Recharge your Mental Health by Recharging your Microbiome

 

When you think of March, what comes to mind first?  For many of us it’s SPRING!  Spring is a time of rebirth and renewal; a time when winter snow begins to melt and warmer weather is around the corner; a promise that flowers will bloom and plants will begin to bud again.  

Does March conjure up thoughts of gut bacteria?  Probably not, but did you know, just like the earth, we have our own personal ecosystem? Our human bodies are home to trillions of microbes – including bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and viruses – collectively known as our microbiome.  These microbes live in and on our bodies in beautiful harmony with us.  In fact, these tiny helpers are critical for optimal functioning of our body and our brain. 

Recent research clearly shows a connection between a healthy gut microbiome and good physical AND mental health.  Issues such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, ADHD, and even autism can be impacted by an imbalance of those little “bugs” in our GI tract.  In her book, This is Your Brain on Food, Dr. Uma Naidoo (a Harvard trained Psychiatrist) explains this brain/gut connection and offers details on many of the research papers and studies to back up these exciting discoveries.

The vast majority of our microbiome is located in our small and large intestines and is important for proper digestion, immunity, and mental health (among other functions).  The proper makeup of our gut microbiome is of significant importance – too much of one microbe or too little of another can throw off that balance and thus throw off our health.

Just as you might reseed a garden in the spring for any vegetation that was damaged by winter storms, now is a good time to consider reseeding your gut microbiome.  Here are some suggestions for ways to recharge your body’s ecosystem.

Eat naturally fermented foods, high in probiotics.  Probiotics are simply “good microbes” that our body already has (or should have).  By eating probiotic-rich foods, we’re helping to increase the numbers of the good guys in our gut so that proper balance is obtained.  Naturally fermented foods that are good for our guts include:

  • Plain, unsweetened yogurt  – Feel free to add some berries and/or a teaspoon of local honey.  There are non-dairy yogurt versions for those with milk allergies.
  • Kefir – is a fermented drink usually made with cow’s milk or goat’s milk.  It can be plain or flavored.  Kefir also can be made with coconut water for a non-dairy version.  I, personally, find coconut water kefir to be more refreshing and delicious than milk varieties.
  • Sauerkraut – Look for commercial krauts in the refrigerated section of the grocery store.  Kraut on the shelf or that has vinegar as a main ingredient does not contain the probiotics we’re looking for.  Alternately, it’s not difficult to make your own sauerkraut!  Here is a link to a simple recipe:  Basic Sauerkraut Recipe.
  • Kimchi – is a Korean dish of fermented vegetables (mostly cabbage) and flavorings such as garlic, ginger, salt, and chili peppers.  Look for commercial kimchi in the refrigerated section.
  • Tempeh – is made from fermented soybeans that have been pressed into a compact cake.  Tempeh is often found in the refrigerated section next to tofu.
  • Miso – is a common Japanese seasoning that is made from fermented soybeans with salt and koji (a type of fungus).  Miso can be used to make soup, to glaze cooked vegetables, and to marinate meat.  Look for it in the Asian foods aisle.
  • Kombucha – is a fermented tea and comes in a variety of flavors and varieties.  It is commercially available at most grocery stores in the refrigerated drink section or in a separate “end cap” refrigerator.

Something else you can do to reseed your gut microbiome is to take a probiotic supplement.  These supplements come in capsule form and liquids.  One benefit of liquid probiotics is that you easily can adjust the amount you take.  Look for liquid probiotics in the refrigerated section of the supplement aisle. 

In addition to adding probiotic foods or supplements into your diet, another important action to improve your gut microbiome is to limit your sugar intake.  Yeast feeds on sugar and when your diet has too much sugar, your gut microbiome may be out of balance with too much yeast.  Read labels to find hidden sugars in items such as salad dressings, soups, ketchup and even crackers!  Choose low sugar or no sugar options of all processed foods, when available.  Even better, avoid processed foods and cook from scratch, whenever you can.  This simple action can eliminate not only hidden sugars, but also other chemical ingredients that can be harmful to our microbiota.

I hope you find these tips helpful and easy to implement.  Your gut will thank you and your physical and mental health will show it!

Have questions about this topic?  Feel free to reach out to me at jill@decide2thrive.org.

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