Your gut flora, your diet, and the strength of your intestinal lining determine the health of your gut. Using antibiotics too often disrupt your gut bacteria. When you’re sick, antibiotics help clear out the bad bacteria, but in the process they wipe out the good bugs too. Some studies have shown that antibiotics can permanently alter intestinal flora.
Keeping your gut in balance is a delicate dance, and there’s a lot that can tilt it in the wrong direction. As an adult, the health of your gut microbiome shifts when you:
- Eat processed foods
- Get sick
- Drink alcohol or take drugs
- Experience stress
- Lose or gain weight
- Get older
- Travel overseas or to other new environments
Stress, mood, and the gut — what’s the connection?
Have you ever felt nauseous when you’ve been worried about something? Or had “butterflies” in your stomach when nervous? The brain sends signals to the gut that produces these physical symptoms.
Scientists are discovering that it goes the other way too — when your gut is inflamed or imbalanced, it sends a signal to your brain. You then feel stressed or worried or depressed. It turns out that your gut and your brain are constantly talking to one another.
This back-and-forth communication is known as the gut-brain axis, and occurs primarily along an information superhighway called the vagus nerve. A strong vagus nerve improves the communication between your gut and your brain, so it’s vital that you keep it in working order.
Stress is bad news for the brain-gut axis. Stress signals trigger the release of neurotransmitters and proinflammatory cytokines (molecules that contribute to inflammation and disease), which affect the gut in all kinds of ways. Stress can cause:
Intestinal dysmotility (when the muscles and nerves of the digestive system don’t work properly)
Holes in the intestine, allowing toxins, bacteria, and food particles to escape and enter your bloodstream
An imbalance in your gut bacteria
Decreased blood flow and oxygenation to the gastrointestinal (GI) tract
This digestive damage can develop into serious GI disorders including inflammatory bowel disease (IBS), peptic ulcers, and food allergies.
You’ve just come off a round of antibiotics, and at the same time you’ve been reaching for sugary foods a little too often. You notice you’re feeling more blah than usual and a bit low. That’s probably no coincidence, thanks again to the gut-brain axis.
A groundswell of research in recent years points to a strong link between what’s going on in your gut and various mood and behavioral disorders including depression, autism, and even neurodegenerative diseases. Stomach irritations and gut imbalances send signals to the brain via the central nervous system (CEN), triggering changes in your mood.