This is so fascinating. The more research that comes out, the more we’re realizing how integrated our gut (and the bacteria in it) and our brain really is. The implications are staggering.
Mental health is one of the major topics of the day. 16 million Americans suffer from depression. 40 million Americans suffer from some sort of anxiety disorder. And neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s—affecting 10 million people worldwide—and Alzheimer’s—affecting 5.5 million Americans today—continue to baffle doctors. Autism is an exploding disease, approaching epidemic levels. In the 1970s and 80s, one in 2,000 children were diagnosed with autism. In the 90s, it jumped to one out of ever 150 children. At the turn of the century, we diagnosed out of of every 68 kids with autism and now its one out of every 45.
What these conditions have in common should be pretty obvious: they are conditions of the mind—or so it would seem. What I want to talk about today is actually how they are conditions of your intestines. Does that sound strange!?!? Good, it’s certainly not how we tend to think about mental health, neurodegenerative diseases and developmental disorders, but let’s look at a few more facts.
Most people who have depression and anxiety also have gastrointestinal issues related to the balance of bacteria in their gut. The majority of people with Schizophrenia also have GI problems. 70 percent of people with autism have GI problems. Correlations have been found between the types of gut bacteria balances (which species dominates the gut) and the severity of Parkinson’s. Some links have been found between GI health and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.
While this is a relatively new science, there is a lot of excitement around the idea of the “gut-brain” or the enteric nervous system. Some are calling it the gut-brain axis because it represents a sort of dual-natured physical placement for emotions, thoughts and the general communication channels of the body.
It turns out, without the brain in your head, your gut-brain really acts like a brain and can still handle some low-level cognitive tasks like automatic reflexes. It is also in charge of most physical movements associated with digestion, like peristalsis (the pushing of materials through a tube in a wave-like motion) and the churning of the intestines. If the vagus nerve (the nerve that connects the digestive system with the brain) is severed, the digestive system continues to function.
The gut contains 100 million neurons—which are cells generally found only in the brain—and uses 30 neurotransmitters. 90 percent of the body’s serotonin (the neurotransmitter used in balancing mood) and 50 percent of the body’s dopamine (the happy neurotransmitter).
Think about how that might affect certain feelings like the ball of anxiety in your gut or that lovey-dovey feeling you get in your stomach.
Let’s consider how bacteria comes into play.
In a lab, they have ensured that rats and mice are born in completely sterile environments and in sterile ways so that they have no bacteria in their gut. So many things went wrong with these animals, not just that they lived less than half the time of an average rat or mouse. For example, if they would get stressed out, they basically stopped functioning or become overly agitated.
What all of this points to is that there is an incredibly important connection between gut health and emotions. Seratonin, dopamine, stress reactions, etc. It’s part of the reason people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome have big mood swings or why, when you’re nervous for a job interview, you get constipated.
Depression and anxiety-like systems in mice are reduced when two specific types of bacteria are introduced. What’s interesting beyond that is if you take the bacteria from an anxious mouse and give it to a calm mouse, the calm mouse gets anxiety. These findings have inspired a new approach to treating mental illnesses, developmental issues and neurodegenerative disorders. It comes out in a word I love and I want to name my next heavy metal band after: psychobiotics.
The idea is to basically treat mental and brain illnesses with probiotics. We’ll get into the good probiotics here in a minute. But by treating the bacteria in your gut, you might be treating your brain and emotions and mental health.
This also goes the other way. You can treat your gut by treating your brain and mind. Meditation, prayer, activities that reduce stress, self-care, going for relaxing walks, getting rid of toxic people in your life or leaving toxic situations, all this stuff that makes you feel better mentally and emotionally also treats your gut!
If you want to learn more about how your gut affects your health and how YOU can promote overall health by taking care of your gut, attend either my upcoming dinner seminar on Tuesday, November 1st at 6:30pm or my “Heal Your Gut” seminar on November 12th at 11am.
To attend the dinner, CLICK HERE to register. Use promo code AskDrErnst for free tickets.
To attend the seminar, CLICK HERE to register. Use promo code AskDrErnst for free tickets.