Prescribing Probiotics for Mental Health
By Lucy Marks
Anyone who’s had butterflies in their stomach knows that our mental state can affect our gut, but can our gut affect our mental state?
Mounting research, completed by today’s top scientists, doctors and dieticians, indicates that issues of the gut can have a direct impact on our mental health, resulting in conditions such as anxiety and depression.
But why is this making the headlines? For hundreds of years we’ve believed that the brain has been conveying what nutrients our body needs through cravings, yet with these emerging results, it may be time to rethink this construct and gain a better understanding of how our stomach flora can play havoc with mechanisms of our brain.
Breaking down the Science
We have Two Brains!
The collection of nerves in our stomach has been likened to a ‘second brain’ due to its size, intricacy and similarities. With many of the same neurotransmitters found in the stomach as in the brain, and with its own nervous system; the enteric nervous system, our gut plays a major role in both the functioning of our body and the prospect of our wellbeing. Further, having as many nerves in our gut as we do in our spinal cord, our stomach can produce a wide range of hormones just as our brain does.
Moreover, Our Stomach and Brain talk to Each Other
Recent insights have revealed an elaborate, bidirectional communication entity between the gastrointestinal (GI) and central nervous systems (CNS). This functional communication involves the connections of the vagus nerve, hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and the immune system. Another key component of this deep-seated interaction is our intestinal bacteria.
Yes, I Did Just Drop the big bad ‘B’ word
Don’t be fooled, bacteria are mostly thought of as germs and disease-causing organisms, but these bugs are a large part of who we are, and can do our health a world of good. Recent studies reveal that the composition of our stomach flora affects not only our physical state, but can greatly impact brain functioning. The research explicates that an unhealthy gut flora can have a detrimental impact on our mental health, leading to conditions such as anxiety and depression.
So where do Probiotics Come In?
Probiotic bacteria, defined as live organisms, when adequately ingested will provide health benefits to the host, including alleviating anxiety and reducing the production of stress-inducing hormones. Utilizing probiotics, found in foods such as yoghurt, kombucha and other cultured/fermented products, will optimize your gut flora, subsequently supporting your brain health and regulating your mood.
Additional ways to promote a healthy stomach flora
Because a happier gut equals a happier mind, practice the following;
- Avoid processed foods
- Reduce your sugar intake
- Have a diet that is high in vegetables and fibre
- Take a good-quality probiotic supplement