According to researchers from Harvard University, a troubled intestine can send signals to the brain just as a troubled brain can send signals to the gut . This so-called gut-brain connection explains why certain situations make us feel nauseous, why anger and anxiety can trigger symptoms in the gut, and conversely, why intestinal distress can influence our brain, resulting in anxiety, stress or low mood: the gut and brain are interconnected.
This system of connections and communication between the gastrointestinal tract and the brain is referred to as the ‘gut-brain axis’. Researchers speculate, that by controlling or altering the types of bacteria in your gut, it may be possible to improve your brain health.
In a healthy body the thousands of different types of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria that live in your gut, exist in a balance in favour of beneficial bacteria, helping to prevent overgrowth of the bad bacteria that can have a negative effect on health.
To help maintain or restore this balance, the first step is to eat a well-balanced diet that includes foods with live beneficial bacteria and prebiotic ingredients. Prebiotic ingredients are substances that nurture the growth of beneficial live cultures.
Foods naturally rich in live beneficial bacteria or probiotics, include plain yoghurt, fermented and unfermented milk, cottage cheese, fresh sauerkraut, apple cider vinegar , tempeh, miso and some soy beverages. Keep in mind that the potential beneficial effects of these foods are lessened or destroyed by cooking and so try to eat them as fresh as possible.
Live beneficial bacteria are also available as probiotic supplements in the form of capsules, powders and tablets. How well they work is often dependent on the ability of the bacteria to survive the digestive process and the type of live culture used. It is important to choose a strain of bacteria that can establish itself and survive the stomach acid and digestive juices found in the intestinal tract. Try Optibac’s Probiotics For Every Day . It contains six different strains of bacteria, proven to survive the stomach’s acidic environment, which work together to improve gut health. Each daily dose (2 capsules) contains 5 billion live cultures, as well as the prebiotic fibre FOS (fructooligosaccharides), which acts as a food source for friendly bacteria.
You can also source prebiotics from foods. Foods naturally rich in prebiotics include artichokes, leeks, onions, garlic, chicory, cabbage, asparagus, legumes and oats.
Research into the gut-brain relationship is ongoing, but results are promising. According to findings published in Nutrition Research, daily supplements of Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria can produce beneficial effects on stress-related symptoms. After three weeks of daily administration of a probiotic, it appeared that stress-induced gastrointestinal symptoms, nausea and abdominal pain were significantly reduced by 49%, compared with the placebo group .
Additional research points to an improvement in the symptoms of low mood, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder and other psychological and neurological conditions but experts are keen to stress that further research is needed.
Food for thought.
L. Diop, et al., “Probiotic Food Supplement Reduces Stress-Induced Gastrointestinal Symptoms in Volunteers: A Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Randomized Trial,” Nutrition Research28(1), 1–5 (2008)