Happiness from the Root Source: Your Gut
Did you know that around 6 pounds of your body is made up of bacteria in your gut? Did you also know that of the total number of cells in your body, about half are your cells, and the other half are bacteria cells? You may be wondering, why so much bacteria and what is it all doing inside of me? Over the past few years, scientists have been uncovering the answers to these questions. One of their biggest findings is that your gut biome or community of bacteria, plays a crucial role in your state of happiness.
How Your Gut Microbiome Impacts Your Overall Health
Very recently, the importance of our gut biome has become an important area of research. Scientists are finding that our gut bacteria can affect our entire body, specifically, the immune system and our moods. Serotonin is a chemical in our body that is believed to be responsible for regulating anxiety, stress, and happiness. Serotonin works throughout the entire body, but until recently, scientists thought most serotonin worked in the brain. It turns out that about 90% of our serotonin receptors are found in the gut.
Microbes in our gut can play a huge role in regulating stress hormones and creating neurotransmitters, specifically serotonin and dopamine. Gut bacteria have also been found to play a huge role in regulating inflammation of the gut and the brain. It is no wonder that we can suffer from emotional issues if we are experiencing chronic health issues in our digestive tracts.
Nourishing Your Gut Microbiome
In our Western world, we do many things to kill our healthy gut bacteria, such as taking excess antibiotics, overly using sanitizers and bleach products, limiting our consumption of live or fermented foods, and living in chronic stress. The good thing is your gut biome is very resilient and with a little help, can bounce back to great health and happiness.
Here are a few ways to improve your gut biome:
Eat Fermented Foods
Fermented foods contain naturally occurring probiotics and can help restore the beneficial bacteria in your gut. Some of the best live foods include kombucha, tempeh, miso, kimchi, sauerkraut, yogurt and keifer. Be mindful about which type of yogurt you are consuming, as many yogurts contain corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, or excessive amounts of sugar that can negatively affect your gut health. When purchasing a yogurt, make sure to read the nutritional facts and chose yogurts with simple, organic ingredients and low sugar content.
A recent study at the College of William and Mary looked at the effects of fermented food on mood, anxiety, and neurosis of over 700 students. The researchers found that students who consumed fermented food reported less anxiety and stress than students who did not consume fermented foods. They also found that students who started eating fermented foods noticed a significant decrease in social phobias, anxiety, and neurosis.
Eat a Varied Diet
Nourish your gut and support healthy digestion with a varied diet of whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and proteins. Eating foods that are rich in fiber and limiting processed foods and refined sugars are key for a gut-healthy diet.
As part of our blog series on Eating Well, we have shared Green Goodness recipes (Steamed Kale, Stir-Fried Bok Choy, and Salad Greens) that will inspire you to incorporate leafy greens into your meals in creative ways and Wholesome Grains recipes.
Drink Pu’er Tea
Pu’er is a unique and delicious fermented tea that is rich in beneficial microbes. It has an earthly flavor and can be incorporated into your diet to enhance your gut biome. We have many different types of Pu’er tea here at Arogya.
We are often asked what the difference is between Pu’er Tea and Kombucha. While they are both types of fermented tea, Pu’er is made from fermenting the tea, Camilla sinensis. Kombucha is a tea that is sweetened, then fermented by the addition of bacteria and yeast, often called the SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast). Because Kombucha brewing does require yeast, there can be trace amounts of alcohol and it can frequently have a strong sour taste similar to vinegar. Store-bought Kombucha can be blended with added sugar to mask the vinegar taste. Pu’er does not contain any alcohol or sugar and has a mellow and grounding flavor.
Eat Prebiotic-Containing Foods
Because bacteria are living, they require food to thrive. Certain foods provide sustenance and nutrients to bacteria. Some of the best prebiotic-containing foods contain carrots, apples, yams, sweet potatoes, bananas, asparagus, and onions.
Take a Probiotic Supplement
Probiotics are supplements containing different strains of bacteria. When you purchase a probiotic, there are two important numbers to look at on the bottle. The first number you will see is the quantity or number of cells. You want to make sure to get a product with a high number of live cells. Even though you might save some money buying the $10 probiotic that offers 1 million cells of probiotics, you’re probably not helping your gut as much as you hope. Studies have shown that beneficial probiotics are generally at around 50 billion cells or higher. The second number you will want to look at is the diversity or the number of strains of bacteria. You want to get a probiotic that provides a diversity of bacteria, not just 1 or 2 different types of bacteria. Also, it is best to take a probiotic with a meal.
We are finding more and more about the relationships between probiotics in our gut and our moods and states of happiness. One specific study at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine took a group of healthy women and split them into two groups: the control group and the treatment group. The treatment group was given a milk product with added probiotics for four weeks. Before and after the 4 weeks, each of the women underwent brain imaging to measure brain response to measure emotions and brain activity. They found that in the group that consumed the probiotics, the women had improved activity of brain regions that controlled the processing of emotion as compared to the women who were not administered the probiotics. The women who took the probiotics had better control over their emotions and anxieties and were less reactionary to stress than those in the control group.
Many of the probiotics that these women were given are easy to find in the store and can be a great way to boost your mood and regulate your stress.
Practice Deep Breathing and Meditation
You may be wondering, how can sitting still and breathing affect my gut biome?
The answer lies in the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is the largest nerve in our bodies and runs from our brains to the deepest cavities of the small intestine, connecting with your heart, lungs, and most major organs along the way. It is the direct link between our digestive tract and what we eat, to our brain and to how we think and feel. When we deep breath or meditate, we trigger our Vagus nerve to send signals all over our body to relax.
Oftentimes, we are in a fight or flight mode and our sympathetic nervous system is being stimulated. During these fight or flight times, our bodies are flooded with stress hormones and important functions, like resting and digesting, become very difficult for our bodies. By simply sitting and taking some deep breaths, our Vagus nerve transitions us out of the fight or flight mode and into the healthy, rest and digest mode. During these “rest and digest” modes, our bodies assimilate food more efficiently, produce enzymes to digest food better, and decrease systemic stress and inflammation.
In short, take a deep breath and your belly will be happy!
Happier Gut and Happier Life
We are living in a renaissance of information regarding gut health and mood. Chronic gut issues and mood issues affect many people, but there are lots of holistic ways to heal. If you are curious about learning more about ways to heal your gut and get happier, feel welcome to give us a call to schedule an appointment with one of our holistic health therapists. Please feel welcome to call us at 203-226-2682 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
by: Alison Larocca