Okay, sometimes looking at our waistline can be a little depressing…especially after a big meal or a week of missing the gym…right?
But, seriously, scientists have been examining the link between our “microbiome” and our mental state, for quite some time.
What the heck is our microbiome? Let’s break it down.
Our gut has over 100 trillion bacteria, fungi and other microbes swimming around (yikes!) and are collectively known as our microbiome.
Ideally, these guys would be working in our favor: helping us to digest the food we eat, fighting the toxins that enter our system that we would be better off without, turning chemicals into helpful hormones, etc. Collectively, they help to control our metabolism, immune function, hormonal regulation and, yes, our mental state.
(This article will only address how our gut impacts our mental state AND vice versa.)
Over 95% of our feel-good hormone known as serotonin is produced in our gut and the Vagus nerve, the longest nerve in our body, connects our brain to our heart, lungs and digestive tract. It appears that the relationship is bio-directional: our gut transmits signals to our brain and our brain transmits signals to our gut, meaning that our mood can affect our gut and the state of our gut can affect our mood.
(Think of all the phrases we use: “gut instincts”, “gut feeling”, “butterflies in my stomach”, etc.)
It is well-known that many anti-depressants that are selective serotonin inhibitors often have related “gut-issues” such as diarrhea, upset stomach, nausea, etc. The more we learn about this relationship, the more it all starts to make sense.
So, what can we do to foster a healthful relationship between gut and brain and prevent a clash, resulting in depression, anxiety or gastro-intestinal distress?
First, there is a new branch of medicine emerging called “nutritional psychiatry” that specifically examines and addresses how what we eat affects our gut and, hence, our mental state.
Eating foods that foster good bacteria and discourage disruptive bacteria is key. Eating lots of whole foods: fruits, vegetables and whole, un-processed grains, seems to be key. These foods are collectively known as “pre-biotic” foods that enhance the survivability of the good bacteria the “pro-biotics” because of their high levels of fiber that the probiotics can feed on.
Pro-biotic foods can also be added to our diet: things with active cultures like non-dairy yogurt and kefir, sauerkraut and pickled foods but unless we have the pre-biotic foods in our system to support their survival, it is a waste of effort and money. Many people invest in pro-biotic supplements but without the foundation that the pre-biotic foods supply, these healthy bacteria cannot survive.
Additionally, from a nutritional stand-point, we can avoid processed foods, sugar, fried foods, animal products, etc. Reducing foods that enhance the survival of harmful bacteria will allow the good ones to flourish.
But just as what we put into our microbiome will assist in achieving a better mental state, so does reaching for a better mental state assist in establishing a better-balanced gut.
Avoiding stress, getting enough sleep, exercising, meditating and avoiding self-medicating with alcohol and other substances can help to enhance our gut health.
There are a lot of products that are being promoted as gut-healing, these days. In our opinion, sticking to the basics of getting more plant nutrition into our diets and avoiding the bad stuff is a really good place to start. Jake and I have been eating plant concentrates for 25 years and it’s the #1 place we recommend for anyone with any health condition to start. We also recommend growing as much of your food as possible with this clever aeroponic, vertical garden. Grow 30% more in 2/3 the time with 10% of the resources. More plants, less non-plants!