By David Blyweiss, M.D., Advanced Natural Wellness
October 28, 2015
- Feeling stressed?
- Don’t reach for that “comfort food” just yet
- Here’s what your gut has to say about it
If stress has you off your game, you probably already know that you should be getting plenty of exercise and sleep. Deep breathing exercises and meditation are helpful, too.
But there’s something I find many people do when they’re over-stressed…and it may be doing more harm than good.
They reach for comfort food.
Some patients go for foods that are processed, sugared and salted. Others seek comfort in foods loaded with unhealthy fats.
Well, these foods might make you feel better in the short-term. But in the long run they can increase your levels of stress. That’s because these foods can throw your entire brain signaling process out of whack.
It’s due to a phenomenon called the “microbiota gut-brain axis.”
Basically, it’s the ability your gut bacteria have to activate signals – like stress, anxiety and apprehension – to your brain.
Here’s how it works…
There are certain foods that bolster positive gut bacteria – the kind that will keep your brain feeling happy and stress-free. On the other hand, most of the foods you probably eat for comfort will destroy that delicate balance.
For example, your gut bacteria manufacture about 90 percent of your body’s supply of serotonin.
You’ve probably heard of this brain chemical before. Low levels of it are associated with stress, anxiety, depression and fatigue. Drugs like Lexapro, Zoloft, Prozac and Celexa are often prescribed to boost serotonin levels. But why resort to using them when your gut can do it all by itself?
Your gut bacteria also release gamma amino butyric acid – or GABA for short. In fact, lactobacillus is especially good for releasing immense quantities of it.
GABA acts as a natural relaxant to reduce excitability and keep things on even keel. It works by muffling neuronal activity in the brain and soothing frazzled nerve cells. This is the same type of action seen in anti-anxiety drugs, like Valium and Xanax.
So it’s a good idea to avoid reaching for “comfort” foods. It’s likely they’ll send your stress levels skyrocketing even further.
Instead, try reaching for foods that will encourage healthy gut bacteria and actually calm your brain.
Now, one of my favorite feel-good treats is a cup of green tea with a small bit of dark chocolate. Both are rich in polyphenols that stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria like lactobacillus.
As a special bonus, an ingredient in tea called theanine adds an extra boost to GABA levels. It has a profound effect on the release of serotonin, too. This can go a long way when it comes to comforting your frayed nerves.
Drink as much tea as you want, but keep your chocolate intake down to 3.5 ounces or less of a high quality dark chocolate each week. Look for a dark chocolate that is at least 70 percent cacao for the biggest benefit.
Fermented foods that use lactobacillus are good for your gut and naturally increase GABA production.
Chief on the list is a Korean dish known as Kimchi. This is a spicy concoction made using fermented vegetables like cabbage, radishes and hot peppers. I also like kombucha, a fermented tea made by adding bacteria and yeast to tea and sugar.
Other fermented foods that can have a positive effect on your gut microbiota include miso, natto, kefir, tempeh and sauerkraut.
I also suggest eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables.
These plant-based foods are associated with a highly diverse microbiota. The more variety you include, the healthier your gut will be…and the happier your brain will be.
Last but not least, supplement with a probiotic. A good formula replenishes healthy bacteria in your gut. This, in turn can decrease anxiety, diminish perceptions of stress and improve your mental outlook.
Look for a formula that contains lactobacillus, bifidobacteria and other strains of healthy bacteria. The higher the colony count, and the more live strains involved, the better off you’ll be. Just make sure to take it daily.