Healthy bacteria living in your gut perform many important functions in the body, such as aiding the immune system, producing the feel-good brain chemical serotonin, and disposing foreign toxins and substances, among other things.
Without getting in to too many details – your gastrointestinal tract is lined with microbes, collectively referred to as the microbiome, which includes bacteria, fungi, and even viruses. Feeding the good bacteria in our microbiome can help us to avoid the classic symptoms of an imbalanced microbiome which includes diarrhea, constipation, bloating, nausea, and heartburn. In addition to these GI issues, diseases affecting the immune system, known as autoimmune diseases, may also be caused by an unhealthy gut.
There is also A LOT of research being done right now on the gut-brain connection. Roughly 80 to 90% of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects mood, social behavior, sleep, appetite, memory, and even libido, is produced in the gut. Thus, having a healthy gut has been seen to directly positively affect symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other neurological issues. From my personal experience over the past several years, I’ve really noticed the benefits in this area.
Eating right is the first step in improving your microbiome. Swapping out processed foods, breads, and pastas for more plants, fruits, nuts, and seeds is a good start. I would also consider incorporating more fermented foods into your diet which naturally contain probiotics, or healthy bacteria. I eat one of the ‘four K’s’ as I like to call them on a daily basis: kombucha, kefir, kimchi, and (sauer)kraut. Filling up on prebiotic foods that feed the good bacteria is another option – try pistachios, bananas, garlic, and onions. I personally haven’t tested any pre- or probiotic supplements but I know there are a lot of good ones available if real food sources aren’t an option for you.