When it comes to the delicate balance of our bodies, there’s still a lot we don’t know, and it seems like scientists are always discovering new connections with new implications for how we manage things like our diets and the amount and degree to which we exercise.
In recent years, there’s been a spate of new studies exploring the connection between our guts – that is to say our digestive systems – and our brains.
“In the mid to late 1900s, research examining stress biology and its impact on human health uncovered clear connections between and individuals stress response and gut function,” one researcher explains in the journal Cerebrum(1).
“This classical view of top-down control – that is, the brain’s ability to control gut function – is supported by evidence revealing that the brain influences body systems, including the GI tract,, through neural connections of the autonomic nervous system and through humoral systems in the blood stream… what is exciting and new is the consideration of bottom-up control – that is, how the gut, or more precisely the microbiota in the GI tract, can influence brain function.”
Good And Bad Bacteria
The gut contains a whole ecosystem of microorganisms – living bacteria that thrive in the environment of your digestive tract. But not all these bacteria are friendly. Just like a garden contains weeds which compete with flowers for space, good and bad bacteria compete for space inside your gut.
Good bacteria include clostridum butyricum, which produce important fatty acids and are beneficial to those with inflammatory bowel disease; bifidobacteria, which modulate immune responses and produce vitamins; and lactobacilli, which produce vitamins and minerals, boost immunity, and protect against carcinogens.
Bad bacteria include enterococcus faecalis, a common source of post-surgical infection; campylobacter, which cause infection through the ingestion of contaminated food such as uncooked chicken; and clostridium difficile, which cause the most damage after a round of antibiotics.
Maintaining a healthy gut can be difficult, but it’s vitally important. A healthy gut environment not only stimulates the digestive process and aids in the absorption of nutrients, but also prevents the growth of harmful, pathogenic bacteria.
Maintaining A Healthy Gut
In order to promote digestive health, it’s important to eat the right things. Probiotics and prebiotics both encourage a healthy tummy.
1. Eat Foods Rich in Probiotics
Probiotics are lacto-fermented foods which contain live good bacteria. They’re relatively easily digested, including foods like sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, yogurt, kefir, kimchi, and kombucha.
2. Add Prebiotic Fiber To Your Diet
Prebiotics are selectively fermented carbohydrates. They feed the growth of good bacteria and, unlike probiotics, are not as easily digested, meaning they make it all the way through the lower intestine. They include foods like chicory root, Jerusalem artichokes, dandelion greens, garlic, asparagus and leek.
3. Exercise Regularly
Another key factor in maintaining gut health is regular exercise. Gentle exercise like yoga has been shown to improve gut health in individuals with irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS(2).
4. Avoid GMOs and Foods High in Pesticides
Glyphosate or Roundup, which is abundantly used on genetically engineered crops. Exposure to this dangerous chemical has been found to alter the human microbiome.
5. Reduce Intake of HFCS
Mostly found in highly processed foods, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and sugar should be avoided as much as possible. These two types of sweeteners increase the growth of bad bacteria such as fungi and yeast. Try to limit the amount of refined and processed sugar in your diet.
6. Avoid Unecessary Antibiotics
While some may require the use of antibiotics in extreme situations, this class of drug doesn’t discern between good and bad bacteria.
The use of antibiotics can change your microbiome, promoting unfriendly groups of bacteria, such as Firmicutes. Firmicutes increase your risk of obesity.
Animal research shows that when you change the animals’ microbiome using antibiotics, they gain weight. In fact, antibiotics are given to cattle to make them fatter, faster. The same thing occurs in your body, which is why avoiding unnecessary antibiotics is so important.
7. Meditate and Relax
Too much stress can affect your gut bacteria as well as your brain. Take time each day to meditate and relax. You don’t have to spend a lot of time on this. Just 15 minutes in the morning or evening is enough to make a difference.
Maintaining a healthy gut is key to maintaining a healthy, well-functioning brain. While dietary changes aren’t always sufficient treatment for mental disorders like depression and anxiety, your diet can have a huge impact on how you feel overall.