Your gut is a little like Vegas.
It’s got a long, windy and continuous strip. It’s filled with all kinds of quirky creatures. There’s plenty of movement, odd nooks and crannies, a sprinkle of magic if you know where to look.
Unlike Vegas though, what happens in the gut does not stay in the gut.
Where did it all go wrong?
The gut microbiome – an incredible world of microbes found in our digestive tract – is comprised of trillions of tiny bacteria, archaea, viruses and fungi. Comprised of both helpful (symbiotic) and harmful (pathogenic) microbes, this intestinal orchestra ultimately acts to maintain our inner ecosystem, allowing our bodies to digest and absorb food-based nutrients.
In an ideal world, where Samantha never left Sex & The City, beneficial microbes would always out-compete the nasty ones, maintaining the integrity of the epithelium (a protective layer of cells that lines the digestive tract) and preventing inflammation. Unfortunately, things don’t always go to plan (as anyone who’s watched the entire series of Squid Game knows).
Chronic stress, a diet laden with sugar and lacking in fibre, overuse of antibiotics, overwork and undersleep – a.k.a. the modern human condition – can influence the state of our microbiome, allowing the delicate balance of good vs. evil to tip in the latter’s direction. This affects not only the state of our gut (regularity, consistency and digestive capacity) but that of our immune and nervous systems. Perhaps most significantly, it can change our mood.
The Brain-Gut-Microbiome Axis
The darling of gastroenteric research right now is the Brain-Gut-Microbiome Axis; a term used to describe the interrelation of our minds and our middle. Through this bidirectional communication system, signals from the brain influence gut function, such as motility and secretion, while neurotransmitters (i.e. cellular messages) from the gut impact brain function and development. A happy gut means lowered inflammation, improved detoxification and hormone regulation; all these factors contribute to a calm mind and steady spirit.
Recent studies tell us that altered gut microbiota can influence our central physiology: how we think, feel and respond to external circumstances. Disrupted digestive states have been linked to abnormalities in – yes, another trifecta – the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis function. The HPA axis is an integral neuroendocrine mechanism that regulates our stress response. When its function is inhibited, our bodies secrete more stress hormones, increasing feelings of fearfulness, anxiety or frustration. This might be the difference between staying calm at a traffic light and totally losing your cool.
Caring for our gut – by ensuring it’s home to a robust community of beneficial bacteria – can have extraordinary effects on our mood. A study of 12,000 people by the American Journal of Public Health in 2016 found that individuals who increased their daily servings of fruit and vegetables reported they were happier and more satisfied with their life than those whose diets remained the same. Other progressive studies show a link between microbial diversity and mood-based disorders, for example, a noticeable increase in abundance of bacteria Actinobacteria and decrease in Faecalibacterium in those experiencing depressive and bipolar disorder. This suggests harmonising the gut could be part of a more holistic treatment plan for those experiencing mood-based conditions. It also works the other way, with psychotropic treatments, such as therapy and anti-anxiety meds, having a significantly positive impact on gastrointestinal symptoms in patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). These studies present exciting preliminary evidence, suggesting the essential correlation between gut microbiota and mental health.
So what can we do?
This is a good news story. There is so much we can do to improve gut health, mood and our minds. Here are a few of our favourite ways to optimise and restore gut function:
- Probiotics: We’ve spoken about the importance of a diverse and robust microflora – one of the best ways to encourage diversity is to include fermented foods such as yoghurt, sauerkraut or kefir. These friendly ferments contain live bacteria that promote a healthy gut.
- Prebiotics: The lesser known but equally vital part of the gut puzzle. Prebiotics are compounds that feed good gut bacteria. Plant foods, rich in dietary fibre and polyphenols, are particularly vibrant. We love flaxseeds, cooked then cooled potatoes and partially hydrolysed guar gum (which you can find in our sweet Gut Restore).
- Care for your mind: If our microbiota affects our mood, our mind can have equal effect on our gut. By engaging in meditative practices – mindfulness, conscious movement, spending time doing things you love – you’re likely to regulate stress levels, improve cognitive function and lower bodily inflammation.
When you feel in flow (bowel or otherwise), everything flows – and while we may need a sh*tload more research (excuse the pun) before the gut-mood link is conclusive, it hasn’t stopped us developing Gut Restore. If you’re looking to optimise digestion, hair, skin and nails – we got you.
Written by Sarah Frish
Peter Kozlowski, MD, Unfunc Your Gut: A Functional Medicine Guide: Boost Your Immune System, Heal Your Gut, and Unlock Your Mental, Emotional and Spiritual Health
O’Mahony, S. M., Hyland, N. P., Dinan, T. G., and Cryan, J. F. (2011). Maternal separation as a model of brain-gut axis dysfunction. Psychopharmacology 214, 71–88. doi: 10.1007/s00213-010-2010-9
Redzo Mujcic and Andrew J.Oswald, 2016: Evolution of Well-Being and Happiness After Increases in Consumption of Fruit and Vegetables. American Journal of Public Health 106, 1504_1510, https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2016.303260
Jiang, H., Ling, Z., Zhang, Y., Mao, H., Ma, Z., Yin, Y., et al. (2015). Altered fecal microbiota composition in patients with major depressive disorder. Brain Behav. Immun. 48, 186–194. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2015.03.016
Palsson, O. S., and Whitehead, W. E. (2002). The growing case for hypnosis as adjunctive therapy for functional gastrointestinal disorders. Gastroenterology 123, 2132–2135. doi: 10.1053/gast.2002.37286