Probiotics are here to stay, people. More than just a passing new age health fad, growing bodies of research backing the benefits of probiotics continue to stack up. Furthermore, what scientists are learning about the brain-gut connection (mind-blowing if you ask me), shows that by supporting a healthy gut you may profoundly decrease levels of anxiety, depression, and in general how you feel as you move through this world from day to day.
Read on for a fascinating mini science lesson on how your gut may actually tell your brain how to feel, and how supporting healthy gut bacteria with probiotics is one step you can take to improve your mental health!
What is the Brain-Gut Connection?
In almost every language and culture there is some link to emotions and your intestines. “Butterflies in my stomach, love-sick, gut-instinct” you can probably remember the last time you had a feeling like this.
Simply colloquialisms no longer, there is actually a nervous system in your intestinal tract that explains these feelings humans have been describing for thousands of years.
The Enteric Nervous System (ENS): sometimes referred to as “the second brain,” hidden in the walls of your gastrointestinal system contains over 100 million nerve cells through your entire GI tract (mouth to rectum). This ENS system sends signals through your nerve cells to your central nervous system and your “first brain” and vice versa.
For many years researchers and doctors believed that people who suffered from depression and anxiety concurrently dealt with IBS or GI disturbances because their brain told their gut they were “upset” and their gut followed suit. Now the thinking is that these signals go both ways, and perhaps the gut is a lot bossier than we ever knew.
The discovery of the ENS and its function has shown us that often times the gut is actually the one telling our brain that something is wrong and our brain responds with depression or anxiety.
If you have ever suffered from depression or anxiety and felt hopeless or out of control this information can be deeply empowering! By supporting your gut with healthy bacteria like probiotics (and absolutely with a healthy balanced diet full of fresh vegetables, fruits and healthy fats), we may be able to tell our brain to chill out and get happier!
Where do Probiotics Fit in Here?
We know that a happy gut is directly connected to a happy brain. The more you can support your intestines functioning regularly, calmly, without inflammation and upset or backups – the better. This well balanced system is quick to alert you when something is wrong and adding in probiotics are an effective and fairly easy fix for many common gut complaints.
The best way I have found to talk about the benefits of probiotics is to list out all of the notable points of well-researched proof we have that probiotics are awesome.
1. Probiotics improve symptoms and lifestyles for people who suffer from:
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Acid Reflux
- Ulcerative Colitis
- Chronic Stomach Pain
2. Probiotics can help restore “healthy GI bacteria”. If you’ve taken a round of antibiotics and potentially damaged the gentle balance of the gut biome. (it takes 6 months to regain healthy bacteria on your own! Wow! It’s never a good idea to “just take” antibiotics unless you actually really need them.)
3. Probiotics increase immune fighting bacteria in your gut meaning you may get sick less if you use them.
4. Probiotics decrease your guts propensity to inflammation and injury.
5. Probiotics increase receptor sites in the intestinal tract for pain relief so taking them can relieve one’s sensitivity to pain in that area.
How to Integrate Probiotics in Your Life:
The health food store has probiotic choices a plenty! This is because there are many strains for many different purposes. Some adjustment is typically necessary depending on each individual’s constitution, and what purpose one is taking probiotics for to begin with.
1. Head for the fridge – Always use the refrigerated strands available at most health food stores as they are “alive” and more potent
2. A general rule for probiotics is to choose a product with at least 1 billion colony forming units and containing the genus lactobacillus, bifidobaterum or saccaromyces boulardii
3. Typically the label states what the product is geared toward: pick a product that is geared toward the symptoms you’re experiencing
4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help! The herbalists or employees in the supplement section of health food stores normally nerd out on the newest products and research and can probably help you pick something great!
5. If you become gassy, bloated or intestinally uncomfortable for the first week or so don’t quit taking the probiotics! This is a sign that your healthy gut bacteria is coming back. Once this initial uncomfortable phase passes you will most likely experience the benefits of probiotics!
Incorporate Probiotics in Whole Food Form
Lastly, it is always a good idea to additionally integrate probiotics to your diet in food form! While supplements are a guaranteed way to get probiotics every day – just like with vitamins – they’re best absorbed and used by the body in food form. Try adding in some of the foods listed below to your diet on a weekly basis and reap the benefits of a happy, healthy, and hopefully stress free tummy.
–Kombucha (fermented tea)
–Yogurt (the good kind: with probiotics and low sugar)
–Kefir (a yogurt-type drink)