Try to visualize the last time you thought, "Hmm... I wonder if washing these strawberries before I eat them will affect how angry I am." Chances are, unless you're a microbiologist who specializes in microbiome health, you've probably never thought about how the microbes in and on your food impact the way you feel.
The connection between the gut and the brain has existed for as long as humans have been eating food (think: when I'm hungry, I can't think straight). It's obvious to people that what we put inside our bodies affect the way we feel on a basic level. Few will be surprised when they hear that eating too much will make them feel bloated, or eating too little will make them lose energy quicker. However, because of the taboo that comes with the word "bacteria," we as 21st century human beings are slow to associate the quality of the foods we consume with the amount of bacteria they contain.
If microbiome science has taught us anything about this field, however, it's that the bacteria in our gut absolutely affects the way we feel: and not just on a surface level. According to a well-cited study performed in 2015 by McMaster University, intestinal bacteria may very well play an instrumental role in controlling both anxiety and depression. In this study, scientists experimented with two sets of mice: one group was exposed a group of newborn mice to high levels of stress by separating them from their mothers for 3 hours a day, and the other group of newborns were not removed from their mothers at any time. When the scientists inspected the behaviors and gut compositions of both groups of mice, they found that increased gut dysfunction was prevalent in the group of mice that were separated from their mothers, indicating that there indeed is a relationship between the way our guts function and the emotions we experience.
This emerging link between the gut and the mind has yet to be popularized and considered mainstream knowledge, but the YouTube channel Infognostica is doing its best to educate the general public about such health issues. In this video about what they call the "Gut Brain Axis," the channel highlights substantial evidence to support the correlation between the way we feel and the bacteria within us.
Now, you may be wondering, "what can I do to help my mood out?" or on the contrary, "what can I do to help my gut health out?" Here are Sun Genomics' top 3 tips to help you manage the gut brain axis.
- De-stress. One of the best things you can do for your mood and for your gut is consistent methods of controlled relaxation like yoga, meditation, journaling, and reading. Not only will your mind benefit from these exercises, but your overall gut health could see dramatic improvements with them as well.
- Pay attention to the nutrients in the foods you eat. Essentially, you are what your microbes eat, which is to say what you put into your body is what your microbiome will feed off of. This in-depth list of probiotic foods showcases a great assortment of foods you can have to keep you and your gut happy.
- Stay away from going Purell-happy. It's undoubtedly important to make sure that you stay clean when you're exposed to harmful pathogens, but hand-sanitizing every second of the day can actually deplete the supply of good bacteria you expose yourself to, and have harmful repercussions on your mood.