The answer to a more stable mood may be found in your gut. The gut is often referred to as “the second brain” as the bacteria found in your gut influence a plethora of systems within the body, including one’s mental health. In fact, the gut is responsible for manufacturing approximately 90% of the body’s supply of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps to regulate mood and memory. Conventional psychiatry and therapy models use pharmaceutical drugs and talk-therapy to treat mental health conditions. While immensely helpful for some, there seems to be an increasing curiosity and openness to alternatives or complementary treatments.
What exactly is the gut microbiome?
In simplistic terms, it’s a community of microorganisms that live inside the gut that impact our digestive health, hormone health, immunity, circadian rhythm and mental health. In order for the microbiome to thrive, we need to feed them with the right foods. When we consume unhealthy foods or lead an unhealthy lifestyle, we are feeding the bad bacteria in the gut, which can lead to gut dysbiosis and inflammation. Over time, inflammation in the gut can lead to inflammation in the brain. We now know that inflammation is an underlying cause of anxiety, depression, and cognitive issues.
What is the mind-gut connection?
You can think of the brain and the bacteria of the gut as roommates; they are continuously communicating with one another. This bidirectional relationship means that when something is “off” in the gut, the brain will subsequently be impacted, and vice versa. The gut microbiome is linked to normal nervous system functioning and therefore, has a significant impact on the stability of one’s mood.
Gut bacteria produce some key neurotransmitters that play a role in regulating mood, such as serotonin, dopamine, and GABA. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that brain cells use to talk to each other. We assume that they are produced and utilized only by the brain, however the enteric nervous system (which resides in your gut) makes use of more than 30 neurotransmitters. Gut bacteria may also generate other neuroactive chemicals, including butyrate, which can influence neuronal function.
Anxious, irritable, or restless? This may be partly due to low levels of GABA, an inhibitor which stops neurons from being overexcited. Probiotic strain Bifidobacterium produces GABA which is responsible for feelings of calm.
Do you have a low mood and/or memory issues lately? Low levels of serotonin may be the culprit. Enterococcus and Streptococcus produce serotonin, or the “the happy chemical”, which is responsible for mood regulation and memory recall.
Feelings of depression or difficulty focusing? This could be partly due to low levels of dopamine and norphrinephrine, which Bacillus is responsible for. Dopamine affects your emotions along with your sensations of pleasure and reward. Norephrinephrine is related to mood and our ability to concentrate.
As scientists continue to learn more about the gut-brain axis, it’s exciting to think that this information will be more thoroughly integrated into the treatment of chronic mental health conditions. However, research on how gut bacteria influences psychological symptoms is still in its infancy. Until then, you can still take proactive measures by implementing diet and lifestyle practices to support a healthy gut microbiome.
It’s important to note that diet and lifestyle changes are only one piece of the puzzle to healing and are not intended to solely replace any parts of your treatment without first consulting with your healthcare provider.
Erica Basso is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist practicing statewide in California. She helps guide women in overcoming anxiety, perfectionism, and relationship challenges. Learn more at www.ericabassotherapy.com