Today we are joined by Dr. Jack Tips, Ph.D. where we take an even deeper dive into our gut microbiome and explore new research.
We look at the importance of healthy microbes (and diversity!) and their beneficial effects on our entire immune system. Research is showing evidence of something we have known for years; how our mood, stress hormone levels and our microbiome are so interconnected and therefore how they directly influence each other.
Mood and the Microbiome
Mood and the microbiome have always been thought to be connected through the vagus nerve, a cranial nerve in the body that is responsible for feelings of calm and relaxation as well as the parasympathetic function of the digestive tract (i.e- peristalsis or the involuntary constriction and relaxation of the muscles of the intestines that create wavelike movements that produce bowel movements). When making an important decision, we are always told to go with our gut or to listen to our gut instincts. This couldn’t be truer as our microbiome, and our mood are quite connected to the majority of our “feel good” neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine which are produced in the gut.
Our digestive system is one cell-layer thick meaning if there is any inflammation or an imbalance in bacteria this inflammation can spread to our brain and affect our mood, leaving us feeling anxious and depressed. We wrote an entire blog post all about how to support anxiety naturally with food.
Biodiversity is essential to our immune system and our microbiome. We can easily compare the importance of proper diversity when looking at plant species as the higher diversity amongst the species, the wider-variety of crops. Research has shown decreases in gut microbiota diversity contributed to a poor diet and lifestyle habits, antibiotic use, and over-sanitation of our environment.
Spending time in nature, gardening and alternating with different strains are great ways to promote biodiversity which in turn can protect us against pathogens, and support mitochondria (cellular energy) and other metabolic processes which are vital to our health.
Both acute and chronic stress can impact our microbiome much more than we had initially thought. Research shows the impact of both acute (short-term daily stress) or chronic stress due to daily life stressors from family, health issues or financial issues.
When we experience stress, the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis is activated, resulting in the release of multiple stress hormones, including cortisol. Cortisol is a catabolic hormone (breaks down molecules into smaller units) which can create inflammation and inflammatory cytokines (a signaling molecule that promotes inflammation) in the body. Inflammatory cytokines influence the way we digest and break down our food as well as the diversity of our microbiome.
Probiotics – What's the Deal?
Today, we see probiotics flooding the media and found at nearly every grocery store. However, we are big fans of exploring the different strains to ensure that we are receiving a diverse range of species.
Soil-based strains are becoming more recognized as research has started to show our microbiome is low on organisms we would naturally receive from gardening, farming and spending time out in nature. Soil-based probiotics can survive harsh stomach acid and are seen as the peacekeepers as they are known to naturally support the purging of pathogens and maintain a healthy diversity in our microbiome. You can find one of our favorite soil-based probiotics here.
Lactobacillus acidophilus are transient beneficial probiotic strains which help escort bad pathogens out of the body. The most common strains of Lactobacillus are found in dairy products such as kefir, yogurt, and sauerkraut. Our favorite probiotic, Ortho-Biotic, includes multiple different strains of Lactobacillus.
Bifidobacterium is the most abundant beneficial bacteria in our colon, and the population naturally declines as we age. Bifidobacterium strains continue to be beneficial beyond providing healthy bacteria; they support healing intestinal permeability or leaky gut through strengthening the mucosal lining, so these are the “good guys” that stay in our GI tract and contribute to lasting, positive digestive health. Our favorite probiotic which contains strains of Bifidobacterium is MBC.
Saccharomyces boulardii is a specific species which has been researched to be beneficial in inhibiting the growth of bacteria, yeast, and parasites. Secondly, this particular strain has anti-toxin effects, as it has shown to be supportive against Clostridium difficile. Saccharomyces boulardii is a nonpathogenic yeast which has been used in the treatment of diarrheal infections and disease as well as influencing inflammatory signaling pathways. Our favorite brand is here.
Supporting a Healthy Terrain
The important aspect is creating a healthy terrain, through a healthy diet including sources of fiber and vegetables to support the microbiome and biodiversity. We establish a healthy gut microbiome through:
- Slashing Inflammation
- Purging Pathogens
- Reseeding and Healing the Gut
- Creating a Healthy Ecosystem through Terraforming
Once this is complete, the use of probiotics can be used on an occasional basis to support healthy biodiversity. If we build a healthy environment, our bacteria can create its own beneficial bacteria strains. This is huge!
Unfortunately, many of us have had to take multiple courses of antibiotics, whether directly or indirectly through the foods we consume and being exposed to antibiotics in our environment. The use of these antibiotics, while sometimes necessary, disturb our microbiome on a molecular level. Because our microbiome is so intricately connected to the health of our immune system, central nervous system and brain, these can also get disrupted with the intake of antibiotics.
Through including a healthy diet full of fiber and resistant starch; the immune system can start forcing the gut bacteria to mutate and therefore support healthy gut bacteria. Our favorite types of resistant starch include green papaya, cassava, and green bananas. We have an entire blog post all about healthy fiber sources here.
The bottom line is that we need to realize that the microbiome is king when it comes to our well being and it is essential to continue to build and nurture a healthy ecosystem.