Does happiness start in your gut? Recent studies indicate that the answer to that question may be a yes! When one thinks about and assesses their level of happiness one usually considers things like their job, personal relationships, and financial situation. It is rare to hear someone discussing their level of happiness and their gut health in the same conversation. It’s certainly something I had never done and didn’t think I would ever do, but here I am.
We know that our gut health, and more specifically, our gut bacteria, is responsible for a whole host of functions in the body. Our gut is responsible for the digestive processes that fuel our bodies. The food we consume is not readily available to be absorbed by our bodies and used as nutrients for various functions, so our gut steps in and breaks down our food into nutrients ready to be sent to various parts of the body or stored for later use. Our gut bacteria, also known as our gut microbiome, plays a large factor in the breakdown and absorption of our foods and nutrients. A healthy gut, one that is full of diverse strains of good bacteria, will lead to better digestion, a higher rate of nutrient absorption, and ultimately a healthier body.
Many of us are accustomed to supplementing our diets with vitamins and minerals in pill form, and gut bacteria is now no different. Probiotics (supplements containing beneficial strains of bacteria for the gut) has become a mainstream supplement in the last few years with many advertisements reminding us that much of our immune system lies in our gut and that we need to take good care to ensure we have a healthy gut microbiome to take care of our immunity. We also see advertisements suggesting the use of probiotics to alleviate bathroom irregularity and symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). And, soon enough we will see ads for probiotics as treatments for anxiety and depression. Why? Because we have the tests to prove it.
Various studies have yielded the following results:
- Approx. 80% of patients with IBS (a strong indication of an unhealthy gut) suffer from anxiety or depression
- Adult brain function is significantly affected by gut microbiome during the first few years of life
- Gut bacteria produce hundreds of neurotransmitters, including most of the body’s serotonin (a mood regulator)
- In mice, probiotics had a similar effect on anxiety as Valium
The fact that our brains and guts are connected shouldn’t surprise most. Have you ever experienced appetite changes during periods of sadness or stress? Have you ever felt the pit-in-your-stomach feeling before a huge exam or presentation? Most people would answer yes to these questions at some point in their lives. The idea that our brain could affect our gut isn’t that far-fetched. Something is going on in our lives, our brain sends signals to our gut, and our gut reacts. That same relationship in reverse is what is less-known and less-discussed. Our gut, specifically our gut microbiome, can send signals to and affect our brain. Study after study is confirming the hypothesis that our gut bacteria plays a significant role in our mood and emotions, happiness included. This isn’t to say that there are not other factors that affect our level of happiness. And, this also isn’t to say that improving our gut health will lead to lifelong happiness regardless of other factors and circumstances. This is just a very interesting and scientific fact that would be beneficial for all to consider. Improving our gut health has absolutely no downfalls- it can only do good for your body. If it can also do good for your mind and increase your happiness, why not give it a try?
What are some ways to take care of your gut health?
- Take a daily probiotic supplement
- Eat naturally probiotic-rich foods-- kimchi, sauerkraut, yogurt, kombucha
- Avoid highly processed foods with ingredients that you don’t recognize-- a healthy gut wants and needs real food
- Limit your intake of sugar, especially processed sugars-- sugar feeds the bad bacteria in the gut
- Get moving during the day and get some extra zzz’s at night- an active lifestyle and healthy sleep habits help improve gut health
Sheeva Ghassemian is a lifestyle, food and wellness coach who is passionate about helping clients on their path to optimal health and wellness. She is also a health blogger at healthwanderer.com where she shares her thoughts on emotional wellness and gut health as well as whole foods recipes to keep your body healthy and happy.