You are more bacteria than human. It’s shockingly true! With trillions of microbes and bacteria inside each of us, primarily in the gut, these tiny organisms outnumber our human cells. The mind/gut connection is very real, with more evidence emerging all the time of just how much the microbiome (the environment inside the gut) impacts overall health and even happiness.
You know the terms “gut feeling” and “gut reaction?” Well, it turns out that this is a real thing, and it mainly comes down to your vagus nerve. This fascinating nerve creates a two-way feedback loop between your brain and gut, constantly sending info about the state of your internal organs upstream to your brain. So, gut feelings are literally emotional intuitions that start in your internal organs and are transferred up to your brain via the vagus nerve.
When you have an emotional response that is much stronger than the situation calls for, it often means the vagus nerve is not functioning properly.
How Gut Health Impacts Mood
Just how much does your gut health impact how you feel? The state of your microbiome and alimentary canal (aka digestive tract) can directly impact your mood (short-term) and overall mental health (long-term). Studies show a significant link between diet and depression, and when your microbiome is out of whack, it can contribute to feelings of stress and overwhelm by sending those messages up to your brain. 95% of the body’s serotonin is created in the gut – and too much or too little can have serious health consequences as well as alter your state of mind.
Depending on the state of the gut, messages can be sent to the brain that alter mood, feelings, and mental health. When things internally are a little “off,” it sends messages to the brain that cause you to feel anxious, uneasy, grumpy, or foggy.
Gut Health and Immunity
Gut health, stress, inflammation, and the immune system are all inseparably interconnected. Certain foods (such as refined sugars) as well as high stress levels can trigger the body’s inflammatory response, kill important bacteria needed for a healthy microbiome, and cause the immune system to go into overdrive. When gut health is chronically compromised, it can lead to suppression of the immune system, leaving you vulnerable to attack from various pathogens.
Ingredients for Boosting Gut Health
If you’re interested in boosting your gut health and taking advantage of the mind/gut connection in order to improve both mood and health, there are some proven ingredients that can help get you there.
Note: a common denominator you’ll see here is GABA – the chief inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. Studies show that it maintains alpha brain waves (the type produced during meditation). The enteric nervous system (ENS) is the network of neurons that control your gastrointestinal system. This network of neurons lining the gut is so extensive, it is often called the second brain. The ENS contains many GABA receptors and is connected to the brain via the vagus nerve.
- Ashwagandha: an herb that helps reduce the impact of stress and anxiety on the body. It increases general vitality and strengthens the body’s systems (such as improving blood pressure, heart rate, cortisol levels, and GABA activity).
- Kava kava: a root known for its sedative and euphoric properties that potentiates GABA activity in the body.
- Theobromine: a plant compound that is mildly stimulating to the nervous system (and even counters some of caffeine’s over-stimulating effects, making them work well together) while supporting muscle relaxation, deep breathing, healthy circulation, and the production of GABA and acetylcholine.
- L-Theanine: an amino acid-like compound that helps support the body’s ability to relax by stimulating alpha brain waves. It is also part of the metabolic pathway by which GABA is produced in the body.
- Valerian root: a traditional herbal remedy used to improve quality of sleep, soothe nervous excitability, and act as a tonic during times of nervous exhaustion. It increases GABA in the body.
- Passionflower extract: this natural extract has a calming and sedative effect on the brain and body, and it increases levels of GABA.
- Chamomile extract: a time-tested (and clinically proven) herb for supporting healthy sleep and better digestion.