How to Nurture Your Gut Bacteria to Improve Your Mood and Health

Learn how your gut bacteria is linked to your overall mood and well-being.

Posted on | By David Perlmutter, MD, FACN, ABIHM | Comments ()
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Dr. Oz Shares The Daily Happy Gut Plan (2:08)

It is certainly humbling to take a step back and recognize that so many aspects of our physiology are actually under the control of the countless microbes that live within the intestine. The 100 trillion intestinal bacteria that make up what is called the human microbiome are involved in countless functions that have a profound effect on our health, risk for disease, longevity, mood, and even whether we are slender or fat.

Like so many, I was led to believe that bacteria were basically to be considered agents of disease. After all, the bubonic plague wiped out one-third of Europe in the 14th century, and even today people still succumb to bacterial infections. But current science is revealing another side of the story. As it turns out, the bacteria living within your intestines are not just keeping you healthy, they are keeping you alive!

We now recognize that our gut bacteria are involved in some pretty important life-sustaining functions including:

  1. Balancing the immune system.
  2. Controlling inflammation.
  3. Ridding the body of potentially damaging toxins.
  4. Making brain chemicals like serotonin, the “feel-good” transmitter.
  5. Manufacturing vitamins.
  6. Harvesting nutrients from food.
  7. Keeping the gut wall from becoming “leaky.”

No doubt most of you will recognize the importance of the first six functions listed above, but it may well be that number seven is the most important of all. The gut is lined with a layer, one-cell thick, that allows us to absorb the things we need like vitamins and nutrients while at the same time serving as a protective barrier to prevent us from absorbing potentially dangerous things like viruses and gut chemicals that can wreak havoc in our bodies. When there is breakdown of this barrier, the gut becomes “leaky.” And leaky gut is now the focus of intense scientific research as it has been associated with all kinds of problems including depression, weight gain, anxiety, type 2 diabetes, autism and even Alzheimer’s disease.

So we need to be doing everything we can to keep the gut lining healthy so it can do its job. And as it turns out, maintaining the health and function of the lining of the gut is what healthy bacteria are constantly doing. When our gut bacteria are healthy, we don’t absorb various damaging chemicals that can trigger inflammation. And to be sure, it is inflammation that underlies almost every bad disease you don’t want to get including coronary artery disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s and even depression. Yes, depression is now looked upon as being caused by inflammation, and again, this relates back to the leaky gut and therefore, the gut bacteria.

By far and away the biggest player in terms of keeping gut bacteria (and you) healthy and happy is food. Food choices have a profound influence in determining whether or not the gut is populated by health-sustaining organisms or bad bugs that will lead to metabolic problems favoring weight gain, depression and so many other issues. Refined sugar, for example, favors the growth of gut bacteria that actually extract more calories from your food. And this contributes to obesity.

What is truly remarkable is the recent discovery that artificial sweeteners like aspartame may actually be worse than sugar itself in this regard, favoring the growth of “fat bugs” in the gut. And this would certainly explain why people drinking diet drinks have a much greater risk of obesity and diabetes when compared to those who don’t. And for all these years so many people thought they were doing the right thing by choosing diet soda!

So here’s how you can rebuild and maintain a healthy population of gut bacteria that will pave the way for you to achieve your weight loss goals, improve your mood, and help give you back your vibrancy.

Article written by David Perlmutter, MD, FACN, ABIHM
Board-certified neurologist and Fellow of the American College of Nutrition Practitioner of Functional Medicine and author of...