How to Improve Gut Health

There are good bacteria and bad bacteria in the gut. The good ones make you more alert and help balance stress hormones, which means you’re less worn down by stress. The bad ones make you more fatigued and lower your motivation. We literally feed these bacteria, and the bad ones like to eat sugar and junk food, while the good ones enjoy fiber, fruits, and vegetables. It’s a vicious cycle. The bad bacteria actually make you crave more bad food!

Benefits of a Healthy Gut

A well balanced, diverse group of bacteria is called a healthy microbiome. Over a dozen clinical studies have found that improving the microbiome reduces anxiety and depression and sharpens memory and concentration. In one study, probiotics reduce the rate of bipolar episodes 3-fold over a 6 month period. Probiotics have also helped people with autism and schizophrenia. It is good for physical health, particularly gastrointestinal disorders, and has anti-aging effects.

The Science

How do these little cells communicate with the brain? Lots of ways. They talk through the vagus nerve, which travels from the brain down to the body and is involved in depression. They balance stress hormones and lower inflammation. They raise growth factors like BDNF and produce vitamins that the brain needs to make serotonin.

Bad bacteria eat away at the gut lining, creating “leaky gut.” That causes byproducts of digestion leak into the blood stream and raise inflammation. Inflammation is one of the leading causes of depression because inflammatory molecules wear down the neurotransmitter responsible for pleasure, energy, and motivation: dopamine.

Building a Healthy Gut

The secret to building a healthy gut is to eat more foods that the good bacteria flourish on. Likewise, reduce the foods that cause the bad bacteria to grow: Sugar (including artificial sweeteners), fried or fast foods, and processed foods (that is, anything pre-made or packaged with chemical ingredients or preservatives). You can also take a probiotic, but those capsules don’t help as much if unless you prepare the right environment for them to thrive.

How to Improve Microbiome Health

1. Dietary Prebiotics
These foods provide nutrient support to maintain a healthy microbiome. Use them as part of a healthy, Mediterranean style diet that is low in red meat, fast food, processed foods, sugary and fried foods.
Inulin and fructooligosaccharides These prebiotics are found in onion, garlic, leeks, asparagus, bananas, artichoke, dandelion greens, chicory, blue agave, jicama root, yacon root, wheat bran
Polyphenols Fruits and berries, vegetables, walnuts, wine, tea, coffee, dark chocolate, turmeric
Polyunsaturated fatty acids Oily fish, flaxseeds, walnuts, oils (canola, corn, soybean, safflower)
Other Barley, oats, seaweed

2. Dietary Probiotics
These foods contain live probiotics
Dairy Yogurt, kefir, cottage cheese (look for products with live cultures), aged cheeses (cheddar, mozzarella, gouda, parmesan, and swiss)
Fermented foods Pickles brined in salt water (not vinegar), olives, sauerkraut, tempeh, kimchi miso, natto, poi
Drinks Kefir, kombucha, non-alcoholic ginger beer, shrubs (vinegar drinks), Indian lassi, Russian beet kvass, apple cider vinegar

3. Probiotic Capsules
These can supplement a healthy diet. The products below were approved by ConsumerLabs or US Pharmacopeia and contain strands with mental health benefits.
Low cost ($0.20/day) Trunature Advanced Digestive Probiotic (Costco)

Member’s Mark 10 Strain Probiotic (Sam’s Club)

Also check our mood probiotic list

Higher cost ($0.6-1.2/day) Bayer Phillip’s colon health, Dr. Mercola complete probiotics, Garden of life raw probiotics ultimate care or once daily women’s, GNC probiotic complex, Jamieson probiotic 5 billion, Nature’s Way fortify everyday care 30 billion, PB8, Pure Encapsulations probiotic GI, Visbiome high potency, Hyperbiotics prowomen

4. Lifestyle
Exercise Microbiome diversity improves with aerobic exercise
Sleep Insomnia, poor sleep quality, and jet-lag are associated with poor microbiome health
Stress reduction Both active and early-life stress impair microbiome health, and poor microbiome health worsens stress-related disorders

“Be brave; be strong; take your pills. Exercise because it’s good for you even if every step weighs a thousand pounds.”

Andrew Solomon • The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression

“Denouncing these medicines makes as much sense as denouncing the immorality of motor oil. Without them, sooner or later the bipolar brain will go bang.”

David Lovelace • Scattershot: My Bipolar Family

“There is no harm in taking medication as it is utilizing the wisdom God gives to doctors. But it is also your responsibility to build faith for healing while using medication.”

Paul Silway • Pastor

“Being bipolar can be an all-consuming challenge, requiring a lot of stamina and even more courage, so if you’re living with this illness and functioning at all, it’s something to be proud of, not ashamed of. They should issue medals along with the steady stream of medication.”

Carrie Fisher • Actor and Author