Last night was a night to remember for me. No, it wasn’t the gorgeous scene of eating at Cliffside Restaurant. No, it wasn’t reuniting with my sister and fine-dining together after 20 months of living on opposite sides of the world. And it wasn’t even our super charming discount-giving server, Austin.
It was that my pants couldn’t even unzip far enough to relieve the bloating in my abdomen, and my mood became strangely pessimistic that night and into this morning.
That pessimism didn’t just come from falling off my healthy eating kick with fries and a root beer float, though. It was influenced by a chemical reaction that happened in my gut. Oils from deep fried foods and sugars in sweets interfere with the body’s ability to properly produce hormones and neurotransmitters, responsible for our mood and happiness.
The reality is, our food culture is setting us up for mental health failure. But we can do our part to set ourselves up for success!
There is a very real connection between the food we eat, and our mood.
Wait… but mental health just has to do with our brain, right?
Where does my digestion come in?
The human “gut” is now commonly referred to as our second brain. Studies have found that our gut actually produces more neurotransmitters (such as serotonin, our happy chemical) than our brain does, and affects our body’s hormones more than we ever knew. So when our gut isn’t in a healthy state, our body has a hard time producing the chemicals it needs to be in a good mood.
I’ll save the awesome facts about how different fruits, vegetables, and superfoods affect our body’s chemistry and mood for another day, and today just talk about this hot sensation:
GUT BACTERIA (the true guys in charge)
We all have pounds of bacteria in and on our bodies. Don’t freak out-- most of it is super good for us and essential in helping our bodies fight bad bacteria, digest food, process vitamins, build proteins, regulate hormones, have regular bowel movements, enjoy a good immune system, and much more that we are still discovering. The ways bacteria influence our health is a BOOMING field of science, especially within the past 5 years.
“Gut microorganisms are capable of producing and delivering neuroactive substances such as serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid, which act on the gut-brain axis.” (The Gut-Brain Axis: The Missing Link in Depression.)
So if my gut bacteria affects my body’s production of neurotransmitters and hormones….. That means that what I eat has the ability to affect my mood... What do I need to be mindful of?
Here’s what’s good to know:
There is “good bacteria” and “bad bacteria.” The good bacteria you already know about. The bad bacteria can lead to disease, food cravings (especially sugar), damage the gut lining, malabsorption, leaky gut, autoimmune disease, and a variety of other bad health outcomes.
A healthy gut will contain hundreds, if not thousands, of different species of good bacteria. Eating fermented foods and a diet high in a variety of fibrous foods will provide diversified fuel for the good bacteria (probiotics), which thrive off of nondigestible plant fibers (prebiotics). You’ll want to eat more vegetables, vegetables, vegetables, certain whole grains (I would not recommend those with gluten), seeds, fruits, and google “prebiotic fiber sources” for more specific ideas.
Bad bacteria thrive on sugars. In case you needed one more reason to avoid sugar (fun FYI, your entire bloodstream only needs about 1 teaspoon of sugar to maintain healthy blood sugar levels. So consuming high-sugar products to “get some energy in me” = TOTALLY FALSE IDEA). In fact, when bad bacteria overgrow, it can hack your body’s hormonal system and send messages to your brain saying you are hungry for more SUGAR! So there is a fair chance that if you are experiencing carb or sugar cravings, it’s not you to blame, it’s the little bad guys in your gut! Get them balanced!
These temptations will hurt the good bacteria:
Processed fats. Deep fried foods have been known to trigger depression, but now we know another reason why. The unhealthy fats kill off the healthy bacteria responsible for aiding in the production of happiness-producing chemicals.
Antibiotics (imagine that)
Alcohol, cigarettes, excitotoxins, and other toxins found in drugs and processed food
stress, Stress, STRESS! (Our family LOVES EFT, a stress-relief technique. Check it out!)
5. These things help the good bacteria
Eating fermented foods! Raw sauerkraut, kim chi, homemade kombucha (our family's is the best!), kefir, etc.
Eating fiber from a variety of sources. Different vegetables will feed different types of bacteria! Try eating a new vegetable every week.
Taking a good probiotic supplement and mixing up the source regularly.
Fasting, as in abstaining from food for a period of time, helps to kill off the bad bacteria which in turn helps the good. (Intermittent is awesome!)
Bad bacteria loves sugar.
Good bacteria loves fiber.
Unhealthy oil, antibiotics, alcohol, excitotoxins, processed foods, and other additives and substances destroy healthy bacteria.
Eat fermented foods regularly to replenish the gut’s bacteria supply.
This is empowering science: we don’t have to subject ourselves to food-induced bad mood swings.
Self, take note: The fries were good, but were they worth the aftermath?
We can influence our mood by the chemical environment we create in our body through our food, thoughts, and environment.
Of course mental health involves more influencing factors than the gut microbiome alone, I don’t mean to reduce mental health to this simple of an equation. Anxiety and depression are very real chemical situations. That’s why this is relevant! We have to do everything we can to give the body the tools it needs to fight the fight.
Interested in learning more about epigenetics, the gut microbiome, and natural ways to reverse depression?
Pre-Register for the 3rd and final edition of my mom's book, Live With Energy! Thrive without Fear, Sickness & Disease. It's the most comprehensive and empowering health book I've ever picked up. You got a health problem? You'll hear what you can do about it in there.
Disease doesn't appear in a single day, but you certainly can start on the path to reversal in a single day!
Enjoy making friends with your gut bacteria and reply with any comments!
Researcher, Public Health, School of Life Sciences