As anyone who understands gut health can tell you, your digestive system relies on billions of bacteria to perform its function. However, did you also know that it isn’t only digestion, nutritional uptake and conversion of fuel-to-energy which these bacteria affect, but also sleep quality, energy level and moods?
In fact, more studies now backing this claim to the point that many experts now consider the gut to be a “second brain” which relies on probiotics for far more than just digestion. (1)
And, this may also mean that just as you can improve your immune and digestive health with a probiotic supplement, it may also work to improve your mental well-being and sleep quality.
Need to know more?
Read on to find out the effect digestive health has on your brain’s health, and how you can improve both your mental well-being and your overall health with friendly bacteria.
What is the Microbiome?
First, let’s fill you in on just what these colonies of gut bacteria—AKA the microbiome—consist of, which includes “bacteria, archaea, viruses and eukaryotic microbes.” (2)
What this means is that your gut is essentially an ecosystem of microscopic species. And, since the majority of these species are either good for you or benign (remember, only about 10% of bacteria cause illnesses), this means that nearly all of them are living in harmony inside you. (3)
However, not only do these microorganisms help break down the foods you eat, they also protect against pathogens, add to metabolic functions, and educate your immune system. This is significant since these functions also have both direct and indirect influences on your mental well-being. (2)
How Gut Health Affects Sleep, Energy and Moods
No, microbes don’t commute from your gut to your brain in order to control your moods and sleep habits, although they do have plenty of influence in these areas. This is because just as with most of the workings inside of you, there is synchronicity among functions which in turn produce other functions.
In the case of gut bacteria, these initial functions can include:
- supplying the body with essential nutrition
- the formation of new blood vessels
- promoting nerve function in the colon
- the synthesis of vitamin K
- digestion of cellulose
Clearly, not all of these actions are what we may associate with probiotics (the formation of new blood vessels, for instance), and even more interesting is the effects of these functions on other areas of the body—particularly the mind.
For instance, in studies involving mice separated from their mothers (mother separation, AKA MS) show that there is a connection between psychological behaviors such as depression and anxiety and gut health. This is expressed in an abnormal response to stress by the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA) and includes functional bowel disorders later in life, along with “increased vulnerability of cholinergic neurons to immunotoxic insult, visceral hypersensitivity and increased intestinal permeability.” (4)
However, another effect which the trauma of MS is associated with is an abnormal composition of gut bacteria, which is something a probiotic supplement can reverse. However, it isn’t only gut flora which may be improved through beneficial bacteria, but the mental symptoms of trauma, as well, as there is mounting evidence that intestinal flora has an effect on host behavior.
And, this likely has to do with altered levels of hormones produced in the HPA, since hyperactivity of the HPA has proven to be a significant risk factor in such mental disorders as depression and anxiety. (5)
And, since some of the symptoms of depression and anxiety are decreased energy, increased fatigue, insomnia or hypersomnia and other negative mental conditions, we can also see the relation poor gut health has with energy levels, sleep and mood. (6)
Keeping Your Gut Healthy
Along with mood disorders comes other physiological symptoms of an unhealthy gut, such as:
- chronic bowel problems, such as diarrhea, gas or bloating
- excessive fatigue
- brain fog and trouble remembering things
- cravings for simple carbohydrates
- joint pain (7)
However, and even though these are but a few of the effects of poor gut health, there are measures which can be taken to heal an unhealthy gut.
- avoiding antibiotics and use of sanitizers
- avoiding stress, which can also affect both the HPA and gut flora
- avoiding a diet of refined foods, processed sugars and simple carbohydrates
- avoiding yeast in the diet
- sticking to a diet of natural whole foods (particularly multi-colored fruits and vegetables) that is rich in soluble and insoluble fiber
- consuming cultured foods, such as coconut water kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi or kombucha tea
- using probiotic supplements on a daily basis
Remember, too, that while antibiotics may be necessary in the event of a major infection, they don’t discriminate by targeting only pathogens, and instead wipe out everything, good and bad. The same can be said about sanitizers, which are arguably worse since their usage is more wide spread.
However, in the event of necessary antibiotic use, it is recommended that treatment be followed with a quality probiotic to rebuild your gut flora and help you avoid digestive, immune, mental and sleep problems.
In fact, even while you are healthy and free of antibiotics, a probiotic supplement such as Dr Hotze’s Dairy-Free Probiotic Blend is recommended. Daily use of probiotics can help combat the effects of modern-day stress while boosting your immune system and energy levels, helping provide smooth, radiant, healthy skin, and improving mental clarity and sleep quality.
This should go along with a diet rich in soluble and insoluble fiber, which is what gut bacteria feed on. Yeast should also be avoided, as should simple carbohydrates and processed sugars, since both will provide food to yeasts and bacteria which can lead to candida overgrowth, irritable bowel and leaky gut. (8)
Other ways for you to improve gut health include:
- Getting enough sleep, which means 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night
- Destressing as much as possible, such as through meditation, exercise, breathing exercises and maintaining a healthy work/life balance
- Playing in the dirt, which for we adults can come in the form of gardening or other activities which get us in contact with the soil
- Consuming a diverse, plant-based diet of natural, whole foods which is free of grains, dairy and yeast
A Word About Hand Sanitizers
You should also understand that antibiotics are not the only substances which indiscriminately kill all bacteria, and the use of chemical hand sanitizers may be as bad or even worse. Yes, keeping your hands clean is an excellent way to avoid illness, especially during cold and flu season, although sanitizing agents likely do more harm than good for the purpose.
For instance, not only will over-sanitizing your hands and surfaces around you leave your immune system vulnerable to illness (remember that gut bacteria play a strong role in immune health!), but substances such as benzalkonium chloride are known eye, skin and respiratory allergens which can cause or irritate conditions such as asthma and eczema. (9)
Many sanitizing agents such as triclosan are also known endocrine disruptors which can leave you vulnerable to cancer and other diseases, although even worse is the fact that most chemical sanitizers kill 99.9% of all bacteria. (10)
But why is this bad?
Simply put, when 99.9% are killed off, 00.01% survive. The problem with this is that the 00.01% which are capable of surviving an onslaught of toxins are now left to pass their superior genes on to future generations of bacteria, which increases the population of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. (11)
In short, sanitizers produce super-pathogens which we now have no defense against, and mainly due to overuse of chemical sanitizers and antibiotics.
Plus, it has been shown that simply washing your hands regularly with soap and water or an alcohol-based sanitizer (one which contains at least 60% alcohol) is more effective than using a sanitizer—and, MUCH safer! (12)
Your gut health is not only connected with your physical health, but with your mental health, as well. By taking such measures as switching to a yeast-free diet of fiber-rich, natural whole foods that includes cultured foods and avoiding such toxic substances as chemical sanitizers and antibiotics, you can better ensure that your gut flora is full and healthy.
Doing this will help you think more clearly, sleep better and even have more energy, and this is in addition to better immune health, improved skin quality, reduced risk for cancer and better nutritional uptake.
So, get plenty of rest, destress (or avoid stress entirely), eat right, and shore things up with a quality probiotic supplement such as Dr. Hotze’s Probiotic Blend.
Doing so will help you not only enjoy good health and all the benefits thereof, but a clearer mind, better sleep and more energy.