A healthy gut could be important not just for your digestive health, but your mental health too. A recently published study found a connection between gut bacteria and the parts of the brain that affect anxiety and depression.
Researchers at the APC Microbiome Institute at University College Cork in Ireland conducted an experiment with mice, where some were raised without gut bacteria in their system. The researchers found that those mice experienced changes in the microRNA (miRNA) molecules in their brain, leading them to “display abnormal anxiety, deficits in sociability and cognition, and increased depressive-like behaviors,” according to a press release about the study, which was published in the journal Microbiome.
When gut bacteria was introduced to the mice later, some of the changes in the miRNA molecules, which regulate how genes are expressed, reverted back to normal.
In other words, healthy levels of gut bacteria enables your brain to manage stress—and lacking it can result in anxiety and depressive behaviors.
“This is important because these miRNAs may affect physiological processes that are fundamental to the functioning of the central nervous system and in brain regions, such as the amygdala and prefrontal cortex, which are heavily implicated in anxiety and depression,” said Gerard Clarke, one of the researchers.
So a healthy gut is critical for regulating the parts of our brain that affect anxiety.
By the same token, the researchers said there is potential in studying whether anxiety can be treated through the gut microbiome.
Now that’s all the more reason to make sure we eat and drink in ways that promote good gut health.
Here are some tips for maintaining that ecosystem of good bacteria in your body:
Fermented foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, and kimchi are probiotic, meaning they contain bacteria that are beneficial to the gut microbiome.
Meanwhile, prebiotic foods feed the bacteria that’s already in our gut. Our digestive system cannot digest fiber, but gut bacteria can. So consuming foods rich in fiber, like asparagus, leeks, onions, and bananas, will keep them well-fed.
Drink lots of bone broth, which contains gut-healing nutrients like collagen and gelatin. After simmering down the bones, all of that good stuff remains in the soup.
Avoid ingesting things that irritate the gut, such as alcohol, coffee, processed foods, and antibiotics.