Gut Bacteria May Be Controlling Your Mood, Should You Fix It?
A unique force inside of us controls our bodies, emotions, and thoughts. It’s not our soul, mind, or sense of free will; it’s the microbes living in and on our bodies, outnumbering our cells by tenfold. In fact, there are 100 trillion of them, and those inside our gut have been found to influence and control our mood and behavior.
Gut Bacteria and Mood
The living culture of bacteria in our gastrointestinal tract, known as the gut microbiome or microbiota, consists of four pounds of biomass and is part of the 3 percent of our body weight that is made of microbes. While a third of that microbiome is consistent in all humans, the rest is unique to each individual.
The residual effects of our gut health can be as profound as changing the function of our brains. It turns out that the old axiom of going with your gut feeling is not just a colloquialism; it actually has some scientific basis.
Researchers have discovered the diversity of healthy gut bacteria in our microbiome often fluctuates and changes based on what we consume or the lack thereof. So, the choices we make in deciding what to put in our bodies can have a drastic effect on the makeup and health of our gut.
When our bodies don’t receive the nutrients they need, the microbes in our gut send metabolites through the enteric nervous system, or ENS, a multi-layer lining in our intestinal tract composed of hundreds of millions of neurons connected to the brain. Scientists think the vagus nerve is the pathway between the brain and the ENS, and is responsible for telling the brain what the body needs.
It can also tell the brain how to behave.
There’s a reason why certain foods change your mood or make you feel a certain way. Fatty acids in particular are detected by cell receptors in the brain and make up a significant portion of the its weight. This is why Omega-3s are known to be mental boosters, as the brain relies on them to balance mood, energy, and memory.
Certain neurotransmitters that regulate these brain functions are produced in the gut. In fact, roughly 90 percent of serotonin is produced in the gut.
Gut Health and Depression
Researchers conducted a test on mice to see if specific character traits like anxiety or depression had anything to do with gut bacteria. They found that mice exposed to specific gut bacteria, compared to those kept sterile, showed symptoms of anxiety and depression after being exposed to stress early in life. The sterile mice did not show these symptoms until they were also exposed to that gut bacteria.
Although both groups originally showed a release in the stress hormone, corticosterone, it wasn’t until the gut bacteria was introduced to the sterile group that they showed signs of depression. This test effectively demonstrated the symbiotic relationship between the gut and the brain and how it can have definitive effects on our mood and emotion.
In fact, some researchers are working on what they’re calling psychobiotics, medicine that targets mental disorders through the gut microbiome. Traditionally, it has been thought that gut-related illnesses, like irritable bowel syndrome, were caused by depression, stress, and anxiety, but now some researchers are starting to think it’s the other way around.
How to Restore Gut Flora
The myriad microbes in our gut, often referred to as our gut flora, thrive when fed properly. A study of a primitive tribe in Tanzania, known as the Hadza tribe, found a significant variation between their gut flora and ours. This tribe, specifically a smaller sect of them who were hunter-gatherers, maintained a diversity of berries, fruit, starch, and meat in its diet.
These people also consumed high levels of fiber – ten times more than the average western diet. In one day, this tribespeople would consume 100-150 grams of fiber. While this may sound like a copious amount, it seems this tribe has figured out the right gut-health diet. Scientists found this diversity to be essential in maintaining diverse gut flora and the key to feeding a healthy microbiome.
In addition to the lack of fiber consumed in Western diets, we consume a lot of refined sugar and processed food. Unsurprisingly, this destroys certain gut flora that is so essential to a good bacterial balance.
There are ways for rebalancing gut bacteria, namely through probiotics. Any naturally fermented or cultured food is good for promoting healthy gut bacteria. The probiotics that are best for improving gut flora are those that promote the growth of Lactobacillus. This strain of bacteria is often found in yogurts, cheese, and pickled foods. There is even research underway to develop a probiotic beer, as Lactobacillus has become the main bacteria used in sour beer.
Antibiotics and Gut Flora
It’s not just our diets that can have a serious impact on our gut health. By nature, antibiotics kill bacteria in our body including gut bacteria, and they do so indiscriminately. While antibiotics have been incredibly beneficial in preventing some deaths and illnesses, the extent to which we use them has created many negative side effects, especially when it comes to a healthy gut balance. Studies have found that it can take months for our gut microbiome to recover from the effects of antibiotics, and in some cases, up to a year.
While a healthy adult might be more concerned with catching an antibiotic-resistant pathogen than suffering from temporary gut flora damage, infants and young children are most susceptible to long-term effects. Scientists believe the administration of antibiotics in infants can lead to an imbalanced microbiome, impeding nutrient absorption, and immune system functions.
Some doctors even believe that children might develop autism due to damaged gut flora. This could also be related to children who develop ADHD, ADD, OCD, dyslexia, and dyspraxia. Although this is an incredibly contentious topic, more and more scientists are finding that gut flora is important in early development. Could there be a correlation between the decline in gut flora diversity in our Western diet and an influx of certain developmental issues in children? Will the gut be the next area of focus for treating mental diseases and disorders?
Naturopathic Medicine: The Therapeutic Order
Naturopathic doctors seek to heal the whole being. Rather than medical doctors who look at symptoms (pathology) and treat and prescribe the problem to force healing to occur, naturopathic medicine seeks to find natural balances to bring the body back to wholeness with gentle support.
The most basic tenant of naturopathic medicine is that healing is available within.
When we pay attention to our bodies and shift our way of life to support these most natural functions, the body will heal itself. The Earth around us is in harmony and we can use the elements – air, sun, food and herbs – to gain internal symbiosis. Contemplating the totality of the being, psychology and spirit may also play a part. Invasive treatments are the last resort and every effort is offered to support the internal wellness of the human system.
Principles of Naturopathic Medicine
Every ounce as valuable as medical doctors, Naturopathic Doctors (NDs) adhere to a strict code which differentiates them greatly from their pharmaceutical and surgery-seeking counterparts:
- Do no harm
- Treat the whole person
- Prevent disease
- Doctor as teacher
- Support the body
- Treat the cause
Beyond this alternative view of illness and disease is wellness. Health is the perfect state and every effort must be made to bring people back to their optimum alignment. The restoration of health is the goal, not treating symptoms alone.
If we can look at the symptoms – see what the disruption is to health and address those imbalances – we are empowered to restore well-being. Terminal and chronic conditions appear only when this disruption of ideal wellness is prolonged.
A client of mine once had liver cancer. Her prognosis was bleak but she was unwilling to give up alcohol to save her life. From a medical perspective, chemo and radiation were the only way to go. A naturopathic doctor instead may look at the underlying emotions which created this devotion to her addiction. Of course, the patient must be willing to seek help and be ready to address the changes necessary. Free will is key and doctors, no matter what their leanings, cannot save those who do not make their own well-being a priority. For my client, her comfort was more important than fighting for a life that had been filled with strife. Rather than impose our own fears, we can instead provide a space of respectful loving confidence in her decision and ease the end of life process.
The Therapeutic Order
The Therapeutic Order provides guidelines for NDs to make decisions to treat patients that are in alignment with the philosophical considerations of this natural model of care. It represents a hierarchy of elevation to treat in the least invasive and most supportive ways and avoid excessive procedures.
Remove Obstacles to Health
The first consideration is the optimum health of the patient. What are the circumstances or behaviors that are obstructing health and happiness? If we remove the obstacles to health, the body will restore on its own. Such inquires as nutrition, sleep, stress, spiritual practices and time in nature are the first step. When we can sustain happiness in a patient, they are well on their way to health.
Stimulate Life Force Energy
Life force energy is crucial to well-being. Prana must flow to enliven the organism and stimulate the energy centers which sustain life. After prolonged periods of dis-ease, the energy becomes stuck.
Many ancient practices understand the necessity for flowing prana and have sophisticated systems to address stimulation of the life force. These include acupuncture, homeopathy, hydrotherapy, yoga and spiritual endeavors like journaling, prayer and mediation. Any combination of these modalities may be offered to support the return to wellness.
Strengthen the Weakened Systems
While doctors may start treatment at this stage, this is where the body can begin to reveal that which is deeply compromised. NDs instead witness the affects of lesser modalities and the body illuminates where true support is needed. By addressing what is unable to restore itself, vitamins, minerals, fish oils, probiotics and holistic treatments may offer significant benefit.
This is often a desperate space for patients and it is where they begin to seek drastic intervention for the prolonged discomfort. By building upon life force energy and honoring what is working, suggestions are offered to strengthen the true depletion.
Correct Structural Integrity
As the issues at the organic and glandular system are soothed, it is the spinal and muscular system which require attention. Proper alignment brings the body into balance and can be achieved through massage, exercise, chiropractic care and stretching.
A compromised spine will block the flow of prana and affects every system in the body. Spinal Health is a cornerstone of yogic practices and fundamental to support the harmonious integrity of the soul in physical form.
Natural Substances to Control Symptoms
When required, vitamins and minerals may be the next step to restore wellness. Cautious efforts are considered and natural remedies are employed, as to not overtax the recuperating body system.
Use Pharmaceuticals to Control Symptoms
When the foundations of the Therapeutic Order stall, it might be beneficial to consider pharmaceuticals. Note: not all NDs may prescribe and each law varies by state.
Patients will often need to be referred to a medical doctor who can treat them with access to chemical remedies. In many cases, an ND can work with the medical doctor to ensure all aspects of care are being honored.
Use High Force Interventions
At this last stage, all other avenues to natural care have been exhausted and invasive interventions may provide the only relief. Terminal conditions and severe chronic pain are most common when this drastic step is the best outcome.
This resort recognizes the body cannot be wholly restored unless something is removed– surgery, lasers or chemo– to kill off the affliction in the sincere hopes that with its removal, wellness can be discovered. Patients can be supported naturopathically as they undergo these treatments and its continuance will contribute to prolonged wellness and self-care.
It is heartening to remember ways to empower our own health and to seek alternatives to the reliance on the current medical model.
Naturopathic doctors are in place to bring us back to these places of well-being with gentle support to heal ourselves. It is up to us to take the steps toward self-love that creates a resonance within for this healing to occur. There is no quick fix or magic pill, as all challenges are those which encourage our Ascension.