You’d be hard-pressed to find any medical professional who would deny that there’s a connection between your brain and gut. In fact, the growing body of research validating this link only proves that they’re connected in more ways than we could have possibly realized.
You might already be aware of the connection and chances are, you’ve experienced it firsthand. When you’re nervous or anxious, you can feel the effects on your gut almost immediately. But while this sounds intuitive and logical, the fact is that for years the idea that gut health could impact how we think or feel and vice-versa was ludicrous and laughable.
But not anymore.
I’m going to dive into some of the most notable ins and outs of the mind-gut connection, explaining how this interconnectivity can be supported and harnessed in the form of certain drugs and therapies to improve our mental state.
I’ll also explain how, in the meantime, you can still optimize your psychobiome to feel happier and more stress-free right away.
How to Optimize the Psychobiome and Your Mental State
What is the Psychobiome?
We’ve known for years that our gut health is important and that it can have a butterfly effect on the rest of our body and overall health. The gut microbiome can boost our immune system, improve digestion, protect against disease, and produce vital nutrients.
But the psychobiome is a new concept that’s emerging and quickly gaining serious traction in the medical and scientific community. The psychobiome is the idea that the bacteria in your gut and/or your gut health can actually affect your mental state.
Research shows that the microbes in our guts can affect the way we think. In fact, it goes as far as to suggest it can affect everything from Alzheimer’s to autism, schizophrenia to anxiety, and almost every neuropsychiatric condition in between.
So the connection between your gut and mental health is strong, and research is only finding more to support this correlation. For example, those with irritable bowel syndrome often have depression, autism often goes hand in hand with digestive issues, and those with Parkinson’s disorder often experience constipation.
A growing body of research that shows that it’s unlikely these links are coincidental. Finding ways to understand, optimize and harness that connection for better mental and physical health is the entire promise behind the psychobiome.
What’s the Link Between Gut Health and Mental Illness?
While more research is needed to understand the complex link between gut health and mental illness, it’s clear to the medical and scientific community that this connection exists.
One study had incredibly interesting findings. Researchers moved fecal matter from human participants into bacteria-free mice and were able to conclude that the mice that received matter from humans with depression actually demonstrated more behaviours of depression and anxiety than the mice that received matter from humans without depression.
Another study showed a link between two species of bacteria in the gut and depression. Even more research shows that some species of bacteria in the gut actually promote serotonin production, the hormone that makes us happier. The connection between your gut and mental health is strong and it’s a two-way street. The gut is communicating with the brain, and vice versa.
These findings are revelatory for the medical community. They open the door for something called psychobiotics—which we’ll explore below—and improved treatment of mental disorders and dysfunctions. With this established link, we can do more for those suffering from mental conditions and move treatment advances forward much faster.
What Are Psychobiotics?
Treatment for mental illness and other mental disorders has stalled in recent years. It’s an unfortunate fact that drugs for these conditions haven’t advanced as far as we need them to; the existing drugs don’t work for all patients and all conditions, and they often cause severe side effects. This makes the idea of psychobiotics particularly exciting in the medical community.
Psychobiotics involves treating mental disorders with dietary changes or supplements. The form psychobiotics will take is still being debated and researched. After all, we’re still determining what a healthy microbiome even looks like, so prescribing a one-size-fits-all pill is still a long way off.
While the logistics are still being worked out, there’s no denying that this is a fast-moving field with loads of potential. No matter the final form that psychobiotics take, the bridged gap between drugs and mental disorders will be life-changing for many.
How to Optimize the Psychobiome
Even with psychobiotics some ways off, there are concrete ways right now that you can optimize the psychobiome. These will make you feel happier, healthier, and more energetic. You may see significant improvement in anxiety, depression, stress, and more.
Diet: Move to a high-fiber, low-sugar, and predominantly plant-based diet. Eat raw, whole food as much as you can from a wide variety of sources, while cutting down on alcohol, fast food, junk food, etc. Diet on its own won’t “cure” and mental conditions, but it can definitely help while also helping to make other therapies and treatments work better.
Antibiotics: They destroy gut bacteria and can actually increase depression in some people, so avoid them as much as you can. If you do take antibiotics, make sure to ramp up your intake of prebiotics and probiotics afterward, as well as increasing your intake of fermented foods, which are full of healthy bacteria.
Reduce stress: Because of the microbiome-gut-brain axis, it’s important to keep both ends of the street happy. While you improve the diversity of bacteria in your gut, it’s also important to make sure your stress and anxiety aren’t wreaking havoc on your gut. Work to reduce your stress and anxiety, especially if it’s chronic.
Time spent on hobbies and with friends and family can help, as does regular exercise, quality sleep, good, healthy food, and meditation. By working on your mental health, you’ll help your gut health thrive as well so that it can better protect your body and provide it with the nutrients it needs.
Denying the mind-gut connection is futile. The advances in this research field are happening constantly, and it’s only a matter of time until a form of psychobiotics is released to help treat neuropsychiatric conditions. But by accepting and embracing the connection now, you can make a significant impact on your health and happiness immediately as we wait for the research to catch up.