Focusing on the health of your gut is currently having its time in the spotlight, and rightly so. Having a healthy gut can lead to improved digestion, support for your immune system, lower blood pressure and support organ detoxification to name just a few benefits.
We can find up to 100 trillion bacteria in our large intestine, and an amazing 90% of the cells within our body is made up of microbiome, or bacteria. The balance of microbiome in our body has succeeded in aiding a number of health issues such as weight loss & management, but excitingly it has also recently been linked to our mood and mental health… all the more reason to keep a check on the bacteria in your body!
How can gut bacteria affect our mental state?
Our digestive track contains a couple of kilos of beneficial bacteria, or probiotics, which creates energy from food to feed the gut wall, help digestion and influence our emotional responses.
Recent studies show that that changing your mind set with probiotics, which are being called ‘psychobiotics’, are becoming more evident. Trials in France have shown that people who were asked to perform under pressure felt less anxious after taking particular strains of probiotics, and a woman tested in the US who had eaten a slightly adapted probiotic yoghurt responded less when put in a negative situation – pretty impressive for a yoghurt!
So, could probiotics really be linked to a happier state of mind?
Wellness expert Chris James, founder of Chris James Mind Body, explains how a healthy gut environment is connected to our mental health:
“Information flows back and forth continuously between the brain and your gut using more than 30 neurotransmitters (brain chemicals), most of which are biochemically-identical to those found in the brain. It is estimated that 50 per cent of dopamine and 95 per cent of the serotonin in the body is found within the GI tract.”
Serotonin and dopamine are neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) which make us feel good, or acknowledge a rewarding feeling. An amazing 95% of our body’s serotonin is found in our bowel, not in the mind as so commonly assumed.
We also know that the gut contains the complete opposite and that an undesirable bad bacterium which creates anxiety-increasing chemicals can be found there, so the more good bacteria we consume to push these unwanted ones out, the better!
The use of probiotics and our mental health is still being researched, but if the increase of happy feelings can be caused by the addition of good bacteria to help with the ups and downs of every day life, then we welcome this discovery!
How do you create a healthy balance of bacteria?
The two main ways of ensuring a happy, healthy balance is to take a multi-strain probiotic supplement with a variety of good bacteria along with a good diet.
Foods which can help you balance the bacteria:
- Eat fermented foods such as yoghurt, sauerkraut, kefir and tofu products such as tempah, these allow the food to be more digestible and introduce probiotics into your digestive system.
- Cut down on sugar or foods which are high in fats which encourage less beneficial forms of bacteria to thrive.
- Eat organic meats – they shouldn’t have been exposed to antibiotics.
- Choose foods which naturally contain lots of soluble fibre such as bananas, garlic, asparagus, honey, leek and onions as these support the growth or probiotic bacteria.
How do you pick the right probiotics for you?
Beginning your search for the right probiotics can become confusing and over whelming, but a general rule of thumb according to Chris James is simply “Read the label!” The label information should always contain:
“Genus, species and most importantly strain of the microorganisms (Lactobacillus rhamnosus HN001 for example). Many products list only the genus and species, but different strains provide different benefits.”
The term ‘strain’ refers to a biological variety of a species; a species in turn exists within a genus. The strain level is important, as this is your guarantee that the probiotic is safe, well researched and evaluated.
Here are a few tips to get you started when choosing probiotics:
- Choose a multi strain supplement with a variety of bacteria, such as Chris James Mind Body Brilliant Biotic which contains 16 different known strains of bacteria.
- A well researched product will contain a list of known bacteria and strains in the product, such as Fushi Total Probiotic which clearly labels its strands.
- High numbers are key, because stomach acid can kill a lot of the bacteria as they travel through your system, choose an encapsulated pill with a high number of bacteria per dose. Aim for at least 10 billion bacteria per dose.
- Take notice of the best before dates. If a label says: “viable at time of manufacture,” this could mean everything in it could already have died, look out for “Viable through end of shelf life” which should ensure you are getting the correct amount of living microbes when you take the recommended dose.
Although a lot of research has been done already to discover what is good for us and the research between our gut and minds continues, there unfortunately is not yet the perfect bacterial mix to directly solve our problems.
So until the perfect prescription is discovered, encourage the good bacteria to thrive, keep your body healthy and your gut & mind happy.
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