The microbiome is our collection of normal healthy bacteria, fungi and other micro-organisms which live on and in our body. The greatest concentration and variety lives in our digestive tract and silently supports our health on multiple levels. Recent research is showing more and more connections between our gut microbes and mood disorders such as depression and anxiety.
One of the main benefits of a healthy microbiome is improved digestion. Many of the helpful bacteria and fungi in our digestive tract actually support the process of breaking down and absorbing nutrients. Having a healthy diet is important – but if you aren’t able to extract and absorb the good nutrients from that food it doesn’t do much good. Many of these nutrients – specifically some of the vitamins and minerals – can have a major impact on brain function and mood.
An interesting and relatively new understanding of our gut microbes is that they do more than just help digest food – they can actually process it into certain neurotransmitters and hormones. One good example of this is serotonin, a neurotransmitter which, when deficient, can contribute to depression and anxiety. Many anti-depression drugs help serotonin to stay around longer to increase its effect. Recent research suggests that more than 90% of our total serotonin is produced by our gut bacteria – which means there is a direct connection between depression, anxiety and our gut microbes.
Another function of a healthy population of gut microbes is support of natural detoxification. There is a massive field of research around different chemicals we are exposed to on a regular basis which can affect brain function and mood. Many of which we may come in contact with multiple times a day. Generally our body has some ability to process and eliminate these chemical toxins – but we know that certain imbalances in gut bacteria can actually decrease our ability to do this. That means these chemicals stay in our body longer and have more potential to cause health problems, including depression and anxiety.
These are just a few of the many functions of our microbiome, oftentimes imbalances of gut microbes lead to digestive problems but not always. Sometimes imbalances are subtle and not noticed, and over the long term can contribute to a number of different health problems including depression and anxiety. Some common causes of a disrupted microbiome are poor diet, lack of exercise, history of antibiotic use, recent or recurrent infections, sinus infections, poor dental hygiene and more.
If you’re dealing with any sort of mood problems and want to know more about the connection between your microbiome and your brain, please call us at 916-351-9355.