Did you know that there is a direct link between the gut and brain by way of trillions of bacteria? Keeping these bugs living in harmony in your gastrointestinal system is important to you physical and mental wellbeing.
A Gutful of Bacteria
Think of this bacterial population – or microbiome – as an ecosystem. Like all ecosystems, this needs to be in balance for us to reap its benefits. A well-tended microbiome regulates our immune system, as as a protective barrier against harmful substances of microorganisms, supports normal gut motility and detoxification of toxins, and helps to repair body tissues and renew cells.
Dysbiosis happens when the delicate balance between the different types of bacteria is disrupted, or when there is an overgrowth of harmful microorganisms such as viruses, yeasts and parasites. We may then develop food intolerances and sensitivities, autoimmune conditions, constipation, diarrhoea, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel diseases, anxiety, depression, skin conditions and many more.
The Gut-Brain Link
Did you know that our gut communicates with our brain?
Our GI tract, like the brain, has a nervous system and more than 100 million neurons that produce at least 40 neurotransmitters – including dopamine, GABA and 90% of our total serotonin (often referred to as the “happy” hormone) – all of which are important for our mental health. Gut bacteria influence the development of the nervous system and the production of neurotransmitters; as well as influence our stress response.
Stress management is also important. When the brain perceives stress, it sends signals to the gut to shut down the production of stomach acid and digestive juices. This makes it easier for pathogenic microorganisms to take up residence in our small and large intestines. Stress signals also slow down gut motility, causing a build-up of putrefied foods. This could lead to constipation as well as the feeding of harmful bacteria.
Eating Your Way To A Healthy Gut
Besides consuming foods that are friendly to gut bacteria, here are some other ways you can protect and nourish them:
- Use antibiotics only when necessary (as prescribed), as antibiotics kill off both harmful and beneficial bacteria.
- Do not overuse anti-acid medications, as over-suppression of stomach acid can cause an overgrowth of harmful microorganisms.
- Reduce your intake of significantly processed and refined foods, which favour bad bugs such as yeasts.
- When travelling in less-developed countries, drink only from safe sources of water and eat food that has been properly cooked.
- Probiotic supplements can be used to replenish and rebalance gut bacteria, especially after a course of antibiotics or antimicrobial therapy.