Welcome to the second wtf Wednesday! Look at me being consistent. Hopefully I can keep it up. This week, I want to talk about something I mentioned briefly in my last post: the gut-brain connection. This topic is something that scientists are still figuring out, so we don’t know exactly how it works, but it’s important nonetheless. From a nutrition perspective, we should all at least be aware of this connection to understand how the food we eat affects our mental and emotional health.
wtf is the gut-brain connection?
The gut-brain connection refers to the intrinsic link between the neurons that reside in the gut and the ones in the brain. Yes, there are neurons in our gut! About 500 million of them, actually. This is why when we say we have “gut feelings” or “nervous stomach,” we really do. Our brain and gut communicate constantly and what they say to each other has a profound effect on our health. Specifically, issues in our GI tract can cause issues in our brains, and vice versa. Anxiety and nervousness can create that “nervous stomach” feeling. Similarly, having an upset stomach can cause us to feel hazy or have trouble concentrating. At the end of the day, the gut-brain connection tells us that the food we consume, as well as the bacteria that resides in our gut (more on that in a minute), has a lot to do with our mental/emotional state.
The Microbiome & Probiotics
While science is still trying to figure out exactly how the connection works, we know for sure that it exists. And the bacteria in our gut plays a huge role. We have tons of bacteria in our cells, and a lot of it is there to help us. For example, some of the bacteria in our gut actually utilizes some of our undigested or under-digested food. Some of these bacteria are also involved in the fight-or-flight response, meaning they are very attuned to stress. When the bacteria in our gut is unbalanced is when things get tricky for us. For example, if we have way more of those fight-or-flight response bacteria than the rest-and-digest ones, we are probably going to be in a state of constant stress or anxiety. What happens is that these bacteria set off inflammatory cytokines which are trying to help us fight the threat our brain and gut perceive. The problem is, with chronic stress, there is no real threat to fight and our body is fighting an infection that doesn’t exist. You can see the problem here.
One possible solution is the use of probiotics. Probiotics are full of the “friendly” bacteria our gut needs in order to balance out the microbiome, helping us with stress response and other issues our brain and gut are trying to solve for. By taking probiotic supplements, the goal is to populate the microbiome with bacteria that is good for us to help not only our GI tract, but also our brain and entire body.
I personally started taking probiotics years ago before I even became interested in nutrition as a potential career path and certainly before I knew there were neurons in my gut. Maybe TMI but they helped me SO MUCH with chronic yeast infections and coincidently with a lot of the stomach issues I was having at the time. Now I know the reason I was having issues (and why probiotics helped) – my bacteria was unbalanced. I take these*, but make sure to check with your doc before starting them. (My momma is a nurse and was the one who told me to take them, so if you also have an awesome nurse-momma, ask her!)
How can you tell if your microbiome is fucked up?
From the sheer amount of mental illnesses, gut issues, and general apathy of the population, I feel like so many people have issues with their gut bacteria. And it makes sense, because the SAD shitty diet a lot of Americans eat plays a huge role in what types of bacteria live in our bodies. But the awesome thing is, we can fix it. In addition to probiotics (if needed), eating a better diet with more plants and SOUL foods can drastically change your microbiome.
There are a shit-ton of symptoms that may be the result of unbalanced bacteria. Harvard Health Publishing put out the list below. Obviously these symptoms could be caused by a bunch of other issues, but if you can’t figure out why you’re feeling like shit, visit your doctor and have them test you for dysbiosis.
- Stiff or tense muscles, especially in the neck and shoulders
- Sleep problems
- Shakiness or tremors
- Recent loss of interest in sex
- Weight loss or gain
- Grinding teeth
- Difficulty completing work assignments
- Changes in the amount of alcohol or food you consume
- Taking up smoking, or smoking more than usual
- Increased desire to be with or withdraw from others
- Rumination (frequent talking or brooding about stressful situations)
- Overwhelming sense of tension or pressure
- Trouble relaxing
- Quick temper
- Poor concentration
- Trouble remembering things
- Loss of sense of humor
So, what do you think? Let me know in the comments!