Researchers have finally found conclusive proof that the balance of bacteria in your gut may have more to do with your mood than any other contributing factor. Do you struggle with anxiety? Irritability? Depression? How about your friends or children? If yes, then this recently published study done by researchers at McMaster University may provide one of the keys to unlock mental clarity and wellness.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been waiting for a prominent independent study to draw this connection for a long, long time. My belief in the connection between gut and brain was solidified ages ago by reading Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride’s book, The Gut And Psychology Syndrome. But now it seems that researchers are finally starting to embrace this theory, and with it the obvious ramifications.
You see, if the balance of bacteria in your gut really is affecting your mood, then treating mood disorders may be as simple as helping to proliferate the good kinds of bacteria in your digestive tract. I’ve written about what that sort of gut-improving diet might look like before in my post on Your Gut: Understanding The Keys To Health.
Of course, researchers haven’t yet leaped to that dietary conclusion, but they seem willing to investigate goodies like therapeutic probiotics:
To confirm that bacteria can influence behaviour, the researchers colonized germ-free mice with bacteria taken from mice with a different behavioural pattern. They found that when germ-free mice with a genetic background associated with passive behaviour were colonized with bacteria from mice with higher exploratory behaviour, they became more active and daring. Similarly, normally active mice became more passive after receiving bacteria from mice whose genetic background is associated with passive behaviour.
While previous research has focused on the role bacteria play in brain development early in life, Collins said this latest research indicates that while many factors determine behaviour, the nature and stability of bacteria in the gut appear to influence behaviour and any disruption, from antibiotics or infection, might produce changes in behaviour.
Bercik said that these results lay the foundation for investigating the therapeutic potential of probiotic bacteria and their products in the treatment of behavioural disorders. (source)
Notice also that they said “any disruption… might produce changes in behaviour.”
What can “disrupt” your balance of gut bacteria?
Some of the most common culprits, in no particular order:
I love antibiotics. That statement may shock you, considering that I almost never take them and go out of my way to make sure I don’t eat antibiotic contaminated food. But I’ve got to give antibiotics credit. Even as recently as a century ago, we were terrified by infectious disease. Someone getting an especially virulent strain of a disease was almost certainly going to die. Everyone knew someone who had done just that — caught the gripe, the consumption, the influenza, the scarlet fever, the (fill in the blank) and died. People got cuts on their extremities and ended up losing an arm or a leg because of poor wound care and rampant infections. The world we live in, the world where we let our children climb trees and scrape their knees with little to fear other than potential broken bones, the world where we can get stitches to help deep gouges heal in record time, this world wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for antibiotics.
All that said, antibiotics work by killing not just the nasty, dangerous bacterias causing infections, but all bacteria — good and bad. This poses a problem for us because our digestive systems are home to more than 1,000 trillion bacteria, and we need them to be in good balance in order to be healthy. A typical course of antibiotics wreaks havoc on these colonies, and if our diet is deficient in any way our guts will repopulate with an imbalance of good bacteria to toxin-producing bacteria and our moods will be adversely affected.
Birth Control Pills
Nearly two-thirds of all women in the U.S. have taken birth control pills on a regular basis. As with antibiotics, oral contraceptives can annihilate the balance of bacteria in the gut.
Processed junk foods, particularly those high in refined flours and sugars, feed (almost exclusively) the harmful, abnormal bacteria and microbes in our gut. A diet rich in these staples of industrial food will allow these abnormal microbes to thrive, weakening the population of healthy, beneficial bacteria, and leading to an imbalance of gut flora.
Chlorinated Drinking Water
Yes, chlorine keeps your pool spotless. It will do the same thing to your intestine if you ingest it — killing off beneficial as well as abnormal bacteria. And sadly, most of us drinking tap water on a regular basis do ingest chlorinated drinking water.
Yes, there are others.
But I’ve tried to list the most common ones for a single purpose: to demonstrate that not one of us is immune from gut dysbiosis. At some point in our lives, we’ve all regularly consumed something that would shift the balance of bacteria in our digestive tract.
What Can You Do To Restore Gut Balance?
First and foremost, work through the dietary changes listed in this post on gut health. On a real basic level that looks like opting out of industrial foods, consuming more bone broth, and incorporating more cultured, fermented foods in your diet.
Secondly, take a high-quality probiotic. A quality probiotic can be hard to find. Many probiotic supplements are processed in ways that don’t adequately preserve the bacteria strains, instead exposing them to too much oxygen or heat. Or they include strains of bacteria that may not be suited to repopulating the human gut well. You’ll want to find a probiotic that’s actually effective, and that’s simply measured by success. (Where to find high-quality probitioc supplements.)
What Can You Expect When You Re-Introduce Good Bacteria?
When you first start re-introducing good bacteria in your gut through eating more cultured, fermented foods and taking a therapeutic grade probiotic, you’ll probably notice what’s called “die-off” symptoms. Headaches, dizziness, fever, nausea, and other mild cold-like symptoms are all natural parts of experiencing die-off. Basically, as your newly introduced good bacteria start out-competing the bad bacteria already present in your system, the bad bacteria start dying off. When they die off, they produce toxins. Normally, your body is able to eliminate these toxins without you experiencing any symptoms. However, when a radical shift in gut flora takes place, the bad bacteria die off in such large quantities that your body can’t effectively eliminate the toxins created in the die-off. So, you’ll experience the die-off effects, also known as a Herxheimer Reaction.
Don’t worry! The die-off symptoms won’t last long at all, and on the other side of them you’ll be feeling better than ever. And, if this new study is any indication (which I believe it is), you’ll have happier and more balanced moods, too.
(photo by jronaldlee)