Our gut plays an important role in keeping us healthy…but did you know it also has an impact on our stress levels and can even help to promote a good night’s sleep? The gut microbiota or bacteria live in the intestine and this plays an important role in digestion and metabolism.
Numerous links have been made between the gut microbiota and anxiety, depression and stress. The gut itself can also play a role in effecting our sleep quality. The “gut-brain-axis” has also been found to have a profound effect on gut health and the microbiome. The gut brain axis has also been shown to send signals to the brain via the vagus nerve and this can have a direct effect on influencing mood, memory and cognition. This also has the potential to cause anxiety this could have an impact on sleep quality, causing sleeping problems in the long term
When the body is healthy, the bacteria are contained safely inside the gut and remain in a balanced state. This is because the gut can nurture or even control the behaviour of the bacteria. Yet when the normal channels of communication within the gut are hijacked, then this is known as a bi-directional relationship with the central nervous system or “gut-brain axis” where messages are being sent to and from the gut into the brain.
The Gut-Brain Connection
The gut-brain axis states that we all have a ‘second brain’ and it’s located in the gut, influencing our mood and wellbeing. The gut contains hundreds of millions of these neurons and its main job is to transmit information from the microbiota to the brain and back. The relationship between these brains is what is behind certain mental disorders such as anxiety or depression.
One recent study found that adding a good “strain” of bacteria i.e. lactobacillus to the gut, reduced anxiety levels within mice. The effect of this was noted as being blocked after the vagus nerve, i.e. the main connection between the brain and the gut was cut. There is a suggestion here that the gut-brain axis is used by the bacteria and this can affect the brain.
This connection was made clearer when the bacterial metabolites (by-products) from digestion of fiber were found to increase serotonin, a neurotransmitter which can activate the vagus…suggesting that this is one way in which gut bacteria is linked with the brain.
Gut bacteria can affect the brain in various ways and this includes bacterial toxins and metabolites scavenging nutrients and changing taste receptors…thereby stirring up the immune system.
There are human studies that have looked into people with depression and they found from studying faeces, that the bacteria differed from healthy volunteers. Changes within gut bacteria vary because of the use of antibiotics, probiotics, or even specific breeding techniques that can be associated with anxious and depressive behaviours. These can also be “transferred” from one test subject after a faecal microbiota transplant.
One study this year found that gut microbiota samples from people with depression were used to colonise test subjects that were “bacteria-free”. Gut microbiota can affect mood and this is associated with contions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), along with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) and how this is related to gut microbiota. IBS is often considered as a “gut brain disorder” and this is often made worse by stress, while over half of IBS sufferers also have difficulties with anxiety and depression.
Ongoing research into gut bacteria is also investigating how it plays a role in the symptoms of IBS, along with diarrhoea, constipation and gastrointestinal pain.
The gut also affects our sleep quality and timing by affecting our sleep-wake cycles also known as our circadian rhythm. Earlier this year a study examined patients with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) and they found that higher levels of “bad” clostridium bacteria are associated with the increased likelihood of fatigue and sleep problems. There is also a suggestion that an unbalanced gut may make sleep problems worse.
Evidence is emerging that circadian rhythms regulate the gut’s immune response. The effect of the immune cells on the body’s biological clock means that it can provide insights into any possible relationship between sleep and the gut. Any disruptions to the Circadian Rhythm can lead to a range of health issues and this includes metabolic and inflammatory disease, mood disorders and obesity.
How Probiotics Can Help
Studies have shown that probiotics (live bacteria) can help to reduce cortisol levels, and this plays an important role in stress. Along with decreasing anxiety and also depressive behaviours. Although there are very few studies in humans, large studies show that people who follow a balanced diet will have lower rates of mental illness. In this way, diet is a clear indication of gut microbiota and mental health. Although research is ongoing as to whether healthy gut microbiota underlies this relationship. When the brain is healthy, then the healthy gut microbiota are too.
To ensure healthy gut microbiota, it’s essential to take a good probiotic such as a proprietary blend of Leonardite and Class 1 beneficial microorganisms. This promotes normal bowel function, stabilises the gut mucosal barrier and supports normal absorption and assimilation of nutrients into the gut. To improve brain health therefore, it’s vital to have a healthy gut and digestive system. Probiotics play an essential part in this process and for this reason, are worth including in your diet which include improving sleep and reducing stress amongst other benefits.
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I find this fascinating as the doctors are forcing me to take injections when all I need are good bacteria!