The Gut Microbiome and Mental Health

What does the 3-4 pounds of microbes (which includes bacteria, viruses, yeasts and molds, parasites and other microscopic critters) that live in your gut have to do with your mental and physical health? There are many more of these microbes than all of the cells of your human body, and they contain many times more genes than our approximately 22,000 human genes. The types of microbes vary depending on the environment that they are exposed to in your gut. If you eat processed food, they are different than if you eat whole organic food. If you exercise the types and amounts change.

Our “inner ecology”, a term coined by Donna Gates, begins in the womb and is seeded and colonized from mother’s gut bacteria during birth when the baby travels through the birth canal and with breast feeding. Thus, a baby that is born by Caesarian Section or is bottle fed is often at a disadvantage, not receiving mother’s microbes but instead those on the doctor’s hands or in the hospital unless special care is taken to collect secretions from the mother and the baby’s face and mouth and nose wiped with these secretions. Antibiotics give either at birth to avoid or treat infection, or at any time during a person’s life will kill many of the “good” bacteria, leaving resistant and potentially “bad” bacteria can overgrow and cause illness. This can result in not only gastrointestinal problems, but also asthma and allergies, skin problems such as psoriasis, acne and eczema, diabetes, obesity, hormonal imbalances, heart conditions, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, autoimmune disease and many others.

The Microbiome produces more neurotransmitters than does the brain, including as much as 95% of the body’s serotonin and over 50% of its dopamine. We know that the brain communicates with the gut via the vagus nerve, and there are even more communications between the gut to the brain by the same vagus nerve. The effect on our moods and behaviors of these peripheral neurotransmitters are just now being discovered but it would not be surprising if it is profound. We all know the feeling of “butterflies in our stomach” associated with feeling anxious. I often seen children who act hyperactive, irritable, are depressed or aggressive also have gastrointestinal symptoms and abnormalities in their Microbiome (dysbiosis or infection), which improve as the imbalance is corrected. Studies have shown as much as 40-60% improvement in behavioral and mood problems in school children as well as in children in detention centers and adults in prisons when they are given healthy, whole food diets without processed foods and good quality nutritional supplements.

There are some simple ways of improving the environment in your gut to encourage the per essence of beneficial “good” microbes and discourage the bad ones.
Eat a diet high in nutrients such as found I fresh, ideally organic and non-GMO fruits and vegetables. If you eat animal products, make sure they are as high a quality as possible, meaning organic and grass fed or wild caught.
Avoid processed foods, especially those that contain high fructose corn syrup, extra sugar and artificial sweeteners. Avoid preservatives, additives and food colorings.
Eat fermented foods and consider a high quality probiotic supplement with a wide variety of bacterial species.
A little dirt is good as it contains many needed microbes – don’t be too insistent on using hand sanitizers and encourage your kids to play outside and get dirty! One theory about why there are so many autoimmune diseases and allergies is because our society has become too clean and this prevents the immune system from fully developing. In the same vein, pets and being outside in nature, especially on the dirt or grass barefooted “grounding” is also protective.
Get enough sleep and find methods to reduce stress
Participate in some form of physical activity

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