“Accumulating data now indicate that the gut microbiota also communicates with the central nervous system…and thereby influences brain function and behavior.”
Cryan J, Dinan T, Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 2012
We can no longer ignore our digestive tracts. You cannot accept gas, bloating, constipation, abdominal cramps, reflux or frequent stools as “normal”. These common gastrointestinal complaints indicate that the 100 trillion bacteria that inhabit our digestive tract are unhappy. The term “microbiota” refers to the bacteria that coexist in our bodies.
Who’s in charge here?
In reality, gut microbes may be in charge of our health. The Human Microbiome Project tells us that the total microbial cells may exceed our own human cells by a factor of 10:1, and the total number of microbial genes could exceed human genes by 100:1.
We know that it is the interactions between our genes, diet, exercise, and other lifestyle habits that lead to disease or health, and we are now beginning to understand that microbiota and their genes play significant roles in these interactions and manifestations of health. Even when it comes to mental health.
To identify how altered gut flora affects mental health, sterile animals are exposed to pathogenic infections, probiotics (good flora) and antibiotic medications. These studies, which change the composition of gut flora, suggest that gut flora plays a role in regulating anxiety, mood, focus, concentration, retention of information and pain.
Mental performance through the gut
When we are born, our GI tracts are sterile. During birth, and in early infancy, our GI tract is populated with gut flora that will be with us for our entire lives. Composition of gut flora is dependent on a number of factors and will influence our mental and physical health.
We are just beginning to scratch the surface, but as we currently understand it, some of that factors that could cultivate beneficial gut bacteria are:
- Vaginal birth
- Prudent avoidance of antibiotics during birth and early infancy
- Taking probiotic supplements daily
- High vegetable diet
- High bean, lentil and intact grain diet
- Fermented foods (e.g. unsweetened keifer, saurkraut, kim chi)
- Organic foods, based on new research that indicates common pesticides alter the microbiome (Samsel A, Seneff S, Entropy, 2013)
- Spending time outdoors…get some sunshine and go play in the dirt!
Pathogenic, opportunistic bacteria flourishes under the following conditions:
- Planned c-section delivery (emergent c-section allows for transfer of microbes from Mom to baby, whereas planned c-section does not)
- Frequent use of antibiotics
- High sugar diet
- High refined carbohydrate diet (cereals, breads, pasta, pizza, etc.)
- Excessive hygiene practices
Even if you don’t have digestive complaints, take care of your hosts. There is direct communication from your gut bacteria to your brain. Your diet is a key player in controlling those messages.
Material on this blog is provided for informational purposes only. It is general information that may not apply to you as an individual, and is not a substitute for personalized nutrition or health advice or healthcare. Never disregard medical advice or delay seeking medical care because of something you have read or accessed through this website.