What Causes Poor Gut Health?

Image: Benjamin Combs

Image: Benjamin Combs

In this three part series, I'm exploring the connection between the gut and the brain - one of the most important connections in the human body! And one that's been seriously overlooked until recently.

For more info on the connection between your digestive system and your cognitive functions, check out my post from earlier this week: The Brain-Gut Connection.

Now, on to a deeper dive on the topic - how the heck are our collective guts in North America so very poor, to the point where they're affecting our mental health?

I'm glad you asked. Here are my four best answers.

1. Medications

The overuse of antibiotics is destroying our gut bacteria and causing dysbiosis, the imbalance of good and bad gut bacteria.

Not only do antibiotics cause depleted immunity, but since the gut is often referred to as our second brain, antibiotics are also indirectly affecting our mental health.

Other medications that can destroy gut bacteria overtime include oral contraceptives and corticosteroid medications.

2. The Leaky Gut Factor

A study that was published in the popular journal Nature (2011) revealed that antibiotics are permanently destroying beneficial bacteria within the gut, causing leaky gut, a condition that scientists now link to mental illness.

When you suffer from leaky gut, leaked particles filter into the bloodstream and trigger inflammation in the brain – resulting in brain degeneration and changes in mood. This can also greatly affect our immune response, affecting our physical health.

3. Chronic Stress

Chronically elevated cortisol from chronic stress, which the vast majority of adults in North America experience, disrupt the delicate micro biome balance in the digestive system.

This increases inflammation, possibly leading to brain disorders.

4. Excess Sugar and Refined Carbohydrates

Sugar suppresses the activity of a key growth hormone in the brain called brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).

This hormone promotes the health and maintenance of neurons in the brain, and it plays a vital role in memory and learning by triggering the growth of new connections between neurons. Sugar also feeds the “bad” bacteria in the gut, thus disrupting a healthy digestive system.

Feeling a little bummed about all of these contributing factors? Stay tuned to find out what you can do to protect your gut health - and, by extension, your mental health!