Did you know that your gut is literally teeming with billions of bacteria? Don’t cringe germaphobes, this is a good thing! These bacteria in large part determine the quality of your physical health. But what you may not know is that research has shown they also play a role in the state of your mental health and even your behavior. When the bacteria in your digestive system is out of balance, fabulous health and mental well being may be impossible to maintain. One common cause of poor gut health is antibiotic use.
Antibiotics are amazing but they are also a mixed blessing. They certainly have saved thousands of lives and when you really need them they are a Godsend. But like anything in life they have a downside. “Antibiotic” literally means “against life”. The fact is antibiotics don’t just kill the “bad” bacteria that may be causing your illness, they also kill the “good” bacteria that shore up your immune system and help you digest and process food and eliminate waste. Unfortunately after a course of antibiotics the natural balance between beneficial and pathogenic (disease causing) bacteria is toppled. Sometimes the ‘bad’ bacteria repopulate the gut before the beneficial bacteria can. This can lead to yeast infections, digestive upset, constipation, bloating, IBS, anxiety, other mental upset and even more illness down the line. Ideally after a course of antibiotics we want to restore the beneficial bacteria before the “bad” or pathogenic bacteria creates a foothold. So how do we do that? Here are some tips:
While Recovering Avoid Sugar and Other Simple Carbohydrates:
This is a good rule in general but is especially important during recovery from illness and after a course of antibiotics when the scales between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria can be tipped either way. Pathogenic bacteria love sugar. By not eating sugar and simple carbs we basically starve the bad bacteria, which is exactly what we want. The goal is to create an environment where the bad bacteria can not thrive and the the health promoting beneficial bacteria can. So how do we populate the gut with good bacteria?
Probiotics, Probiotics, Probiotics…
Probiotic literally means “for life”. Probiotics are the “good” bacteria that reside in the gut. After taking antibiotics we want to replenish and restore these healthy bacteria and create an environment where they can do their work. There are many ways to get your probiotics. The cheapest and definitely one of the best ways is by eating fermented vegetables.
The fact is every culture of people on our planet ate some form of fermented and/or cultured foods (yogurt, kefir, kimchi, pickles, sauerkraut etc…) until the industrial food revolution. When this ceased to be the norm human gut health took a dive.
Cultured and fermented foods are loaded with the good bacteria essential for good digestion, elimination and a strong immune system, not to mention mental well being (yes, I will be getting to the connection below). Two ounces of sauerkraut has more probiotics than a bottle of 100 count probiotic capsules!
But if fermented veggies just aren’t something you are open to there are plenty of other options! You can take probiotic capsules, drink kefir, Kombucha or ‘bio k’ (expensive but effective), eat pickles, or high quality yogurt (no sugar!) and even add apple cider vinegar to your salad dressing. There are plenty of choices for every budget and they are available at your nearest health food store.
If you have never taken probiotics, it is wise to start slow. For instance if you choose to try fermented vegetables start with a tablespoon a day and work your way up. (For more information about probiotics, how to start and DIY recipes see bottom of this post).
Eat Real Food, In Small Portions and Sip That Bone Broth!
Eat real food. Sounds simple enough right? But if you are not sure what this means let me explain. Real food does not have artificial anything…no artificial colors, flavors additives etc. When you are sick, recovering from injury, surgery or whatever caused you to need antibiotics in the first place, your body is working plenty hard to get better, make it easier for your body to heal by reducing the workload of the liver. If it doesn’t have to filter out poisons it can do it’s job more effectively. Eating nutrient dense, easy to digest, real food in small portions allows the body to expend it’s energy to heal instead of using that energy to digest food. Which brings me to bone broth! Homemade bone broth (my recipe) is easy to digest, mineral rich, hydrating, and contains belly healing gelatin and collagen. Sipping it throughout the day is always a good practice but when recovering from illness and antibiotic use it is especially beneficial. Bone broth is known for ‘healing and sealing’ the gut. It is great for the skin too!
So what does all this have to do with mental health?
This is where this subject gets absolutely fascinating! For the first time, researchers at McMaster University have conclusive evidence that bacteria residing in the gut influence brain chemistry and behavior. Doctors and scientists have known for centuries that the brain and the gut are connected. For example, when someone is anxious they may get diarrhea, or when someone receives very bad news they may become nauseous. But what researchers have learned in recent decades is that it’s not a one way street! The brain doesn’t just send messages to the belly. Microbes in the gut also send messages to the brain! When the gut microbiome is healthy, balanced and robust the brain receives messages that ‘all is well’. But when the balance is upset and pathogenic bacteria overtake the beneficial bacteria within the gut, the brain receives inaccurate or ‘false’ messages. Messages that there is reason for alarm (anxiety), cause to be sad (depression) and perhaps even messages to behave in a certain manner like washing your hands compulsively (OCD). What research is just beginning to bring to light is that by tweaking the microbes in the gut and restoring balance, mental health can improve and so can compulsive behaviors! (links below).
So as you can see, restoring balance to the digestive system after a course of antibiotics is essential not just for physical health but mental as well. I find this new information thrilling! Until now people have endured anxiety and depression (and worse) believing their only recourse was to live with it or take medications with many unpleasant side effects. I know from personal experience diet changes and probiotics can eliminate anxiety. My daughter suffered from eczema and anxiety for 26 years. In a matter of a few months I watched her transform and heal simply by altering her diet and adding probiotics. Today is her 27th birthday and she is well, healthy, has no eczema or anxiety and for the first time in many years has a positive outlook on life! (You can read her story below.)
I encourage you to ‘pin’ this article. Chances are you are not sick, injured or planning a surgery now. But when you are you will want this information and even if you are not healing the advice given above is good anytime! As always I hope I helped, taught you something you didn’t know before and didn’t overwhelm you. Dealing with health issues can be confusing and it takes time to gather information and find what works best with your routine and lifestyle. Have a great day my friends! ~ Linda Spiker
Fabulous Resources and Links You Simply Must Read!
Gut Feelings: The Future of Psychiatry May be in Your Stomach
The Study: Anxiety and Your Gut
Study Shows Anxiety May be in Your Gut
How My Daughter Became Eczema and Anxiety Free after 26 Years!
Four Steps to Heal Leaky Gut and Autoimmune Disease
Autism and the Brain Gut Connection
GAPS: Gut and Psychology Syndrome~ The book that started it all! Neurosurgeon Martina McBride unraveled the brain/gut connection when she had an autistic son. Since then she has helped thousands and has become a sought after speaker on healing.
How to Start on Probiotics
And for you DIYers:
“Make Your Own Kombucha” from Live Simply
Homemade Yogurt in a Crock Pot from Vintage Kids Modern World
Homemade Yogurt from Shalom Mama
Homemade Kefir from Richly Rooted
Milk Kefir: What it is And How to Make It from We Got Real
Fermented Vegetables from Divine Health from The Inside Out
Immune Boosting Smoothie with Probiotics from Raising Generation Nourished
Probiotic Raspberry Smoothie from Recipes to Nourish
Homemade Marshmallows with Probiotics from Homegrown and Healthy
MAY I PLEASE ASK A LITTLE FAVOR?
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