The millions of beneficial bacteria in your body play an instrumental role in your health, including mental function and emotional wellness. The connection between probiotics and mental health is fueled by what is known in scientific circles as the gut-brain axis as well as the function of the bacteria in the body’s microbiome. Read on to learn more about this crucial connection and how the use of probiotics can improve the balance of bacteria in the gut to support good mental health.
Understanding the Gut-Brain Axis
While most people do not associate the brain with the gut, these two parts of the body are more connected than you may think. Known as the gut-brain axis, this connection has a significant influence on your overall health and wellness. This connection is bi-directional, meaning that it is a two-way street with the gut and the brain working in tandem to support a variety of healthy functions.
In recent years, scientists have dived deep into cultivating a better understanding of this relationship and how the axis connecting the gut’s microbiome and the brain can impact a variety of digestive issues as well as some of the most common mental health conditions. When one part of the axis is not functioning properly, a whole host of physical and mental health issues may launch. This underscores the importance of understanding this connection and how to best nurture it.
Your overall health will suffer if the gut-brain-axis is not firing on all cylinders. This new body of research has prompted the emergence of the what is known as the “central nerve,” which encompasses all of the major organ systems of the central nervous system, the endocrine system and the immune system. While medical professionals had previously limited their research of the gut microbiome to its effects on digestive function, research is now unveiling more about how the gut also affects the central nervous system.
How the Gut Microbiome Influences Mental Function
The gut microbiota heavily influences both the brain and your behavior. As such, it makes sense that this system can also influence the onset and progression of mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. Emerging research has demonstrated that there are unique differences in the gut microbiota of individuals who deal with depression when compared to those without any psychiatric disorders. This has led some scientists to speculate that these differences in the gut microbiome can trigger the onset of various mental health issues.
Similar to how the gut microbiome of those individuals suffering from irritable bowel syndrome is distinguished by a lack of diversity in the microbiome, those with depression also demonstrate this reduction of healthy microbes. As such, it is clear that proper gut health is essential to good mental health, and can affect your emotions, mood and ability to handle stress.
How You Can Promote a Healthy Balance of Gut Bacteria
There are a number of steps that you can take to ensure that you are supporting a healthy balance of bacteria in your gut. A nutritious diet is the cornerstone of good gut health. Key to this diet plan should be the intent to eat plenty of fiber from fruits and vegetables. Just two weeks of sufficient fiber intake can greatly improve your gut microbiome.
Other good habits to instill in an effort to maintain good gut health include being purposeful about reducing stress levels as much as possible. Being committed to practicing self-care can go a long way in lowering your stress levels. Exercising consistently and practicing mindfulness are other ways that you can support a healthy gut through simple lifestyle changes.
The Connection Between Probiotics and Mental Health
In addition to other widely known techniques for improving a healthy balance of gut bacteria, emerging research is now pointing to the connection between probiotics and mental health. Scientists have found that the regular use of probiotics can improve a host of psychiatric disorders and behaviors. What this means for you is that you can feel good about the use of probiotics as a means to improve your overall mental health. When looking for a probiotic supplement, be sure to choose one that is specially formulated with species across the Lactobacillus (L.) and Bifidobacterium (B.) genera.