You may have heard of, or perhaps read about, the connection between the gut and the brain. It’s certainly a hot topic right now, however, the concept is not a new one. The first official probiotic treatment for depression was implemented in 1910, and there are even research papers on this from the 1800s!
This connection, called the gut-brain axis, operates via a two-way communication system. The gut has its own nervous system, the enteric nervous system, and it communicates with the brain via the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is the longest nerve stemming from the brain, and this nerve is connected to several parts of the gut.
We have all experienced the effects of our emotions on the gut to some degree – whether that’s a sinking feeling in the stomach, butterflies, a sharp sensation or even loose bowels when you’re feeling nervous – all of these are examples of the gut microbes reacting to information from the brain.
The interesting part about this is that the brain is also influenced by the gut. The varying species of gut bacteria all have specific roles in the body, from digesting and absorbing food, metabolising nutrients, producing vitamins, regulating weight, and producing hormones and neurotransmitters including serotonin and dopamine. It’s a bit like a factory, where each worker has a specific job to carry out which makes up the whole system.
Poor diet, stress, medication, chemicals, pesticides, alcohol and preservatives all throw out the healthy balance of bacteria. This causes good workers in the factory to fall ill, which allows too many slackers (inflammatory bacteria) to take control of the system. High levels of inflammatory bacteria and low levels of beneficial bacteria heightens feelings of stress, anxiety, worry and depression.
Interest has turned to probiotics and fermented foods as part of treatment for mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. A recent study by Hilimere et al. found that frequent consumption of fermented foods and probiotics produced calming effects and decreased social anxiety in the participants.
Fermented foods are rich in probiotics, which gives the gut a healthy dose of good bacteria to get it back into balance. Eating fermented foods is like putting the good workers back into the factory to fulfill their roles in balancing mood so that you can feel more calm, happy and content.
Our modern lifestyle really depletes the gut of beneficial bacteria, so it’s important that we incorporate practices to keep the gut in balance. Regular consumption of fermented foods that are rich in probiotics is a great way to help keep the gut in balance, which allows the gut to operate at its best and in turn, for you to feel at your best!
One caution to be aware of is that fermented foods are high in histamine, so if you have a histamine intolerance (or suspect you do), consult with your health practitioner before consuming fermented foods.
Author | Sarah Spann
Adv Dip (Nut Med), mATMS
Sarah is a clinical nutritionist specializing in gut health and is based in Brisbane, Australia. She is dedicated to changing the paradigm of gut health and works with clients all over the world to help them get back the freedom, energy and confidence that their gut issues have taken away. Sarah is passionate about helping people to feel like the healthiest and most vibrant versions of themselves.