Each and every one of us knows from personal experience, that anxiety, nervousness, and even heartache, can create a physical pain in the gut, or a feeling of ‘butterflies’. The fact that these sensations frequently occur together is no coincidence.
Did you know that our digestive tract harbours ten times more microorganisms, than we have cells in our body!? These microorganisms or bacteria, are known as the ‘microbiome’. It develops soon after birth and is integral to immune function, digestion and of course, brain health.
Likewise, we now know that there are more happy-hormone (serotonin) receptors in our gut, than we have in our brain – providing further insight as to why so many people feel stress in their tummies before anywhere else.
In Neuroscience, there is something called the ‘gut-brain’ axis. Essentially it’s the invisible connection between our brain and all the bacteria in our digestive tract. So why is this axis, so very key to mental and emotional wellbeing? Essentially, because in some way, this microbiome actually communicates with our nervous system, affecting how we behave, how we respond to stress, and even how we react to therapy and anti-anxiety / depression medications.
In 2012, a study conducted in Ireland found that brain levels of serotonin are regulated by the amount of healthy bacteria in the gut during early life. Furthermore, a study from the Journal of Molecular Psychiatry found that normal adult brain function depends on the presence of healthy gut microbes during childhood development.
So, if better bacteria in our gut can improve mood, how can we achieve this in our everyday life?
Well to start, let’s address any setbacks originating from birth. For instance, were you, or your child, born via caesarean, if so, it’s likely you missed out on the big mouthful of bacteria we acquire when emerging through the vaginal canal. In turn, these children are more likely to develop food intolerances, allergies, skin conditions like Eczema and potentially behavioural issues.
So how to fix this? It’s as easy as putting powdered probiotics on the mothers nipple for infants, or giving it directly as a supplement in water or milk.
For adults, the gut – brain relationship and how a healthier digestive tract may improve stress levels is clear, so let it propel us toward making changes in our own everyday lives.
Be proactive about the following:
Why? Well we know that exercise releases endorphins, but research now tells us that early life exercise actually alters our microbiome, which in turn optimizes brain health and even our metabolism. Do you feel as though exercise is a type of meditation? I do, and it makes sense that research also tells us that mindfulness meditation has the same effect! Get started.
Probiotic Rich Diet
Even if you weren’t a caesarean birth, don’t forget that stress alone can cause bad bacteria to develop in your digestive tract. Combating this with a good dose of friendly bacteria from fermented foods, is key.
Aim for a few times per week and go for options like miso, kombucha, natural yoghurt, kefir, kim chi, sauerkraut, tempeh or natto.
What are these exactly? Omega 3 fatty acids like those found in oily fish, or what about chia seeds, turmeric and ginger?
Absolutely, but eating to reduce inflammation also suggests avoiding foods that trigger an inflammatory response. So, cut the processed foods, excess sugar, alcohol or anything you know you might react to. Bloating, gas, reflux, diarrhoea and nausea might be indicating inflammation or fermentation in the gut, all of which will affect your microbiome and in turn, your mood and happiness!
Moderate portions of simple, easily digested foods like cooked vegies, grains and protein can be beneficial.
Lastly, don’t forget to - Speak Up If You’re Struggling!
A recent meta-analysis of forty-one studies, found that entering the ‘gut-brain axis’ via psychotherapy, effectively reduced the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), in both the short and long-term, by 75 per cent.
If we hypothesize that IBS is the result of an altered ‘gut-brain axis’ then I think it’s safe to say, that more of a focus on mindfulness and creating a healthier, balanced mind, will absolutely improve the strength of your digestion.
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