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Hey Guys! Let’s Talk Gut Health! What do you know about the lovely little guys that live in your digestive tract? You won’t believe how your microbiome links to your gut health, overall mood, and how you manage stress.
This week we’ll talk about your friendly resident gut microbes — probiotics, what feeds them aka prebiotics, and supplements to help you maintain good flora (Flora is bacteria and other organisms that live inside the intestines that help digest food), as well as offer some simple recipes to keep your gut and taste buds happy.
There are trillions of microbes that happily live in our gut. These little guys do more than help us digest foods, make vitamins, and protect us from the not-so-friendly microbes, the bad guys, - they have mood-boosting and stress-busting functions too!
There is a ton of research right now and we’re finding out more about their awesome health and mood/stress benefits every day. And, while the research is just starting to figure out the many gut microbe-brain connections, it’s such a cool new topic.
GUT MICROBES AND PROBIOTICS
The microbes that live in our gut are known as our “gut microbiota”. The microbes that we can ingest are known as “probiotics”. Probiotics provide health benefits when eaten.
“Probiotics” are live organisms that you can eat, drink, or take as a supplement. They turn milk into yogurt, and cabbage into sauerkraut; and they are great for both your gut health and mental health.
PROBIOTIC-RICH FOODS AND SUPPLEMENTS
Probiotics can be found in several things including fermented veggies, miso, tempeh, and kimchi. You can drink them in kefir or kombucha – check out Lifeway Kefir or Synergy Kombucha. My favorite flavor of Kombucha is Cosmic Cranberry! A good choice is unpasteurized ones that will be refrigerated in your local grocer. (Unpasteurized foods are not recommended if you are pregnant or have a compromised immune system, so please check with your healthcare provider before you try something new here, if necessary)
Where to start?! There are a number of probiotic supplements available. A good idea could be to check with your healthcare provider to identify which one is best for you. You’ll generally want to look for one that has at least 10 billion active cultures. It’s also suggested you look for one that has been “third party tested,” which means someone outside the company has tested it and says it’s a quality product. One of the probiotics that I have tried is “GoLive” Check out the site here. You add it to your water and boom! Probiotic drink is ready!
Also, be sure to read the label before taking any supplements. The probiotics with the most research are of the Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus types.
SIMPLE, PROBIOTIC-RICH RECIPES
Let me know if you give any of these a shot!
Your body is interconnected in many ways and there continues to be more and more research focusing on the “microbiota-gut-brain axis.” There is a very complex connection between your gut, its microbes, and your brain. (Dinan, 2017).
In fact, there are several ways that science is beginning to understand how gut microbes can affect our brain. One is via the “vagus” nerve, which is a nerve that directly connects your gut to your brain. The other ways are through “biochemical messengers.” These biochemicals are made in your gut then travel throughout the body to communicate with other organs, including your brain.
The exciting thing is that cracking this code may help us with not only mood and stress, but the microbiota-gut-brain axis may one day prove to be helpful for other conditions.
MOOD, STRESS, AND YOUR MICROBES
Several studies show that stressed rodents (yeah, we aren’t rodents! But keep reading!) not only have increased stress hormones and stressed behaviors - but, they also have different gut microbes! This has also been studied, to a small extent, in people too. One study showed that moms with high levels of stress hormones during pregnancy had infants with more of the “bad” gut microbes. So try to keep that stress in check if you can!
But here’s the question, can it work the other way around? Can changing our gut microbes affect our moods and stress responses? Science is working on that!
Studies of rodents (here’s the rodents again!) that grow up without any gut microbes at all (in a “bacteria-free” environment) respond to stress more than mice with normal gut microbes. Then, when they’re given either a probiotic or gut microbes from non-stressed mice, their stress responses often go back to normal.
But wow. Probiotics and gut microbes can help with stress response. How is that important to your nutrition? Keep reading.
“Gut microbiota and probiotics alter behavior and brain neurochemistry.” (Ait-Belgnaoui, et. al., 2012) That’s a pretty crazy result, don’t you think?
Many animal studies show positive effects on behavior when they get probiotic supplements. For example, after a probiotic, stressed rats had lower levels of both stress hormones and an inflammatory molecule associated with depression (“LPS” - lipopolysaccharide).
Human studies show that after a few weeks of taking probiotic foods or supplements, healthy people have reduced stress hormones, feelings of stress, negative thoughts, and sad moods. One thing that reducing stress can help with is cortisol levels. Higher stress equals more cortisol and makes you at greater risk for weight gain, especially in the mid section! Probiotics help lower cortisol levels!
One more fascinating sciency nugget for you today – there is one study that showed when people took probiotics, brain MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) tests showed reduced brain activity for negative and aggressive thoughts! Woah.
There is some exciting research and more research on the horizon about the positive effect that probiotics can have on moods and stress. So, what can you do to cultivate your own healthy guys in your gut?
In the beginning of this post - we talked about the benefits of consuming probiotic-rich food. Well, there is one more step here. Once the gut microbes take up residence in our guts, we need to feed them and feed them right so they continue to flourish and grow!
PREbiotics are food for gut microbes and, when it processes in the gut it produces specific changes in bacterial composition or activity. They are your friendly gut microbes’ favorite delicacies, so they’ll happily grow, and multiply.
Prebiotics are basically foods that contain fiber. Things like fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds.
Anyone recognize that one from a previous blog post? If not, check it out here!
Foods that are particularly high in prebiotics include jicama, asparagus, avocado, whole grains, and vegetables like onions, garlic, leeks, and shallots.
Want to read more about it, check out some of these sciency references! YAY for Science!
Ait-Belgnaoui, A., Durand, H., Cartier, et al (2012). Prevention of gut leakiness by a probiotic treatment leads to attenuated HPA response to an acute psychological stress in rats. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 37(11):1885-95. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2012.03.024. LINK: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22541937
Bailey, M.T., Dowd, S.E., Galley, J.D., et al. (2011). Exposure to a social stressor alters the structure of the intestinal microbiota: implications for stressor-induced immunomodulation. Brain Behav Immun. 25(3):397–407. LINK: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3039072/?report=reader
Bharwani A, Mian MF, Foster JA, et al. (2016). Structural & functional consequences of chronic psychosocial stress on the microbiome & host. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 63:217–227. LINK: http://www.psyneuen-journal.com/article/S0306-4530(15)00934-8/abstract
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