Gut feeling; fact or fiction?
Could nourishing your gut give your mood a boost?
More than ever, researchers are now asking these questions with numerous studies in recent years. We are now discovering that the health of our digestive system could be of vital importance to our emotional wellbeing.
If your mood or emotions have affected your wellbeing, your sleep or your appetite, you are certainly not alone. It’s currently estimated that as many as 1 in 4 of us in the UK will experience low mood during our lifetime which means that it is an incredibly common challenge. If you are affected, it’s recommended to discuss your symptoms with your GP as there are medications and lifestyle approaches which are highly effective.
A low mood may arise through a number of interrelated factors so as an addition to medical and lifestyle approaches it makes good sense to look a little deeper and address any of the potential causes that may be contributing to imbalances in the way we feel.
A new understanding of the relationship between the gut and the brain
Incredible developments in research have now revealed a number of systems of communication between the gut, the bacteria that populate our GI tract, and the brain.
We are now beginning to understand the significance of the gut and the importance of the food and drink we choose in preserving or compromising the integrity of the gut wall, the quality of our gut microbiota and subsequently the production of vital neurotransmitters, hormones, immune and neuropeptides produced by these beneficial bacteria.
This discovery suggests that the composition and diversity of the gut microbiota is essential for optimal brain health. The hypothesis is that when we have a good quantity of healthy beneficial bacteria, our microbiota supports our health and well-being.
Shining a light on the Microbiota-Gut-Brain-Axis
The Microbiota-Gut-Brain Axis is a complex communication network of intricate interactions. Our amazing microbiota is another name for the microbe population in the GI tract often known as the gut flora or microbiome. This microbe population interacts with us through immune, neuroendocrine and neural pathways and may influence our whole body towards health or towards disease.
In other words, our brain communicates with our gut and our gut communicates with our brain.
Having the guts to be healthy … and happy?
Could boosting up and repopulating our microbiome with beneficial bacteria really affect our mood? Leading nutrition and brain health experts are now exploring the hypothesis that supporting our gut microbiome may have the potential to affect our mood and wellbeing[i]
The health of our microbe population is evident in local gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms like the discomfort, boating and abdominal pain experienced by IBS sufferers. Additionally, individuals experiencing gastrointestinal symptoms such as IBS may frequently suffer from psychological distress at the same time.
The impact of gastrointestinal dysbiosis; where the gut microbiota becomes imbalanced towards pathogenic bacteria, may also be felt systemically – which means in our whole body or certain areas of it depending on our genetic vulnerabilities and other factors.
Gut microbes; the key to supporting both body and mind?
In a study published in July 2018[ii], researchers examined the safety and efficacy of probiotic strain Bacillus coagulans. The study found that the improvement in low mood and IBS symptoms was statistically significant and clinically meaningful. Subjects taking B coagulans reported a significant change or decrease in their symptoms of depression in addition to a decrease in IBS and sleeplessness.
This developing area of research could provide additional support to sufferers of IBS who struggle with low mood. Similarly, if our focus is on wellness and optimising our gut and brain health now and for the future, these theories suggest a fascinating new approach to self-care. One of the wonderful aspects of nutrition is that we can all take steps to fortify our wellbeing. If we take good care of our gut flora, perhaps they will take great care of us in return.
Boosting our mood with beneficial bacteria – magic or medicine?
Is it really possible that changing our gut bacteria via the inclusion of probiotics in our diet could positively affect our mood?
Although the research is promising, further large trials are needed so we still have a long way to go before we fully understand the magnitude of these deeply complex constellations of microbes.
Tending to our gut health signifies an empowering new approach to health care. Nourishing ourselves with plenty of healthy food and drinks has the potential to support our wellbeing in body and mind; and it’s a delicious and rewarding journey we can all undertake.
If you experience any of the symptoms in this article, we recommend you discuss treatment options with your GP as well as with a registered Nutritionist specialising in gut and brain health. Your nutritionist will work alongside you and your GP to give you the best and safest support possible.
[i] Toribio-Mateas, M. Harnessing the Power of Microbiome Assessment Tools as Part of Neuroprotective Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine Interventions. Microorganisms 2018, 6, 35. https://www.mdpi.com/2076-2607/6/2/35
[ii] Majeed M, Nagabhushanam K, Arumugam S, Majeed S, Ali F. Bacillus coagulans MTCC 5856 for the management of major depression with irritable bowel syndrome: a randomised, double-blind, placebo controlled, multi-centre, pilot clinical study. Food Nutr Res. 2018;62:10.29219/fnr.v62.1218. Published 2018 Jul 4. doi:10.29219/fnr.v62.1218. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6034030/