A gut reaction may be more than you think.
New research shows that our gut is in regular communication with our brain, and can have a direct effect on our moods.
Part of the story is in the function of serotonin, a neurotransmitter found mainly in the GI tract. Its primary function is to regulate the movement of the intestines, so it makes sense that when we get a queasy feeling in our guts when we’re nervous. But serotonin is also known to contribute to our feelings of well-being and happiness. Lack of serotonin is thought to be a cause of depression.
Another element to this “gut feeling" is the teeming microbiome that lives inside us. Sorry if you’re squeamish about this stuff, but we have trillions of tiny critters inside us that contribute to our health and wellbeing. These microorganisms include bacteria, archaea, and others you might remember from high school biology. Called commensal organisms, these are the “good guys” in our system, not the disease-causing sort.
The fascinating thing about the gut biome is that it is actually communicating with our brains. Scientists have dubbed our gut the “second brain.” It may just be that your “gut feeling” is really initiating in your gut and sending a message to your brain!
The flora in our intestines is an important part of our overall health, and now researchers include our mental health in that equation. The wrong ratio of “ingredients” in our body’s biome stew may lead to anxiety and depression.
Remember serotonin? It turns out the microbiota in our guts influences the level of serotonin we have in our system. Without enough of the good stuff, you may be prone to feeling blue.
The bacteria that resides in our gut often come from foods we eat, but can also come from the soil our food is grown in. Mycobacterium vaccae is one such bacterium that also appears to be linked to increased serotonin production. As kids and gardeners can attest, playing in the dirt isn’t a bad thing!
Stacking the cards in our favor
Studies have shown it can take just a few days to see benefits from an improved gut biome. Here are a few easy ways to influence what’s happening in our gut:
- Ditch the sugar & wheat. You knew it was coming! Sugar and wheat both can lead to inflammation in the gut, which can lead to less-than-optimal conditions for your microbiome.
- Take a probiotic. You can take supplements as well as eat naturally fermented foods, such as yogurt and sauerkraut. Some probiotics even include soil bacteria.
- Exercise. Exercise is known to be a mood booster and stress buster, along with all the other physical health benefits it brings, making it an important part of your gut health, too.