you read this article I guarantee that your understanding of gut health and mood… will be clear.
I want to give you a logical explanation of what's going on inside your gut and the ties your gut flora has on your mood, and then offer you a set of steps that you can start leveraging today, to improve your gut health and become the best version of you.
There's no doubt it’s still a young area of research, but there are a few things we do know.
Scientists have found evidence that your gut / mood assemblage — consists of about a thousand different species of bacteria, trillions of cells that together weigh between one and three pounds — and could play a crucial role in even conditions like autism, anxiety, and depression (1).
Pretty amazing isn’t it … this forgotten organ, so let’s dive into it. Are you ready to find some quick gut health solutions to boost your mood?
Connecting your gut health to depression and anxiety
Depression and anxiety are two powerful emotional states, but what does the health of your gut have to do with these disorders.
We know there are 100 trillion microorganisms, right now, living in your gut. They make up anywhere from 1 to 3% of your body weight, and they're very active.
Producing chemicals, compounds, and neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and GABA, that trigger specific responses in your brain (2).
But when your gut flora is out of balance….
That's when the brain fog and low mood starts.
A European study found that people living with depression were missing several species of gut flora. Another done in China found depressed patients had significantly less "good" gut flora, which was especially evident in the severely depressed. But where's the link?
Well, researchers have shown that improving the health and composition of your gut flora, can actually help you if you are suffering from a mood disorder.
Or in other words, the health of your gut greatly impacts your emotional state.
But how can I trigger a happy mood?
Strengthening your gut microbiome can actually lift your mood, better regulating the chemicals and reactions that cause you to feel good.
Here are the four key neurotransmitters that your gut microbiome manufacture that trigger a good mood.
The feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine
It's a rewards based reaction that sends your body into a state of bliss. That euphoric response you get after achieving something.
The relaxing neurotransmitter GABA
Some beneficial bacteria that have taken up residence in the gut will actually increase GABA receptors in the brain.
Bacteria not only interact with neurotransmitters, they can also produce their own (3).
When there are more GABA receptors in the brain, more GABA is being put to good use. This is a good thing, especially since a decrease in GABA receptors has been associated with mood disorders, like chronic depression.
To give you a better idea what GABA receptors do in the body, consider substances like:
What do alcohol, benzodiazepines, and barbiturates have in common? They all stimulate the GABA receptors. Which, according to scientists, is exactly what certain beneficial bacteria do.
But with too much of a reliance on an external GABA stimulator like alcohol, in the same way that caffeine will burn out your adrenalin, alcohol will fry your GABA, leaving you craving more and more just to get the same GABA hit and leave you feeling anxious…..
Because at the heart of the matter, alcohol became GABA or a deep tissue massage for you in a bottle.
Have you ever craved alcohol just to unwind and numb yourself from pain?
Well it is also an anesthetic…
Give it a day or two, I promise you will need it less. 7 days without is the best initial goal..
Although harder effort initially, use exercise or meditation to arouse the same natural painkillers and neurotransmitters ….
The mood regulator serotonin
It is responsible for regulating things in the body like mood, appetite, and sleep. The right amount of serotonin in the brain produces a relaxed and positive feeling (4).
As it turns out, approximately 90% of the serotonin in the body is located in the gut and produced by your gut microbes. Low serotonin is also responsible for when you feel ‘hangry.’
Don’t you hate being accused of ‘hangry’ when you know it’s true…
The remaining 10% is synthesized in the central nervous system (CNS). The neurotransmitter serotonin can actually modulate motility in the gut.
When levels of serotonin are skewed, this can cause either constipation or diarrhoea.
The love hormone oxytocin
Primarily tied to our reproductive systems, oxytocin also has an impact on our emotive, cognitive, and social reactions, helping us to be warm, trusting, and open (5).
It is now understood that gut bacteria exert effects beyond the local boundaries of the gastrointestinal tract to include distant tissues and overall health.
Probiotic bacterium Lactobacillus reuteri has been found to upregulate the hormone oxytocin and systemic immune responses to achieve a wide array of health benefits involving wound healing, mental health, metabolism, and musculoskeletal maintenance (6).
Understanding the complexity of the Gut-Brain-Axis
For the longest time, we blamed our brains for our moods, and it's only recently that a new link has been discovered. Known as the Gut-Brain-Axis, it's a simple name for a remarkable communication system that exists in our body.
There are pathways between what we now know as the "second brain" of our body, the enteric nervous system, that connect into almost every other bodily function we have. It's a highly interconnected network, as complex as your spinal cord, and just as crucial in maintaining healthy body function (7).
Ever get butterflies in your stomach before walking on stage? That's one direction the reactions can take, but we now know it flows both ways. That means an imbalance in your gut can adversely impact your emotional state, and ultimately, the mood you're in.
3 ways your gut flora is impacting your mood
We now know the microbes in your gut have a much more significant impact on your mood, and there are three ways that this occurs.
Good bacteria in your gut are continually secreting complex chemical compounds, releasing neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine and GABA into your body. One study in mice even found the transmission of healthy gut bacteria could reduce anxiety (8).
Gut bacteria may also generate other neuroactive chemicals, including one called butyrate, that have been linked to reduced anxiety and depression (9).
When there's an imbalance in gut flora, it can trigger the release of neurotoxins that slow your ability to think, more commonly known as “brain fog,” and can even trigger depression and diseases like inflammatory bowel disease, asthma, obesity, and metabolic syndrome (10).
The vagus nerve provides almost a super-highway for both anatomical and physiologic communication between the gut and brain, ensuring that as soon as anything is wrong or out of balance in your gut, it's directly broadcast to your brain (11).
The solution? Bring your gut into balance, and remove any impact the harmful bacteria are having on your mood and your overall wellbeing.
Improve your gut health with these 7 steps
The good news is you can bring your gut health back to equilibrium with a handful of changes in your lifestyle, and these will also give you a radical boost in your mood.
1. Eliminate sugar and other gut-damaging foods
A poor diet, especially one high in sugar and highly-processed foods, will not do you any favors. The sugars cause harmful bacteria to develop, and with time, will alter the very composition of your gut flora. And don't just swap them out for artificial sweeteners, they're just as bad. My advice, is to stop eating anything that's been processed immediately, especially if it is high in sugary carbs, or you know it is a guilty indulgence (12).
2. Eat more whole foods in your meals
Getting rid of the bad doesn't mean you need to go hungry, you just need to choose the foods that aid the healthy development of your gut flora. A wide variety of different fruits and vegetables are fundamental to a healthy gut along with the following fermented accompaniments. All are allowed during my 14 Day Smart Cleanse Detox Program.
Kimchi (page 73 of our 14 Day Smart Cleanse Detox Instruction Manual)
Kombucha (effervescent cultured drink)
Pickles (organic if possible)
Cultured veggies (organic if possible)
Natto (fermented soy)
3. Add more prebiotic fiber to your diet
In addition to eating whole, unprocessed food, add vegetables and fruits rich in prebiotic fiber to your diet. This is like super-fuel to the good bacteria in your gut, that good bacteria needs to grow and develop. Here are some prebiotic foods that you can add to promote weight loss:
Raw dandelion greens
Raw or cooked onion
4. Take a probiotic supplement
Probiotic supplements are a fantastic way to raise the number of good bacteria in your gut, and taking these can help to restore balance. You can find probiotics naturally in fermented foods mentioned above and if you've been experiencing any problems with your gut, a supplement may just be the boost you need. Our Gut Lining Formula is very powerful to strengthening your gut microbiome during the second “seeding in the good bacteria” phase of our program.
5. Find the time to de-stress
Our busy lifestyles leave little downtime for "us" but it's been proven that high levels of stress will create an imbalance in your gut. You can bring this back into balance by setting time aside to focus on finding your center, and practicing relaxation techniques like meditation, yoga, even just mindful breathing exercises can help you regain a sense of calm. Instant fix is to go and get a 20 – 30 minute massage thai or chinese massage (13).
6. Get outside and get your body moving
It's been proven the people who live in the country have more diversity in their gut flora than their city-dwelling counterparts, as they're exposed to more germs and bacteria. Just think “hygiene hypothesis” or “let your kids play in the dirt” whilst their immune system is developing…
Plus, a little exercise is also a good step towards developing a healthy system. So, grab your gardening tools and go give your plants a work over. It'll do your gut-brain-mood axis good. I always feel invigorated and happy when I’m planting herbs or gardening.
7. Avoid taking antibiotics (if you can)
We all know antibiotics can be lifesavers, killing the harmful diseases in your body and helping to fight off infection. Trouble is, there are also casualties, as antibiotics will indiscriminately kill off the good bacteria in your gut. Of course, if your doctor prescribes a course of antibiotics, you should always take it, just be mindful to boost your good bacteria levels afterward with a probiotic supplement and a clean and healthy diet.
Bringing your gut into a healthy balance with these seven steps will bring a massive and positive change on both your emotional and mental states. You deserve to be in control of your body, and through a few healthy eating habits and some small lifestyle changes, you'll significantly boost your overall happiness. And that's what life is all about, right?
Happy cleansing !
Your Naturopath and Coach,
BHSc ND Master NLP