In the pursuit of better mental health, keeping our bodies healthy is as essential as exercising the mind. We already know that being active and eating nutritious food helps our brains function better, but how many of us have considered taking probiotics to improve our brain power?
That’s right. These helpful or “good” bacteria do a lot more than keeping our gut and digestive processes in top shape. They can also play a huge role in enhancing mental health, brain power, behavior and even mood!
Modern Lifestyles are Killing Our Natural Probiotics
Probiotics are not a new “health fad”, and we naturally have trillions of good bacteria living in a symbiotic relationship with our bodies. Passed on at birth (from the birth canal) and through breastfeeding, these microbes colonize various parts of our bodies, where they fight off pathogens and help natural processes run smoothly.
With modern lifestyles and poor dietary choices, our natural probiotics get wiped out, leaving harmful bacteria, yeast and viruses free to spread through our bodies. Factors that can affect the balance of good and bad bacteria (gut microflora/gut flora) include:
- Heavily processed, sugary foods kill good bacteria while feeding pathogens
- Antibiotic use, which kills pathogens, but also destroys probiotic bacteria
- Fluoride and chlorine in drinking water
- Pollutants in air, water and food (pesticides, chemicals, etc.)
Since our gut flora is such a vital part of our bodies, it’s essential to replenish probiotics lost through lifestyle or diet-related factors. This helps keep our gastrointestinal (GI) system healthy, which in turn helps improve the functioning of our brain.
Gut Health, Probiotics and Brain Power: What’s the Connection?
Ever had a “gut feeling” about something or felt your “stomach drop” when you’re upset? This is because our bodies actually have two nervous systems.
The central nervous system, directed by the brain and spinal cord is the first. The second is the intrinsic or enteric nervous system, present in the GI tract. Both are formed by the same kind of tissue and connect through the vagus nerve, a cranial nerve that runs from the brain stem to the abdomen.
The bacteria in your gut use this nerve to send data to your brain and vice versa, which is what causes your stomach to feel unsettled when you’re angry, nervous, stressed out or afraid. More importantly, it can lead to mental health issues and behavioral changes when your gut is unbalanced.
Benefits of Taking Probiotics for Enhanced Brain Health
Probiotics for brain health can help prevent a wide range of issues, ranging from anxiety and depression to Parkinson’s and autism:
- Studies have found that the B. longum strain of bacteria may help reduce anxiety by normalizing the activity of neurons in the pathways of the vagus nerve.
- L. rhamnosus can improve behavioral issues caused by anxiety and depression by lowering corticosterone, a hormone produced in response to stress.
- Greater concentrations of serotonin (a neurotransmitter that controls depression, aggression and mood) are found in your gut than in your brain.
- Antidepressants only raise serotonin levels in your brain, and studies on the link between probiotics and depression are quite promising so far.
Imbalances in gut microflora have been linked to abnormal brain development in infants and young children, possibly leading to issues like:
- OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder)
- ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder)
- ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)
Best Probiotic Foods for Balanced Gut Flora
While probiotic supplements can help you improve the balance between good and bad bacteria, many foods include natural probiotics too, like:
- Fermented Dairy Products – The natural bacteria found in fermented dairy products like probiotic yogurt or cheese can help keep your gut in top shape.
- Fermented Soy Foods – Fermented soy dishes like miso and tempeh are rich in natural probiotics, and offer other health benefits too.
- Traditional Pickled Vegetables – Brine-cured olives, sauerkraut and kimchi are delicious in addition to being loaded with beneficial bacteria.
Whether you want to take probiotics for anxiety or just for better digestive health, one thing is for sure. Our guts and brains need all the help they can get, and these helpful bacteria could be exactly what the doctor ordered!
Mary Toscano is a contributing writer to Probioticshub.com. She is a mother of two toddlers and enjoys volunteering for animal shelters. When Mary is not busy writing about health and wellness, she is exploring tips and tricks about healthy living and clean eating. She is a great resource for probiotic foods and fitness lessons that you can follow all year round. Her inspiring approach to health will keep you motivated to pursue your wellness goals.