When it comes to feeling physically well and emotionally centered, we know healthy practices like eating a whole foods diet, getting regular exercise, and being around loved ones can help us feel our best. But there’s something else beneath the surface that influences how we feel—actually it’s trillions of tiny, microscopic somethings!
We’re talking about your microbiome, the diverse ecosystem of bacteria living in and on your body. The majority of microbes in your body live in your gut, and they can play a big time role in helping you stay at the top of your game—both physically and emotionally.
The Gut-Mood Connection
If you’ve ever had butterflies in your stomach before an important event or felt digestive upset during times of stress, you’ve received signals from your “second brain,” a brain that’s nowhere near your head. In fact, it’s located in your gut and is a complex neural network formally called the enteric nervous system (ENS).
This complex system of approximately 100 million nerves is chemically and structurally very similar to the brain in your head. Not only that, this second brain “talks” to your main brain via the vagus nerve, through what’s called the gut-brain axis.
Some experts even call this specialized communication system the microbiome-gut-brain axis because of the crucial role your gut microbes play in the conversation.1
Through this axis, our gut microbes and our brain are in constant chatter with one another, and like any good conversation, both sides contribute—our gut microbes can receive signals from our brain and vice versa. So, when one side is off-balance, the other is inevitably affected. That means that if we can support the populations of friendly microbes in our gut, it bodes well for our mental and emotional function.
This gut-brain relationship could also explain the connection between physical and emotional changes in our bodies. For example, research shows that it’s not uncommon to experience periodic anxiety, low mood, or stress at the same time as gastrointestinal issues.2
Thankfully, we know that taking care of our gut microbes is a powerful place to start when it comes to feeling our emotional best and keeping things chugging along at peak performance.
Happy Microbes, Happy Mood
Since the gut is a complex system containing large amounts of immune, endocrine, and nerve cells, various things that affect our bodies—such as stress—are likely going to have an affect on our gut, including the trillions of microbes that live there and communicate with the brain.
Until recently, experts thought a low mood led to digestive problems, but new evidence is showing it might be the other way around: signals coming from the gut microbes to the brain might be what steers the wheel when it comes to our emotions.3
Understanding this special communication between our microbes and our brain is the first step toward greater mental and emotional well-being. We now know that a healthy gut full of good microbes (also known as probiotics) can support a happy and energetic you.
In fact, researchers have found that certain probiotic strains, coined “psychobiotics,” can have a beneficial effect on emotional health:
• In a clinical study with healthy volunteers, researchers found that subjects taking two specific probiotic strains for 30 days saw decreased bouts of stress and reduced levels of cortisol (the primary “stress” hormone).4
• Twenty-two healthy adults who took the probiotic Bifidobacterium longum for a month reported feeling less temporary stress and had lower levels of cortisol when under pressure than when taking the placebo.5
• Women who consumed a fermented milk product with probiotics over four weeks showed changes in their brain regions that control central processing of sensations and emotions.6
The research is clear, but how do probiotics work their mood-supporting magic? By helping to produce and regulate important neurotransmitters and hormones like serotonin (the “happy” chemical), dopamine, GABA (the “calming” chemical), and cortisol, probiotics can work together with your brain to help you maintain a positive mood.
Support Your Mood and Your Gut With Probiotics
So, how do you go about maintaining a healthy gut to live a happy life? When it comes to our microbiome, it’s the balance of microbes that matters. Ideally, your microbiome should consist of about 85% good guys and only 15% of the bad guys that can cause health and mood issues.
The problem is that many common lifestyle factors—from diets full of processed, sugary foods to antibiotics, antibacterial cleaners, and environmental toxins—can deplete the beneficial bacteria we so desperately need to keep our emotions in check.
The great news is that you can take some simple and practical steps to encourage a healthy gut and be sure you’re supporting your mood-influencing microbial community and living a gut-healthy life:
1. Don’t forget your probiotics. Taking a daily, high-quality, multi-strain probiotic that supports the gut-brain axis (like GBX-Focus) can help ensure your colonies of friendly flora keep thriving so they can support everything from your mood and immune function to your ability to focus and concentrate. Be sure to include probiotic-rich fermented foods in your diet, such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, or coconut kefir. Fermentation can also help to boost the nutrient content of foods, leading to positive mental states from increased nutrient absorption.7
2. Eat a diverse whole food, plant-based diet. Eating a diet rich in a variety of whole foods can help support and nourish the growth of probiotics in your gut. Whole foods such as unrefined grains (including oats, millet, and quinoa) and fruits and veggies like bananas, asparagus, and onions are particularly good for your gut because they are rich in prebiotics, indigestible fibers whose sole purpose is to feed and nourish your friendly flora. An organic prebiotic powder supplement is an easy way to provide your microbes with the prebiotic fuel they need to really thrive.
3. Take time to breathe. Factor in time daily for practices like meditation, yoga, or just simply focus on inhale...exhale. Mindfulness-based relaxation may change your stress response to a relaxation response, which can send calming signals to your gut and promote wellness throughout your whole body.
The special connection between our gut and our brain can have a tremendous impact on how we feel each and every day. Taking good care of your magnificent microbes and focusing on living a life in harmony with your gut can help keep you feeling your best in body and in mind, so you can truly enjoy your happiest days!
1. Wang, Y., & Kasper, L. H. (2013, December 24). The role of microbiome in central nervous system disorders. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 38, 1-12.
2. Logan, A., Jacka, F., Craig, J., Prescott, S. (2016). The Microbiome and Mental Health: Looking Back, Moving Forward with Lessons from Allergic Diseases. Clinical Psychopharmacology and Neuroscience, 14(2), 131-147.
3. Bravo, J. A., Forsythe, P., Chew, M. V., Escaravage, E., Savignac, H. M., Dinan, T. G., . . . Cryan, J. F. (2011). Ingestion of Lactobacillus strain regulates emotional behavior and central GABA receptor expression in a mouse via the vagus nerve. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,108(38), 16050-16055.
4. Messaoudi, M., Violle, N., Bisson, J., Desor, D., Javelot, H., & Rougeot, C. (2011). Beneficial psychological effects of a probiotic formulation (Lactobacillus helveticus R0052 and Bifidobacterium longum R0175) in healthy human volunteers. Gut Microbes, 2(4), 256-261.
5. Allen, A. P., Huch, W., Borre, Y. E., Kennedy, P. J., Temko, A., Boylan, G., . . . Clarke, G. (2016, November 1). Bifidobacterium longum 1714 as a translational psychobiotic: Modulation of stress, electrophysiology and neurocognition in healthy volunteers. [Abstract]. Translational Psychiatry, 6(11).
6. Tillisch, K., Labus, J., Kilpatrick, L., Jiang, Z., Stains, J., Ebrat, B., . . . Mayer, E. A. (2013). Consumption of Fermented Milk Product With Probiotic Modulates Brain Activity. Gastroenterology, 144(7).
7. Selhub, E. M., Logan, A. C., & Bested, A. C. (2014). Fermented foods, microbiota, and mental health: Ancient practice meets nutritional psychiatry. Journal of Physiological Anthropology, 33(1), 2.
Emily Courtney is a Writer and Editor at Hyperbiotics and mom to two fun and active boys. Emily is passionate about natural wellness and helping others learn about the power of probiotics for vibrant health! For more ideas on how you can benefit from the power of probiotics and live healthier days, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter.
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