Have you ever felt nervous about a certain situation and gotten “butterflies” in your stomach? Or been under stress and felt stomach cramps or an upset stomach? There’s a reason for this. Your brain and gastrointestinal tract are intimately connected. Your thoughts and emotions have a direct effect on your stomach and intestines. Even the thought of eating can get your stomach juices flowing. Anxiety, sadness, excitement and fear can all trigger symptoms in the gut. Scientists call the way the brain and gut communicate the “gut-brain axis”. Research into this field of study has linked many psychiatric disorders to changes in the microbial environment. It has been hypothesized that modifying the microbial environment by means of probiotics, for instance, may help to improve mood and cognitive functions. And in fact, research has indeed shown that boosting these healthy bacteria may help to prevent or at least manage certain mood disorders, including anxiety and depression. There are even specific probiotic strains (such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, specifically the L. helveticus and B. longum) that researchers have used to coin the term “psychobiotics” for their potential therapeutic benefits. You can boost your probiotic intake via food sources such as yogurt, kefir sauerkraut, miso soup, fermented soft cheeses, as well as probiotic supplements. In addition to probiotics, try to focus on a diet rich in whole foods, fruits and vegetables, which are associated with greater microbial diversity and less risk of depression as opposed to diets high in processed, fast foods.
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