Ever noticed that when you are not feeling yourself, your eating patterns may change? Or when you are nervous, you feel it deep down in your stomach?
This is because your brain and gut are intimately connected. And it is for this reason that the links between probiotics and mental health have been of much interest in recent years.
There is still a way to go with research into exactly how probiotics affect mental health. Dosage recommendations and specific strains are still being studied, but so far, the research suggests how beneficial probiotics can be.
The Gut-Brain Axis
Before we look at probiotics and mental health, let’s first look at how the brain and gut connect via the gut-brain axis. This connection is made possible by the longest nerve in the body, known as the vagus nerve.
The vagus nerve makes almost instantaneous signalling to and from our brain to our gut. That’s why we can get stomach upset when stressed or feel butterflies when nervous. It’s also why they call the gut our second brain, because of its powerful influence over how we feel.
When our gut health is off, chances are we would be feeling it on a mental and emotional level too.
The Ecosystem of the Gut
Of course, our gut is not just made up of the stomach and intestines. It is also home to trillions of tiny bacteria, microbes, and yeasts. These living organisms create a thriving ecosystem within our gut, helping us to digest food, absorb nutrients, and stay healthy.
Sometimes, things can happen that alters the balance of good and bad bacteria in our human ecosystem. Here are some of the most common things that negatively affect our gut health:
- No sleep
- Inflammatory foods
According to research, there are significant differences in the microbiome of people with depression. But it’s a bit like the chicken and the egg…Which came first? Did the gut microbiome cause the depression, or did depression cause the microbiome to change?
Gut Bacteria Communication
There is another element of how the gut can impact the way we feel. The trillions of gut bacteria not only help digest food, but they are also able to communicate messages to the brain.
Different types of gut bacteria have different roles, some of them tell our brain we are full, or influence foods we crave.
Some types of good bacteria take up space in the gut so that bad bacteria struggle to populate. Other types of gut bacteria produce a chemical called GABA which communicates to the brain to reduce anxiety.
Then we have types of gut bacteria that signal our gut cells to make serotonin – the happy hormone.
Our gut produces as much as 95% of serotonin requirements. So, if the gut bacteria becomes imbalanced, it could affect serotonin release and consequently your mood. Furthermore, when ‘bad bacteria’ cause an imbalance known as dysbiosis, it causes inflammation that can contribute to depression.
Breaking the cycle of inflammation
You can see how a period of poor gut health or stress could create inflammation which then affects mental health.
If you are feeling low, you may also be more likely to crave more carbohydrates or sugary foods, drink alcohol, or skip meals altogether. This then increases inflammation and reinforces the cycle of poor gut health affecting mental health.
This is why the links between gut health, probiotics and mental health are still an active area of research.
Probiotics and mental health.
Probiotics are live organisms that help to repopulate the good bacteria in the gut. This creates a more thriving environment in your human ecosystem, allowing better nutrient absorption and serotonin release.
Probiotics can also help reduce the inflammation that contributes to depression, alleviating some of the symptoms.
Not all probiotics are the same. The important thing is finding one that works well with your body and is naturally found in the gut. Bacillus subtilis, as found in the Probiotic 10 Billion, is a good bacteria that is considered a normal inhabitant of the gut. It is also effective at rebalancing the microbiome when taken as a supplement.
Since everyone experiences mental health in different ways, we will also experience probiotics in different ways. This is because our gut microbiome varies from person to person. Each strain of probiotic bacteria will have slightly different effects.
Probiotics are safe for consumption as they naturally occur in your body, however it’s wise to talk to a healthcare professional about probiotics and mental health. They are not to be used as a substitute for a treatment plan, but as a tool to assist your gut, mind, and overall wellbeing.
Things like: reducing stress as much as possible, sleeping well, eating prebiotics, and limiting sugar, will help get the best results from taking probiotics.
You could also add more probiotic foods to your diet such as kefir, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, natural yogurt, and tofu.