Why is everyone talking about probiotics with relation to gut health and brain health? Because, it's exciting and weird: your bacteria in your gut strongly contribute to your brain function (neurotransmitters & mood).
For a moment, consider that your intestinal tract actually looks like a larger and more loosely packed version of your brain - wormy and winding. A parallel universe, (oh yeah).
Now consider this. The gut has 10 times more bacteria than it does human cells, and more than 100 times the number of human genes. That's A LOT of bacteria programming our brains and bodies.
What do the bacteria do for us?
- maintain regular bowel movements
- help eliminate toxins
- repair our gut
- improve tolerance to dairy
- ensure healthy immune function
- make neurotransmitters and improve mood
- encourage production of pain-modulating chemicals
- and many more functions
What kind of bacteria are in the gut?
We haven't been able to identify all of the species and subspecies of bacteria yet. In fact, out of the estimated 15,000-36,000 species, we have only cultured 500. Most of the bacteria that humans have managed to identify and culture are in the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species, which is what is most commonly in our probiotic supplements.
How does our gut bacteria become imbalanced?
An imbalance of gut microbes, or dysbiosis, can result from: caesarian birth, not being breast fed (a mother's breast milk is loaded with beneficial bacteria), stress, infections, antibiotic use, pesticide-laden foods, and many other causes.
What are symptoms of dysbiosis?
- increased susceptibility to infections
- slower or faster transit time (constipation or diarrhea)
- increased inflammation
- decreased absorption of nutrients
- poor elimination of toxins
- leaky gut
- weight gain
- depression and anxiety
How does this impact brain function?
Your bacteria contribute to production of neurotransmitters found in your brain, including: GABA, serotonin, and tryptophan. If you don't have enough of the beneficial bacteria that make these neurotransmitters, an increase in pain, depressive moods, and anxiety are common.
What probiotics should you take?
General probiotics are often a long-term supplement consideration. Probiotics containing a variety of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species is one way to help your gut flora. 20-50 billion species daily is a common maintenance dose. Certain species, like Lactobacillus rhamnosus are helpful for specific conditions like eczema. Quality control, storage, additional ingredients, dairy/lactose/egg/wheat contaminants, and stability of the capsule are important considerations when purchasing probiotics.
Consulting with your naturopathic doctor about which supplement is appropriate for you is recommended.