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.
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.