What scientists are uncovering about the gut-brain connection.
7 min read
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The following article is based on excerpts from Ben Angel’s book, Unstoppable: A 90-Day Plan to Biohack Your Mind and Body for Success. Buy it now from Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | IndieBound. And be sure to order The Unstoppable Journal, the only journal of its kind based on neuroscience, psychology and biohacking to help you reach your goals.
Healthcare entrepreneurs have something in common. Each one shares a story of a personal health scare or concern for a loved one’s health that spurred their ambition to not only heal themselves, but to set up companies that aim to help others perform at their best.
So what does this have to do with your gut and mental health? In my 90-day journey to regain my health and wellbeing, I interviewed some of these healthcare pioneers to help me discover what I needed to do to biohack my body and mind, and my journey began by first healing my gut.
Scientists like Dr. Michael Gershon, a professor of pathology and cell biology and father of neurogastroenterology, adamantly believe that we have a second brain in our gut. In fact, he states there is bidirectional communication between the gut and the brain. With more than 100 million nerve cells lining our intestinal walls, it’s no wonder that when we disrupt the bacteria in this region with antibiotics, poor diet and toxic environment, it creates a neuropsychiatric effect influencing our mood and mental health.
Suffering from depression, anxiety, fatigue, brain fog, insomnia and intestinal distress, I couldn’t put the pieces together until I interviewed Richard Lin, CEO of microbiome wellness company Thryve Inside. His story was very similar to mine, and so I had him send me Thryve’s easy-to-use home test kit. Thryve then determined my wellness based on several gut health parameters: how diverse the species of bacteria was in my gut, the balance of good versus bad bacteria and how I compared with healthy people. I was shocked when my results came in. I was depleted in a bacterium called bacteroides. The latest research has shown patients with depression have fewer bacteroides in their gut.
Thryve then gave me dietary recommendations to reduce inflammation, as well as prescribed me personalized probiotics to target my health goals and DNA results. I felt the difference within days. Probiotics are the next revolution in healthcare. By initiating healthy strains into my system, my body was able to start healing, which helped strengthen my immune functions. This all leads to a better metabolic effect within my body’s digestive system, making it a better burning machine. A bonus was also losing a few extra pounds!
As more exciting new research finds that probiotics are having a neuropsychological impact on the brain by ameliorating depression and anxiety-like behaviors, it’s worth keeping in mind these seven signs that your gut is affecting your mental health.
When gut microbiota are overwhelmed by antibiotics, medicines, poor diet and stress, gas and bloating are the first signs your bacteria is out of balance. Overpopulation of specific strains can cause your good bacteria to die off, prompting them to give off gas. Incorporating whole plant foods, as well as raw fermented foods like raw sauerkraut or lombucha, can help re-feed your good bacteria.
This symptom is most often overlooked when getting to the root problem of your gut issues. Although Candida albicans are a natural bacterium in our body, when it becomes overpopulated in our gut, it causes severe symptoms of fatigue. Candida live off of sugar, causing severe cravings. This becomes the perfect storm for your body to spike in glucose and insulin, then crashing and needing more sugar for quick energy. Going on a 30-day Candida diet by ridding your body of simple sugars can help your gut recalibrate and heal your good bacteria to repopulate.
3. Irritable Bowels
More than 45 million people suffer from some degree of irritable bowels, which is exacerbated by the stress it can cause in their daily life. As Susan McQuillan writes for Pyscom, “There’s no doubt that IBS causes patients significant distress and is associated with higher levels of mood disorders, anxiety and other psychiatric conditions. A study of 100 IBS patients found that more than one-third had considered suicide as a result of their symptoms.”
She continues, “Research on probiotic bacteria for people with IBS centers on different strains of the species known as Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus, both considered key to replenishing the gut with good bacteria and restoring a healthy balance to the microbiota.”
4. Sleep Disturbances
What we put in our gut can affect the quality of sleep we get. As reported by researchers for Frontiers in Psychiatry, “There is considerable evidence showing that the gut microbiome not only affects the digestive, metabolic, and immune functions but also regulates sleep and mental states through the microbiome-gut-brain axis.” Inflammation, emotion and physiological stress can also affect the composition of the gut microorganisms, causing an array of mental disorders to occur. Ensuring your diet has healthy fiber, diverse, plant-based foods and probiotics helps strengthen your microbiota.
5. Skin Irritations
Inflammation in our gut causes an increased permeable intestinal wall, which can leak proteins that affect our skin, causing irritations to emerge (e.g. acne, eczema or rosacea). Now called the gut-skin axis, scientists are learning that overall gut health or disturbances reveal themsdelves in the quality of our skin.
6. Autoimmune Conditions
Although still in its infancy, studies are now indicating the relationship between intestinal autoimmune diseases and microbiota imbalance. If you’re suffering from any autoimmune condition and also have mental health issues, healing your gut would be paramount.
7. Food Intolerances
This seems like such an obvious fix, but it took me taking a food allergy test to discover a seemingly innocuous ingredient like Brewer’s Yeast was causing me excruciating intestinal discomfort, brain fog and fatigue. Getting a food allergy or intolerance test can help you determine if something is affecting your gut that you might not be aware of. Helping your gut heal by eliminating the culprit can help your mental state as well.
Remember that necessity is the mother of invention, and our pioneering healthcare entrepreneurs are onto something. They uncovered solutions that gave them enough biochemical energy to fuel their mind to give them the capacity to research a solution. So by working smarter and not harder, you can uncover the person you want to become by following these steps to a healthier gut and mind.
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