The Pit In Your Stomach is Actually Your Second Brain

Studies indicate that those with healthy and diverse gut microbes are less likely to suffer from either malady. And many of us who grew up in too–clean environments, frequently took antibiotics, and ate junk food have a decidedly unhealthy microbiome. So changing one’s diet could well benefit far more than your waistline.

If you’ve seen the term “probiotics” recently, this is why. Probiotics are foods that nourish and promote your biome. They’re foods cultured with the strains of healthy bacteria. Yogurt is a perfect example of a cultured food. Unfortunately, many grocery store yogurts are little more than a thickened, sweetened milk product. But yogurt that lists strains such as Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium lactis actually contain the healthy bacteria your gut needs. “Prebiotic” foods, meanwhile, support a healthy gut ecosystem in which your bacteria can thrive. Together, prebiotic and probiotic food help keep your second brain full of the vibrant bacterial community it needs to function.

How exactly these gut-healthy foods help manage depression is not yet totally clear. The science on the gut-brain connection is still young, especially as it relates to our mood. But studies continue to find promising correlations. There is evidence that a healthy gut can curb inflammation and cortisol levels, lower your reaction to stress, improve memory, and even reduce neuroticism and social anxiety. Many of these preliminary studies were conducted on mice, but there’s little risk to conducting your own human test at home. Incorporate more gut-healthy foods into your diet like yogurt, sauerkraut, and dark chocolate, and see how you feel.

Yes, it’s unlikely that simply taking a sip of kombucha the next time you feel anxious will calm you much. And you can’t expect to replace your SSRIs with prebiotic pickles. As with most of medicine, the gut-brain connection is a complex, varied, and ever-changing system for which no one definition of “healthy” will do. Your gut is, after all, as unique as you are. But these emerging insights about our gut-brain connection make us reframe the way we think about–and treat–our bodies and minds. If a cupful of yogurt for breakfast can make the workplace more bearable, then it’s time to go grocery shopping.