As we continue exploring how to help our gut microbiome be at its best, we must talk about stress. We all experience stress to varying degrees at different times and in different situations in life. Many of us know first hand that stress can trigger intestinal problems at times, but we may not realize that stress can change our microbiome. The gut-brain axis is the connection of the gut to our Central Nervous System, and this connection is a major factor in regulating stress-related responses. So, the health of our gut directly affects our ability to handle stress, regulate anxiety and depressive states, achieve higher cognitive functions and modulate hormone responses to stress (cortisol).
By having beneficial levels of certain bacteria in the gut, positively increased levels of dopamine and serotonin develop, encouraging a reduction in anxiety-like behavior. Several studies have determined that certain pre- and probiotics produced improvement in stress-induced behavior deficits and reduced stress-induced cortisol. The microbiome also affects the amygdala, which is a region of the brain that helps regulate emotional learning and social behavior, helping to reduce the triggers of anxiety and fear.
The most studied and beneficial pre- and probiotics are galacto-oligosaccharide or GOS (prebiotic) and lactobacillus and bifidobacteria (probiotic). Food sources help promote the proper fermentation and colonization in the gut. As we have discussed previously, the best prebiotic foods are legumes, nuts, onion, garlic, grapefruit, figs, ripe banana and chicory root. The best probiotic foods include kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut, Kombucha and kimchi.
PLEASE NOTE: When the gut is severely impaired, as in the cases of Crohn’s disease, IBS, etc., healing of the gut needs to occur. It is essential to follow a strict program for gut healing before introducing certain foods or supplements for pre- and probiotics. Please consult a health care provider if you suffer from one of these conditions.