Now that the holidays are behind us, we can concentrate on ourselves and eat foods that are good for our overall health, both physically and mentally.
As you read this column, know that trillions of bacteria, mostly living in your gastrointestinal tract or GI, are working for you. Actually, they were with you since you were 5 years old and formed a microbiome. Researchers have known that there is a connection between gut microbes and allergies, heart disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes. But recently, scientists have found our gut has a nervous system, with as many nerve cells as our spinal cord. So the bugs in our intestinal tract can affect our mood also.
According to an article in Eating Well, November 2019, the anxious feelings we have when we are nervous can affect our tummies. A pioneer in gut-brain research, Emeran A. Mayer, Ph.D., and executive director of the G. Oppenheimer Center for Neurobiology of Stress and Resilience at UCLA says, “When we feel stressed, that’s your mental state affecting your gut. The stress hormones your body secretes impact the microbes and change the way they function.” The bugs in our gut also affect our mood. “It turns out that our gut bacteria-including strains you may have seen on your yogurt container or supplement label, like Lactobacillus acidophilus, secrete and modulate a huge number of compounds that send signals to the brain.”
Most of the neurotransmitters that regulate our mood, or 50% of the dopamine and 95% of the serotonin, are produced in microbes in the intestine. These same neurotransmitters influence our appetite, feelings of fullness and digestion. Mayer says that the GI tract and the brain are so intimately connected as one system: “The gut has been called your second brain.”
It has been found that people who suffer from GI disorders, like irritable bowel syndrome, also have a higher rate of depression or anxiety. “And researchers have noticed that certain species of bacteria (ones that seem to be able to make us melancholy) are more likely to be found in guts of depressed patients, whiles those liking to better mood are lacking.”
What this tells us is that a well-balanced microbiome can improve mood. One study of healthy adults, published in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity, found that a positive shift in gut bacteria populations resulted in significantly fewer reports of sad mood and negative thoughts.
The good probiotics, or fermented foods that may have beneficial bacteria that help populate your gut are:
• Aged and raw cheese (cheddar, mozzarella, gouda)
• Cottage cheese
• Gherkins or pickles made with salt and water
These foods, especially those labeled “live and active cultures” or “unpasteurized,” commonly found in yogurt and kefir, produce GABA, a neurotransmitter that research shows can reduce anxiety.
“In one study, Mayer and his colleagues at UCLA had healthy women eating yogurt twice a day for a month, then conducted brain scans as the women were shown pictures of actors with frightened or angry facial expression. Normally, such images would trigger increased activity in emotion-processing areas of the brain linked to a state of heightened alert. (Back when we lived in caves, this fight-or-flight response was advantageous for escaping mastodons or wolves. Today it just makes us feel on edge.) But the women on the yogurt diet exhibited a calmer response.”
Prebiotics feed the good bugs that are already in your gut. They are high in special types of fiber that support digestive health as well.
These foods promote the increase in the friendly bacteria, Here is a list of them:
• Chicory roots
• Chicory root
• Jerusalem artichokes
• Dandelion greens
• Konnyaku or konjac root
• Burdock root or gobo
• Jicama root
• Yacon root
• Wheat bran
Changes in the microbiome appears to play a role in the following neurological diseases:
Autism: Research suggests that many with autism also suffer from gastrointestinal problems. A 2019 study from Baylor College of Medicine found that introducing Lactobacillus reuteri into mice with autistic symptoms such as repetitive behavior and an unwillingness to communicate and socialize, made those symptoms disappear.
Parkinson’s Disease: Those with Parkinson’s disease experience constipation, nausea, and other GI problems, These problems may occur years before the diagnosis. Some research suggests that the disease may start in the gut.
Lead researcher, microbiologist Sarkis Mazmanian, Ph.D., states, “If Parkinson’s disease is not solely caused by changes in the brain, but instead by changes in the microbiome, then you may just have to get drugs into the gut to help patients, which is much easier to do. This new concept may lead to safer therapies with fewer side effects,” In fact, Mazmanian has identified a single strain of gut bacteria that triggers symptoms of Parkinson’s in mice.
Alzheimer’s Disease: Research suggests microbiome composition may influence the onset of Alzheimer’s.
These foods are not good for your gut:
Processed foods: In order to have a long shelf life, the amounts of preservatives is not gut friendly.
Foods with nitrate and nitrite: Sausages, cured meats, bacon, and ham are examples of foods that could affect your gut bacteria.
Fried foods: Cooked at 350 degrees, there are no good bacteria in them.
Foods sprayed with glyphosate, such as wheat: There is no real proof that the glyphosate that is sprayed to hasten ripening in wheat is still not in the wheat when it is processed into flour. Glyphosate in your gut will certainly kill the good bacteria.
For the new year of 2020, let’s try to eat the feed our microbiome and eliminate those foods that do not support our gut.
Email Audrey Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org.