How to unlock the hidden world influencing your psychology.
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“Gut health” seems to be the new buzz phrase that can be found in almost every aisle in the grocery store, yet most people couldn’t tell you what those little bugs known as gut microbiota do in our bodies, let alone why they are so important for psychological and physical health.
Don’t be fooled — not all gut-health products are giving you what you really need to keep your body and mind in tip-top shape. Here, I will reveal why you should be spending time every day to ensure you’re taking good care of your gut, along with the signs to look for when it’s imbalanced.
The gut microbiome, as defined by molecular biologist Joshua Lederberg, is the totality of microorganisms, bacteria, viruses, protozoa and fungi and their collective genetic material present in the gastrointestinal tract. According to the Human Microbiome Project, the gut microbiome can be viewed as a “microbial organ” — one that is sensitive to environmental, dietary and host factors. Yes, you guessed it, your body is host to billions of microorganisms that rely on you for their health and well-being. And if they are mistreated, they will wreak havoc not only in your intestinal region, but will express their malaise through skin irritations, mood swings, psychological distress, metabolic disorders, obesity and even autoimmune disorders.
Related: Why Gut Health Is Mental Health
You may have never thought about your symbiotic relationship to the microorganisms that live in and on your body, but everything you do on a daily basis helps them either thrive or die. Now, before you start running for the alcohol wipes, know that for the most part, your indigenous gut microbiota have your back. These microbes serve a number of important functions, including producing additional energy otherwise inaccessible to your body by breaking down soluble fibre; producing vitamins such as biotin, folate and vitamin K and preventing colonization by pathogens; and assisting in the development of a mature immune system. Also, healthy and diverse flora of bacteria keeps your moods in check during stress, levelling out your neurotransmitters to help give you energy or to calm your body to ready it for sleep.
However, too much or too little of a good thing or a foreign bacterium invader can have you running to the loo, affect your motivation and even keep you from sleeping the whole night through. But how do you know if you have a balanced gut or about the impact it could be having on your psychology? Here are some signs you need to check in with your gut health, plus bonus insights from how I healed my gut for success.
Whenever there is a microbial imbalance in the gut microbiota, your immune system is then altered, leading to an immune response that causes a disease state. This trickle-down effect ultimately leads to intestinal inflammation. When this occurs, you may feel bowel irritation, constipation or diarrhoea. Those symptoms seem obvious, but what is not obvious is that inflammation causes other issues throughout your body, like skin irritations or joint pain, that you may not relate to your gut.
Studies are now indicating a link between poor gut health and osteoarthritis, an incurable form of arthritis caused by the wear and tear of joints. However, scientists now feel it may be chronic inflammation causing the destruction of the joints and not the other way around. What may be even more surprising is they found that chronic inflammation in the joints may be mediated by the bacteria in the gut.
Research from Emory University in Atlanta has also put forth the idea that low-grade inflammation in the body may reduce motivation by restricting dopamine, a neurotransmitter that drives motivation-related behaviors. So getting your gut health under control may affect other areas in your body and brain that are slowing you down when you need to be speeding up.
2. Mood Changes
Many of us have had down days or get irritable now and then, but have you ever looked into the relationship between your moods and your gut health? Depression, anxiety and stress, as well as lack of motivation or drive, are now being carefully researched be neurogastroenterologists — and the findings are fascinating.
Scientists have discovered some intestinal microbes actually cause anxiety and depression-like behavior by modulating neurotransmitter receptors in the brain due to inflammation in the gut. People with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and psychosis all have markers for gut inflammation. But you don’t have to have a severe mental disorder to be affected by an imbalanced gut. Working with a functional medicine doctor on a gut-healthy diet, exercising and controlling your stress can all help even out your moods.
3. Unexplained Weight Gain
If you’re watching your waist spread and clothes getting tighter even though you are exercising, eating a whole-food diet and managing your stress, don’t be shocked. Scientists are now finding a direct correlation to healthy gut microbiome and obesity. Dr. Cindy D. Davis of the Office of Dietary Supplements at the National Institutes of Health states that “manipulating the gut microbiota could facilitate weight loss or prevent obesity in humans. Possible strategies for obesity prevention and/or treatment are targeting the microbiota, in order to restore composition through the consumption of live bacteria (probiotics), non-digestible or limited digestible food constituents such as prebiotics or both.”
How to Heal Your Gut
Probiotics have become the newest health trend. These living organisms, in appropriate dosages, have been proven to protect human health. Now, this doesn’t mean to go grab that container of yogurt. Healthy gut microbiome can have over 500 various strains of bacteria. The most commonly used probiotic species are lactobacillus, bifidobacteria and yeasts such as saccharomyces boulardii. But how do you know what you need?
Gut microbiome self-tests are now easily accessible. Richard Lin, CEO and founder of microbiome wellness company Thryve Inside, recently explained to me that people can regain their gut health by having their own microbiota tested. My results indicated that I was depleted in a bacterium called bacteroides. The latest research has shown patients with depression have fewer bacteroides in their gut.
The Newest Trend in Gut Health: Fecal Microbiota Transplantation
This pioneering effort, currently in clinical trials, is helping people with severe dysbiosis of their gut biome. Test cases to this point have resolved 80-90 percent of infections caused by recurrent C. difficile that does not respond to antibiotics. During the procedure, a fecal preparation from a carefully screened, healthy-stool donor is transplanted into the colon of the patient, repopulating their gut with diverse microorganisms.
Although the human microbiome research studies are promising, there is still so much work to be done on bringing this into the mainstream. By taking a closer look into your gut microbiome, you can help boost your confidence by knowing you are giving yourself the tools you need to heal and become your best self.
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