Since the early 2000s, there has been more and more talk about the Gut-Brain connection/axis.
Not only that. You also may refer to it as butterflies in your stomach, gut instinct, gut-wrenching, and more to portray different human emotions.
I’ve been particularly interested in this lately because I’ve come across a bunch of literature about the gut-brain connection and how this can affect your mental health. Because of the pandemic and the constant lockdowns, I’ve had time to delve further into this topic, but I’ve also had a lot of time to notice my specific ailments! Some of these include depression, lethargy, anxiety, mood swings, dry skin, acne, and joint pain.
In the past couple of years, I had been self-medicating or covering these issues up with medication, diet changes, and topical creams. Little did I know, these changes, although positive, may not have been the right choices for me. Let’s dig a little deeper into what the gut-brain connection entails and how we can take back our health from the inside-out.
What are Gut Microbes?
We have more bacteria in our gut than we have cells in our body!
The collection of bacteria (as well as archaea and eukarya) colonizing the GI tract is termed the ‘gut microbiota’ and has co-evolved with the host over thousands of years to form an intricate and mutually beneficial relationship. <3
For the most part, we get our bacteria simply from being born vaginally. We would still be exposed to bacteria if born by C-section, but these will be bacteria from the hospital or from the skin.
Factors such as infection, mode of food provision (breastfed or formula), stress, and antibiotic use can also impact how your gut bacteria can influence the brain.
There is a life-long symbiotic relationship between bacteria and the host (your body!).
The number of microorganisms inhabiting the GI tract has been estimated to exceed approximately 10 times more bacterial cells than the number of human cells and over 100 times the amount of genomic content (microbiome) as the human genome! The microbiota offers many benefits to us, through a range of physiological functions such as strengthening your gut integrity or shaping the intestinal epithelium, creating energy, protecting against pathogens, and regulating your immunity.
What might I experience if I have Dysbiosis?
There are three significant categories of dysbiosis: loss of beneficial organisms, excessive growth of potentially harmful microorganisms, and loss of overall microbial diversity.
Many illnesses can result from your homeostatic equilibrium of bacteria being thrown off. This good bacteria helps to keep your gastrointestinal tract healthy and free of potentially pathogenic bacteria.
Any of the disruptions mentioned in the section above could lead to chemical sensitivities, periodontal disease, inflammatory bowel disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, obesity, cancer, colitis, and bacterial vaginosis.
How can I address and repair Gut Dysbiosis?
Diagnosing gut issues can be difficult. Because everything seems to be connected, it is common to be misdiagnosed a few times before getting the correct diagnosis.
I won’t be talking about treatments in this section. Keep reading if you want to learn how to treat Gut Dysbiosis. Instead, I will talk about ways to address it so that you can work toward a healthier gut – whether you decide to go with medical interventions or not (below).
Here’s a list of things you can incorporate everyday as a preventative measure to make sure you are taking good care of your gut:
- Take probiotics or eat fermented foods: Try a nice sauerkraut, a spicy kichi, or a fizzy kefir. If you want to test out a probiotic, anything that is fermented and contains little sugar is a great start.
- Consume prebiotic fiber: This goes really well with probiotics, as it helps to feed the good bacteria in your GI tract. It can be found in foods like asparagus, bananas, whole grains, and garlic.
- Eliminate or decrease sugar consumption: Sugar could be the cause of gut dysbiosis (imbalance of your gut microbes). It feeds the bad bacteria in your gut – this goes for real sugar and artificial sweeteners, because they could negatively impact your blood glucose levels.
- Reduce Stress: Get on a good sleep schedule, get good quality sleep, and reduce environmental and psychological stress.
- Avoid antibiotics: I know that sometimes they are needed, so if you are given them by a doctor to combat a bacterial infection, please take them. However, overuse could lead to long-term problems. Antibiotics are damaging to the gut microbiota and immunity, with some research reporting that even 6 months after their use, the gut still lacks several species of beneficial bacteria.
- Exercise regularly: Of course I would tell you to exercise! It helps everything! It can also help contribute to good heart health and weight loss/maintenance, which has been shown to improve gut health. Aim to move a little bit each and every day.
- Change your products: Some of us may be more sensitive than others, or some of us may not realize the impact that cleaning products and our toiletries can have on our skin or in our bodies. Just like antibiotics, disinfectant cleaning products can also disrupt our gut microbiota.
That’s right! You can treat Dysbiosis with medical interventions, but your options are not going to be very glamorous.
Here are 3 options I’ve found through my research that can help treat Dysbiosis:
- Probiotics: This is a great option as a preventative measure as well as a treatment. Probiotics are defined by the World Health Organization as “live microorganisms, which when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host”. This is basically the good bacteria our bodies are craving.
One of the major advantages of taking probiotics (for dysbiosis or not) is that they can help to suppress inflammation in your microbiome and disrupt colonization by pathogens (the bad guys!). Not only could probiotics help with dysbiosis, but they can also help those who use excessive amounts of antibiotics, those with IBD, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and many other ailments. However, many of these are related and can cause one another.
Probiotics can help introduce or reintroduce helpful gut bacteria into a weak dysbiotic microbiome. Not only are probiotics great for instituting anti-inflammatory properties, but they also improve your immune cell function.
Probiotics have proven to influence the homeostatic balance of the intestinal microbiota, which is pretty incredible but keep in mind, we all need different amounts and types of probiotics. There is no one size fits all, and you may want to discuss this with your doctor or a naturopath. When I went to see my naturopath for mood imbalances and fatigue, we determined I only needed 1 strain at a dose of 20-50 billion Colony Forming Units (CFU), however, you will find many products in the market that contain up to 100 billion CFU of several different strains.
Two really popular strains are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. You will likely see these added into foods or in supplements.
- Antibiotics: Yes, this is the opposite of what I just wrote in my last point. So why am I suggesting it?
Depending on your body, your doctor may suggest you try a broad-spectrum antibiotic to treat your dysbiosis, especially if it has a low impact on your intestinal gut microbiome.
A popular antibiotic for this is called Rifaximin. Avoid long-term use of antibiotics, as this can cause the opposite of the intended effect and actually destabilize the gut microbiome, resulting in promoting the outgrowth of antibiotic-resistant pathogenic bacteria (the bad guys!).
- Fecal microbiota transplant (FMT): That’s right. This is a fecal transplant.
It’s an experimental treatment that has resolved 80-90% of dysbiosis-related infections caused by recurrent C. difficile (a strain of bacteria) infections that do not respond to antibiotics in randomized, controlled clinical trials.
I won’t get too into it, because I don’t think this is a viable solution for many of my readers, but it’s actually a pretty ground-breaking treatment, so I’ll leave a link to more info here. Please speak to a medical professional if you feel you need to go this route.
If you’d like more resources, here are some books you may want to pick up from your local library or book store:
Or these videos! These mention topics I didn’t cover in this blog and are very interesting! A lot of preventative measures are discussed in the following videos.
- TedTalk – The gut-brain axis: Grow your gut, Expand your mind
- Ted Talk – Your Gut Microbiome: The Most Important Organ You’ve Never Heard Of