Gut and bacteria. My 11-year old daughter would say, "OMG dad, gross."
What do those two words make you feel - in your gut? Distasteful words, yes, but the role they play in your mental health is powerful.
There is a growing and very compelling body of research that illustrates that deficiencies in the manner of intestinal bacterial influences your susceptibility towards depression and anxiety. We have nearly 100 trillion microbes in our gut that are there to nourish us and provide balance systemically, immunologically and neurologically. That is more than the number of people that have ever lived on Earth. In fact, we have more bacterial cells in our gut than the number of cells in the rest of our body.
It is postulated and clinically supported that some mental illnesses, including anxiety and depression may be the result of altered or aberrant gut bacteria - or gut flora. Depression is the leading disability in the world today. The cure may well be behind your belly button.
Fact: The gut is tantamount to immunity and neurological influence. Interestingly, there is a bidirectional communication between the gut, or enteric system (from your mouth to your anus) and your central nervous system. Yes, they talk to each other and one influences the other.
So, what affects this thing we call gut flora? Mostly diet, age, antibiotic treatment and stress. Many studies have demonstrated that aberrant or insufficient gut bacterial is reported in a large percentage of those individuals presenting with depression or anxiety disorders. Further studies illustrate the reversal of these maladies with the restoration of normal gut flora.
So, what do we do? The word probiotic is a word most of us have heard. Essentially, it is a therapy that replaces your normal gut bacterial compositions. Remember, this is the good bacteria, one that truly serves you systemically and neurologically. These are the cowboys wearing the white hats.
Go to your favorite health food store, ask for their very best probiotic, drink kombucha tea every morning. You can even make it at home and involve your children. It takes about 20 minutes each week to do. And if you can make your own kefir at home (a yogurt), do it. If not, just buy it.
The common western world approach to depression and anxiety disorders is to influence the levels of GABA and serotonin neurotransmitters. Guess what else directly affects those levels in both a positive a negative way? Gut bacteria.
Benton et al. in The European Journal of Clinical Nutrition demonstrated this in human subjects. They were neither the first nor the last to do so. Messaudi et al. did as well in The Journal of Gut Nutrition.
This article has been speckled with words that are commonly offensive, like bacteria, anus, gut, intestine - all things that are 'eeeew'. But believe me, there is sound evidence that this is a very important teeter totter we ride with respect to the interface between health, immunity, mental wellness and balance. In fact, there are more neurons in your enteric system than there are in your brain. It has just become more than a gut feeling. Try it, give it 30 days.