Your gut bacteria are crucial to your overall health and can affect both your body and brain.
If you told someone ten years ago that what’s in your gut could influence your brain or even result in depression, you’d be laughed at. The idea that the bacteria that live in your gastrointestinal tract plays an important role in the health of your brain is now a major focus of research and interest.
Your microbes are essential to the health of your gut and play a part in your physical health. The microbiome’s role in promoting good health may now extend to the health of your brain.
If you personally deal with depression, your diet may have more of an influencing factor than you realized.
Here are nine ways to cultivate good gut bacteria:
- Eat prebiotic and probiotic foods
- Take a probiotic supplement
- Consume plenty of plants and dietary fiber
- Get consistent sleep
- Lower your stress levels
- Cut down on sugar
- Exercise regularly
- Quit smoking
- Avoid antibiotics
What’s The Connection between a Healthy Gut and Mental Health?
When talking about a healthy gut, people are actually referring to what is called a microbiome. Your microbiome is the diverse population of trillions of microbes that live in your body. This part of your body controls how healthy you are both physically and mentally.
The microbiome consists of thousands of different types of bacteria, both ‘good’ and ‘bad.’ A healthy microbiome favors beneficial bacteria and prevents too much ‘bad’ bacteria which could harm your health. The system of communications between the gut and the brain is often referred to as the gut-brain or gut-brain axis.
How does a healthy gut connect to mental health? A recent study has found that two groups of bacteria: Coprococcus and Dialister, were lower in people with depression.
There was also a positive correlation between quality of life and the gut microbiome’s ability to synthesize a breakdown product of the specific neurotransmitter dopamine. The results of the research are some of the strongest yet linking a person’s microbiome to their mental health.
One study suggested that a loss of microbiota as you age, is a potential contributor to chronic inflammation. The disruption to a healthful balance of bacteria not only contributes to chronic inflammation but could also lead to symptoms of disease throughout the body and the brain.
To maintain or create a healthy microbiome and support overall good health, it’s crucial to have a lot of beneficial bacteria. So if you find that you sometimes struggle with depression, a good first step to combat this is to eat a whole, healthy well-balanced diet full of probiotic and prebiotic foods.
Though you should always seek out professional medical help if you experience moderate or severe depression, a healthy diet may lessen some of your symptoms.
Good gut health is vital to overall well being. Your gut bacteria can be harmed by a number of factors such as:
- Drinking too much alcohol
- Not eating a diverse range of foods
- Overuse of antibiotics
- Lack of regular exercise
- Not getting enough sleep
- Too much stress
What Can You do to Promote a Healthy Gut and Reduce Depression?
1. Eat Prebiotic and Probiotic Foods
Probiotic foods contain live bacteria whereas prebiotic food contains ingredients like certain types of fiber that nurture the growth of bacteria. Basically, prebiotics are the food for the good bacteria that your body needs for probiotics to actually help your gut lining.
There are many ways for people on plant-based diets to eat more probiotics. But regardless of your personal diet, fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, and miso would make a great addition to your diet and are rich in probiotics, vitamins, and antioxidants.
Related: 3 Fermented Foods for a Healthy Gut
Prebiotic foods do not contain live ingredients, but they contribute to the health of your gut promoting the growth and activity of friendly bacteria.
Foods high in prebiotics include:
- Chickpeas, lentils, and beans
If you strip your body of good flora, it can also lead to stomach bloating and irregular bowel movements. Eating probiotic foods may even help you get a flatter stomach.
2. Take a Probiotic Supplement
We can get probiotics from our food. But sometimes either we forget to eat foods with probiotics in them, or we just aren’t getting enough. That’s why taking a probiotic supplement can be so beneficial to maintaining our gut health.
Sunwarrior Probiotics combine stable, soil-based probiotics with prebiotics and chloroplasts to enhance digestion, improve enzyme function, and fight free radicals. These probiotics will make your gut feel and work better.
Not only that, but you may even start to feel better emotionally and mentally. Taking a probiotic supplement is like having a safety net for your microbiome.
Those feel-good chemicals in your brain called serotonin are made in the gut rather than the brain. If your gut is happy, you’ll feel happy too!
Yes, you should always try to get the nutrients you need from your diet, but a supplement can provide you with the extra assurance that you are actually getting the nutrients you need every single day.
Your GI (gastrointestinal) tract is responsible for absorbing the nutrients that your organs and brain need to properly function. Probiotics help your gut to have more good bacteria to absorb and digest food more fully.
Taking a collagen building supplement will help heal your intestinal wall.
Your intestinal wall is made up of microscopic folds called villi. These folds in the intestinal barrier are made from collagen. So, when you take a collagen building supplement, it can help you can seal the gaps in those folds caused by a leaky gut.
Collagen will help tighten and strengthen and tone the entire digestive system.
In addition, collagen also helps support your skin, joints, and bones.
3. Consume Plenty of Plants and Dietary Fiber
A diet consisting of a wide variety of whole foods such as vegetables, fruit, and whole grains can lead to a more diverse gut flora. Generally, a diverse and rich gut flora is considered a healthy one.
The food that you eat provides your body with the nutrients that help either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ bacteria thrive. By providing your gut with different nutrients, you can encourage different types of bacteria, increasing the diversity of your gut flora.
Eating a diet rich in plants and dietary fiber fuels your body with natural products, encouraging a healthy and balanced gut. Your gut can have a massive impact on the rest of your body. When your gut flora, body pH, and body systems become unbalanced, your candida levels can get out of control. This can lead to fatigue, skin issues, and sugar cravings to name just a few.
4. Get Consistent Sleep
You probably already know that getting consistent, good quality sleep is vital to your overall well being. Whether or not you actually get your seven hours a night is another thing entirely.
Your body has its own 24-hour clock known as a circadian rhythm that affects your brain, body, and hormones. It’s been found that your gut also follows a similar circadian-like rhythm. Disrupting your body clock through shift work or eating late at night may have harmful effects on your gut bacteria.
In one study, just two days of sleep deprivation caused subtle changes to the gut bacteria. Experts continue to research the effects of sleep, mental health, and gut bacteria. The modern way of living and being constantly connected can make it difficult to get your seven hours a night, but it’s vital for maintaining high energy levels and alertness.
5. Lower Your Stress Levels
There’s more to a healthy lifestyle than diet and exercise, high-stress levels can lead to harmful effects on the mind and body. Within the gut, stress can increase sensitivity, reduce blood flow, and alter the gut bacteria.
One study focused on gut bacteria composition in college students. The gut bacteria was analyzed before the semester then again after final exams. Researchers found that high stress associated with exams caused a reduction in friendly bacteria. One way to lower your stress levels is to incorporate meditation into your routine. Meditation can help to stabilize your mood and reduce inflammation.
6. Cut Down On Sugar
Eating lots of sugar or artificial sweeteners can lead to gut dysbiosis, an imbalance in the gut microbiome. Sugar can feed yeasts in the gut like candida albicans. This yeast is normally present in the gut but when left unchecked it can multiply. An overgrowth of yeast can cause an imbalance in the gut and lead to problems like thrush, digestive issues, fatigue, and skin problems.
Pesky artificial sweeteners like sucralose and aspartame can disrupt healthy gut flora and reduce gut diversity. The Human Microbiome Projects supports the notion that people with a less diverse microbiome are more likely to be diagnosed with irritable bowel disease.
Cutting down on sugar can be tough. It’s in nearly everything we eat nowadays; making it hard to avoid. To start cutting down on sugar, eliminate fizzy drinks first. Then move onto candy and processed sweets. It’s hard to remove sugar all in one go, so it’s best to start slowly.
7. Exercise Regularly
Working out regularly not only contributes to good heart health and mental clarity, but research suggests it may benefit the gut too. One study found that athletes had a bigger variety of gut flora than nonathletes. Further research supports the idea that a person’s physical activity may affect the gut, therefore improving overall health.
8. Quit Smoking
It probably comes as no surprise that smoking can affect the gut considering the effect it can have on our hearts, lungs, and health in general. Research published over 16 years shows that smoking changes the intestine flora by increasing levels of harmful bacteria and decreasing the number of friendly bacteria.
If you’ve ever tried to quit smoking, you know it’s not easy. Breaking bad habits is tough. By breaking bad habits with mindfulness, you can work to quit smoking and overcome bad habits in the long-term.
Related: How to Break-Up With Your Bad Habits
9. Avoid Antibiotics
Although it’s often necessary to take antibiotics for health reasons. The overuse of antibiotics is a serious public health problem. According to the CDC, doctors in the United States prescribe 30% of antibiotics or 47 million prescriptions, unnecessarily. When antibiotics are over-prescribed, it can lead to antibiotic resistance in the population. There are more than 2.8 million antibiotic-resistant infections that occur in the United States every year.
Antibiotics are damaging to your gut microbiome. Research suggests that even after six months after antibiotic use, the gut is still lacking in several beneficial species. It’s important to discuss antibiotic use with your doctor and think about alternatives if possible. Things like garlic and echinacea have natural antibacterial properties that benefit both your gut and overall health.
The gut plays such a massive role in your immune system and bodily functions, it’s hardly surprising the effect it could have on the brain. A healthy gut is crucial to your overall health, so be sure to eat a diet rich in whole grains, vegetables, and fruit. Consuming plenty of probiotic and prebiotic foods helps to create a balanced microbiome with lots of beneficial bacteria.
Specialists continue to solidify the research surrounding the connection between the gut and the brain. Studies show that mental health is not narrowly located in the head but throughout the body and intertwined with the natural world. Different methods of research are needed to continue to unfold the true connection between the gut and the brain.