Diet, lifestyle, and mental wellbeing

The microbiome. You may be wondering what the microbiome—the 37-100 trillion wee beasties in our guts—has to do with the brain and mental health. Emerging research has shown that there is indeed a profound link between the gut and the brain.

We do know that psychiatric symptoms are associated with neuro-inflammation and elevation of certain inflammatory blood chemicals called cytokines.

What does that have to do with our gut? The gut microbiome is a key component of our immune system and has different ways of communicating with the brain. Some of the microorganisms in your gut actually release neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) which speak to your brain via the Vagus nerve which is part of our Autonomic nervous system.

In human studies, probiotics have been shown to reduce negative thinking in healthy human subjects and reduce anxiety in subjects undergoing cancer treatment. One dramatic but rather small study showed that the administration of probiotics to babies significantly reduced the development of autism or ADHD 13 years later.

Right now, researchers are working on strains of so-called “psychobiotics”.

We know that poor sleep, poor diet, chronic stress, and too much alcohol adversely affect our microbiome. It is believed that this dietary interaction with the microbiome may explain why people who eat a traditional whole-foods diet are up to 40% more resilient to stress and developing mental illness than those who eat a processed Western foods diet.

Avoiding processed foods and reinforcing good sleep habits are strong evidence-based recommendations which help you and your microbiomes at the same time.

If you have irritable bowel syndrome, there is now a large body of evidence showing that probiotics can help not only the irritable bowel but possibly anxiety and associated depression as well.

Plenty more to come on this – and it is believed to be an entirely safe approach.


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