Sounds pretty silly to think that our stress level, our brain activity are connected to the gut health we nurture for years. There is a vast research in the area of gut flora that proves the communication between our gut and brain. And such communication affects our mood, our stress level, and at the end, our well-being.
The bacteria that reside in our gut determine the power of our immune system and its reaction to the internal and external pathogens. Stress and the gut health are in direct correlation, hence everyone of us should be aware and do something effective about it.
I’ve invited Heather Anne Wise to share her journey to better health and her knowledge about gut health in women. It’s a fascinating subject to me. I do trust you will find this post not only interesting to read, rather significant for you to evaluate your gut flora health.
Stress And Gut Health
At the end of a long day when you’re feeling worn out, do you crave a sweet snack or drink after work? Do your cravings for sweets or junk food multiply when you are in emotional turmoil or just plain stressed out?
This could be due to a number of reasons, but recent research included in my latest book, A Gut Feeling, suggests that chronic stress is largely linked to the microbes within our gut.
Our gut microbiome is the ecosystem of bacteria and fungi that makes up our immune system, breaks down our food, absorbs nutrients, and harvests neurotransmitters to protect against depression and anxiety among many other essential function.
This microbiome requires a balance of beneficial, neutral, and pathogenic flora.
When these three different types of flora aren’t in the right ratio this can lead to high cortisol levels, inflammatory conditions, weight gain, joint pain, and even chronic fatigue syndrome.
Yet, it wasn’t just experiencing many of these symptoms that clued me into the fact that something was wrong. For me, it was my insistent sweet tooth that uncovered the imbalance in my gut flora.
Stressed Gut Calls For More Sweets In Your Life
The composition of microbiota in our gut communicates directly with our brain both by building neurotransmitters like GABA and Serotonin (the calm chemicals) and by sending 90% of the messages in vagus nerve, the primary line of communication from our body to our brain. But there’s actually a feedback loop going both ways. Our experienced and perceived stress also directly affects the health of our microbiome by altering the pH of our gut and making it more habitable for pathogenic flora to grow unencumbered.
One of the most common strains of pathogenic overgrowth is Candida Albicans. This microbe is predicted to affect more than 70% of the U.S. population, according to molecular biologists at Rice University. Candida is a member of the yeast family, so if you’ve ever baked bread you know what yeast loves to eat. Sugar.
Candida is not the only pathogenic microbe that likes sugar. Many strains of unhealthy bacteria overgrowth (which can lead to “Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth” or SIBO) love refined carbohydrates which quickly and easily convert to glucose, a.k.a sugar, in our digestive tract. This means that many of the species of unhealthy flora in our bodies live off of excess glucose floating around that our bodies don’t readily need. Meanwhile, the majority of the healthy species within our gut lives off excess fiber from plant-foods in our diet.
How To Improve Your Gut Bacteria And Reduce Stress
One popular definition of the microbiome is, the entire collection of genes found in our body.
While we inherit roughly 20,000 genes from our parents, we will acquire well over 3 million genes from our environment — the bacteria and other microbes we come into contact with. This means that 99.9% of our genes actually come from everything we touch, eat, and breathe into our bodies. Your microbiome is as unique as a fingerprint to you.
But unlike a fingerprint, your microbiome is constantly changing in reaction to everything we come into contact with — food, medications, plants, people, pets — you name it. It all affects the composition of your microbiome.
This is why it’s so important we eat, drink, and get down and dirty with more of the things our beneficial flora love! Namely, any organically grown plants, foods, and dirt we may come into contact with.
Fermented foods like organic yogurt, raw, unpasteurized sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha are another great way to get more living strains of beneficial flora. Herbal and regular tea, and even coffee also all contain a ton of plant-based prebiotics.
NB: Prebiotics is basically food that feeds your good gut flora!
Our gut microbiome is like our own mini ecosystem. Just like with any habitat, the more diverse the species, the greater its health. So the next time the doctor says, “it’s just stress,” you’ll know what to do.
If you doubt the connection between your mood, stress level and your gut, check out Heather’s book, A Gut Feeling: Conquer Your Sweet Tooth By Tuning Into Your Microbiome to learn more!