A Happy Microbiome for Mental Health

Posted on: 09.12.2016     By: Dana Stango

Did you know that you can have up to 6 pounds of bacteria in your gut? This may seem pretty gross to us who live in a society that strives to be 99.9% germ free. However, it may be time to make peace with your microbiome (gut bacteria) because your 4 trillion little friends  play a big part in keeping your body and your mind healthy.

The mind/gut connection:There is a definite connection between the mind and the body. For example, common physical symptoms of depression are aching joints, fatigue, and weakened immune system. But which affects which? Does the mind cause symptoms in the body or does the body cause symptoms in the mind? The answer is both, and it's not just in your head. This is good news because attempting to heal the mind, with just the help of the mind is no simple task. If you are someone who struggles with depression, one thing to remember is that you are not alone. In fact, you have an entire microscopic world living in your gut that wants to help you feel better.

How microbes affect the mind: Chronic inflammation and oxidative distress are very common in depression and other mental disorders. Even the colony of bacteria in your gut is affected. Inflammatory gut bacteria common in depression (and conditions where depression is a  symptom) contributes to an altered mood, nutrient absorption, hormone regulation, and increased intestinal permeability. increased intestinal permeability means the body becomes less selective about what it lets in through the intestinal wall, including inflammation inducing toxins. A traditional Western diet high in processed foods (often contained gut bacteria killing preservatives) and high in sugar also contribute to increased intestinal permeability. Other contributing factors are psychological stress and exhaustive exercise. This inflammation in the intestinal tract is linked to anxiety. Balancing bacteria in the gut can increase tryptophan levels and help regulate dopamine and serotonin turnover. These chemicals are associated with mental well being, and maintaining their delicate balance is very important.

Read more here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3904694/ .

The Happy Microbiome Diet:

  • Avoid highly processed foods -  Preservatives make processed foods last a long time by preventing the growth of bacteria. This really comes in handy for immune compromised individuals or those with out access to refrigeration. However, These preservatives can kill off some of the healthy bacteria in your gut.
  • Avoid added sugars - Sugar causes inflammation in the body and can offset the delicate balance between the bodies beneficial bacteria, pathogens, and yeast production.
  • Foods associated with mental health because of microbes and inflammation fighting antioxidants: Soyfoods, turmeric, cocoa, green tea, coffee, blueberries, pomegranates, and honey. Note: if you are sensitive to caffeine, avoid cocoa, green tea, and coffee.
  • Avoid Antibiotics when possible - Take only when needed and only as prescribed. Be sure to repopulate the gut with healthy bacteria once the cycle is finished.
  • Nutrients associated with mental health:
    • Zinc - Oysters are a great source of zinc.
    • Vitamin C - Fruits and veggies are great sources of vitamin C.
    • Folic Acid - Think lentils, avocados, and dark leafy greens.
    • Omega 3 - Found in fatty fish such as sardines or salmon.
    • B12 - Found in animal products or some fermented foods.
  • Probiotics (healthy bacteria in supplement form)- Studies show that oral probiotic microbes can decrease anxiety, diminish perception of stress, and improve outlook. Note: Not all probiotics are created equal. As a rule of thumb, refrigerated probiotics with multiple strains of bacterium are usually best.
  • Eat more fruits and veggies - In addition to the many nutrients and phytochemicals, plants contain microbes which are vital to well being. For example, Mycobacterium Vaccae, found in soil and many edible plants, improves cognitive function and diminishes anxiety like behaviors in animals. Maybe this is why some people find gardening to be so calming.
  • Eat Fermeneted Foods - Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria in fermented foods may possitively influence brain health. In addition to providing beneficial microbes, fermentation can amplify nutrient and phytonutrient bio-availability of food and increase the power of food as a medicine.

So what's a fermented food? Check out this simple and delicious recipe for Ginger Carrot Kraut

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