Happy Gut Series #2: It's All Connected

Sometimes referred to as the “second brain” (and for good reason), our microbiome, especially our gut bacteria, can have far reaching implications on our metabolism, hormone balance, mental health, disease risk, and even our food cravings.

In this part of the “Happy Gut Series”, we will build on the basics we previously discussed and move into a little more detail about how this once unsuspecting organ and it’s tiny inhabitants are transforming the way we think about personal health. Oh, and that’s a full baby belly pictured so don’t be alarmed about the gloriously robust shape…

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First of all, let’s take a look at the three most important and impactful of these friendly bacteria. Some of these may sound familiar due to recent popularity and their use in many probiotic supplements and products. 

  • Lactobacillus acidophilus: This is by far the most popular strain of bacteria due to its effective ability to repopulate the gut with good bacteria after a course of antibiotics. It also has antibacterial properties which makes it useful in replacing harmful bacteria, treating yeast infections, and producing vitamin K and B vitamins.
  • Bifidobacterium bifidum: Although these are found in more abundance in infants as their first bacteria buddy, this bacteria helps in the creation of B vitamins, and stopping the growth of harmful bacteria like salmonella. 
  • Streptococcus faecium: This strain of bacteria is especially important to supplement with after a bout of diarrhea and it also helps in the digestion of food by producing certain enzymes.

As you can see these bacteria by themselves help in digestion, production of specific vitamins and enzymes, repopulation of good bacteria, and even fighting harmful strains of bacteria. When these strains (and other friendly bacteria) are not in full force in our gut and instead there are a greater proportion of the unfriendly bacteria occupying our bodies, a negative ripple effect can be seen throughout our body. Here is a brief break down of the different ways an unbalanced gut (“dysbiosis”) can increase unease throughout our system:

  • Mental health: When we eat foods that are hard for our digestive system to process (sensitive to or overly processed) and encourage harmful bacteria growth in our bodies, our central nervous system is triggered to cause changes in mood, memory, and mental clarity. Plus about 90% of the serotonin (happy hormone) in our body is made in the digestive tract and affected by our gut bacteria, so compromised production of this can lead to depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems.
  • Metabolism: Study after study has shown a link between certain gut bacteria populations and metabolic determinants. Specifically, evidence is pointing to their role in how fat is stored in our bodies, blood sugar balance, and how we react to hormones that signal feelings of fullness or hunger.
  • Hormone balance: Due to the rapidly expanding body of research focused on the human microbiome, it is now being considered an endocrine gland all its own meaning it aids in the production of hormones as well as hormonal balance. 
  • Disease risk: When our gut ecosystem is diverse and plentiful with good bacteria, short chain fatty acids are produced as a by product of food break down and absorbed within our system. These fatty acids are beneficial body wide but especially in decreasing inflammation and therefore reducing the risk of diseases such heart disease, cancer, autoimmune diseases, and obesity. 

Now that we’ve dug in a little more about ways a happy gut can have effects all over our body, the next part of the “Happy Gut Series" will focus on tangible ways to actually make it happy with a focus on prebiotic foods. 

Alex McKee