I was doing some research recently on probiotics and enzymes and I came across a new term for me: psychobiotics.
Probiotics have been heavily studied since we discovered how essential gut health is to our overall health. We have recently become aware of a strong gut-brain connection as well. Psychobiotics are specific strains of good bacteria that have been studied for their affects on brain health. The term. “psychobiotic” was defined by Dr. Ted Dinan and John Cryan of the Anatomy and Neuroscience department at the University of College Cork in Ireland. Microbes in our guts affect the brain, both positively and negatively. Turns out, our brain and gut were connected in the womb and that connection continues throughout our entire life via the vagus nerve. So a healthy gut also means a healthy brain!
We know that “leaky gut” can contribute to or cause a whole host of health issues; usually attributed to poor gut health, unhealthy diet, or food intolerances or sensitivities, but also toxins or infections and even stress (which leads to vagus nerve dysfunction). Those same factors can lead to “leaky brain”, which occurs when the tight junctions of the blood-brain barrier (BBB) become compromised. The blood-brain barrier serves as a filter; those tightly packed cells allow essential nutrients and oxygen into our brain while preventing harmful substances from entering the brain. A compromised BBB can affect multiple signaling pathways such as those that control amino acid regulation, calcium levels, and cytokines (involved in immune system inflammation reactions).
What are the signs of “leaky brain”? Brain fog or difficulty concentrating, chronic fatigue, sudden headaches or migraines that worsen as day progresses, memory loss or cognitive decline, mood disorders (anxiety, depression, schizophrenia), ADD/ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, peripheral neuropathy and muscular hardening, and seizures are all possible signs of “leaky brain”.
The science here is very new but we have already begun to study several strains of bacteria to understand their impact on mental health. Some initial findings indicate that lactobacillus rhamnosus may lower anxiety by changing the expression of GABA receptors and may reduce OCD-like behavior; bifidobacterium longum may be helpful in treating depression and reducing cortisol levels (stress hormone); lactobacillus plantarum may cause positive changes in emotional behaviors by increasing dopamine, lowering stress hormone levels, and reducing inflammation; lactobacillus helveticus may reduce cortisol levels and anxiety and may even reduce paranoid and obsessive-compulsive thoughts; lactobacillus reuteri may reduce anxiety by reducing stress hormone levels and altering expression of GABA receptors; lactobacillus casei may reduce anxiety and fatigue; and bifidobacterium breve may improve cognitive function.
The great news here is that you don’t have to understand how to heal “leaky brain”. You can focus on healing your gut and that will also heal your brain. Gut healing is largely about a cleaner diet. Eliminate processed foods with preservatives and additives. Consume healthy animal products (if you eat them) meaning animals that have been raised in pastures and fed a natural grass/plant diet (no GMO grains) and not given growth hormones or unnecessary antibiotics. Consume plenty of plant products that have not been saturated with toxic pesticides and herbicides. Include a few foods that are specifically healing to the gut such as bone broth, fiber, and fulvic minerals. You can add in a high-quality probiotic supplement that includes some of the bacteria strains mentioned above. Or you can include probiotic-rich foods in your diet: plain yogurt, kefir, fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi, fermented olives and pickles, and certain cheeses. Or do both!
Gut health is also strongly impacted by stress and sleep. So make sure you are getting adequate amounts of quality sleep every night. And manage those stress levels (I know, easier said than done)!
The more we learn, the more we realize that we are completely connected beings. The physical affects the mental and vice versa! Maintaining a healthy gut is an easy way to take care of both!