Were you aware that you actually have a second brain?
We all know about the first brain – it resides safely tucked away in our cranial and has many mysterious functions involved in keeping our bodies operating correctly. The second brain is in a different location altogether: it resides along our digestive tract, a delicate network of nerves that regulates each aspect of the process through which our body absorbs the vitamins and nutrients necessary for our survival. This brain contains up to 100 million neurons, more than both the spinal cord and the other parts of your nervous system.
Your second brain is inhabited by something else: billions of bacteria that are responsible for your digestion. These little organisms help you break down, produce, and absorb different nutrients, and also help regulate your immune system. It is possible to help your good bacteria out periodically, with the consumption of foods or supplements containing probiotics.
These types of supplements are of particular importance for people who experience high levels of stress. Your second brain is particularly susceptible to stress-induced reactions. Have you ever noticed that your stomach flutters or feels cramped when you are nervous or upset? This is due to stress reactions of those sensitive nerves, and hormones, which can have an adverse reaction on the flora in your gut. In some cases, you may be tempted to turn to medication or homeopathic remedies in order to soothe your stressed stomach.
You Are What You Eat
Not only do we have gut reactions to being stressed, but studies show that the road goes both ways: what you eat can impact your stress levels. If you consume probiotics, you may be less likely to experience anxiety and your body may have an easier time regulating corticosterone, which is a hormone that is induced by stress.
Furthermore, did you know that more serotonin is found in your gut than in your brain? It actually contains 95% of your body’s supply. Serotonin is a material in your body that is used to regulate your mood; often, antidepressants target raising serotonin levels in the brain versus the stomach. But what if we fed ourselves better, including foods and supplements that nurture the good flora in our gut? Would we get more benefits to help us overcome stress and bad moods?
Consider these studies:
- In France, anxious people received a daily supplement of probiotics for 30 days. These individuals had reduced depression and anger and improved in their problem-solving capacities at the end of the trial period.
- In Ireland, mice that were given probiotic supplements for a few weeks were then put in stress-inducing situations, including mazes. The mice had reduced levels of cortisol and behaved in a manner that was far less stressed than their non-probiotic fed counterparts.
- Another study led by Toronto researcher Dr. Philip Sherman revealed that rats who received probiotics prior to stressful activities successfully warded off harmful bacteria on their intestinal walls, and that their intestinal barriers remained intact to prevent harmful bacteria from leaking into their bodies.
It appears, then, that not only can stress affect our stomachs, but what we put in our stomachs can impact our stress levels. Have you ever noticed stress to be linked to your eating habits? Which foods do you turn to when stressed out? Which foods seem to reduce your stress levels the most? Share with us in the comments.
How to Eat to Reduce Stress
One way to ensure that you are getting the full mood-enhancing benefits of probiotics is by taking a daily supplement. Three particular strains have popped up in favorable studies showing these benefits: Bifidobacterium bifidum, Bifidobacterium longum, and Lactobacillus acidophilus. If you carefully read labels for any health products that you buy, you should be able to recognize these among the live cultures present. More recent studies have shown numerous other scientifically studied strains of beneficial bacteria to be of help. A good rule of thumb is to take a probiotic with billions of colony forming units and multiple strains as the various strains colonize in different parts of the digestive tract and have different benefits with regards to our mental, digestive and immune health.
Be sure to focus on obtaining products that are from reputable companies, like those found with Better Living. Off-brand products may not contain the levels of active cultures claimed on the packaging, and may include additives that do not come from natural sources.
You can also get stress-busting probiotics from health food sources. Yogurt is among the most common foods you can find, and may even be safe for people who suffer from lactose intolerance. Some yogurts are advertised to be geared toward digestive health, though you should look for reputable brands that have active, live cultures listed on the packaging and are not low fat or flavored.
Another source of probiotic benefits is sauerkraut. If you get the unpasteurized type, it will contain plenty of helpful bacteria, such as lactobacillus, pediococcus, and leuconostoc. Some prefer the Korean version of this healthy food, which is known as kimchi. Both contain probiotic properties, as well as various nutrients and vitamins that are healthy for your body, particularly when fighting off infections.
While yogurt is the most popular dairy product containing probiotics, soft cheese is an unsung hero. The lactobacillus varieties of bacteria in cheeses like Gouda are a hearty strain, strong enough to withstand the trip through your digestive system and remain intact. Cheese also helps boost your immune system, letting you ward off stress-causing illnesses that could inhibit your productivity and work performance.
If you shy away from dairy, you might also want to pick up some sourdough bread from your local health food store. This type of bread contains lactobacilli, which is beneficial for your overall digestive health.
We can help you find the right probiotic products for your needs, whether you want whole food solutions or supplements. We understand the need to stay healthy while juggling a busy work and family schedule, which is why our products are available to help busy people. Contact us today with any questions you have about probiotic products or other nutritional supplements that could benefit you.