Photo ( John Fowler )

Photo (John Fowler)

100 trillion, that is more than the amount of people that have EVER lived x 1000…

This is the number of bacteria suspected to be in your gut, demonstrating that we are at least, from a DNA standpoint, more microbial than human. Although the link between the gut and the brain has been studied for some time, it is only more recently that the role these microbes (your microbiota play have been explored further.

Several researchers working with animals have shown that altering gut bacteria can affect how they cope with stress. A new study, published in Psychopharmacology, suggests that fostering the growth of helpful bacteria in humans helps modulate how we process information, as well as affect how we deal with stress.

The aim of study was to explore the effects of PREbiotics (more on this in a moment) on the secretion of the stress hormone, cortisol and emotional processing in healthy volunteers.

This is what they found:

-            Suppression of the neuroendocrine stress response (less cortisol)

-            Decreased attentional vigilance to negative versus positive information (indicating less stress/anxiety)

In short, they found that improving your intestinal microbiota led to a better response to stress.

One interesting note however, they didn’t find any change in the recruits’ self-rated levels of stress and anxiety. Even though the participants did not think they dealt with stress better, the test shows for a fact that they physiologically dealt with stress better.  Whether you are consciously aware of it or not, dealing with stress better will always be of benefit.

So, having healthy gut bacteria lead to lower levels of cortisol and allows us to look at the brighter side of things, but what are PREbiotics?

There are PRObiotics (“good” bacteria) that introduce good bacteria into your body, and then there are “PREbiotics”.  Prebiotics in short are specialised plant fibre that beneficially nourishes the good bacteria that was introduced.  

Think about it like this, PRObiotics are the seeds and PREbiotics are the soil. 

To help maintain a healthy microbiota you need both PREbiotics and PRObiotics.

How to maintain a healthy level of PREbiotics?

Regularly source your body with fibre from plants i.e. Your mum was right: Eat your veggies (especially foods like asparagus, bananas, onions, garlic, cabbage).

How to introduce PRObiotics?

Although in some cases supplementation is needed, there are plenty of foods that are full of good bacteria. These are foods we all already know about, foods like Greek Yogurt, Miso Soup, Sauerkraut (if you are brave). As you learned earlier in this article, we don’t just need the seeds, we also need the soil. Regularly fuelling your body with healthy, nutritious, and fresh vegetables are also essential to maintain a healthy microbiota and maximising the function of your body.

Although recent research is starting to demonstrate how important your microbiota is to a healthy functioning body and brain, I think future research will keep piling on the evidence supporting the fact that we need to take care of our gut bacteria because they will take care of you. 

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...Dr. Ryno