How the Microbiome Can Make You Happy
GIVE YOURSELF 38 TRILLION REASONS TO SMILE
You are composed of skin, cells, bones, blood, muscles, eyelashes, smiles, dreams, hopes, tears, hormones, and 38 trillion bacterial microorganisms. And if you haven’t already, it’s time to get intimate with these little bits that make up your microbiome—because they can hold the keys to radiant health and ultimate happiness.
In the search for authenticity, purpose, and joy, food is your number-one ally. And if food is broadcasting the information, the bacteria in your gut are the first messengers to spread the word. Why? In addition to influencing your digestion, immunity, energy levels, hormone balance, metabolism, circadian rhythm, and thousands of other functions and reactions throughout the body, your gut is intrinsically linked to your brain, care of the vagus nerve. This long bundle of fibers connects your brain to virtually all of your internal organs and allows it to communicate with your enteric nervous system (ENS), which is the control center of the gastrointestinal or GI tract.
You might think your mind is sending all the signals, but interestingly, it’s a two-way street—and growing research shows that the gut is doing plenty of talking. According to Parsley Health physician, Dr. Gabriella Safdieh, the microbes in your gut speak to your brain by regulating the production of signaling molecules, hormones and neurotransmitters, including serotonin. Serotonin is associated with happiness, as well as happiness-adjacent patterns like sleep and sex drive. It is reported that up to 95% of serotonin is in the gut microbiome, meaning happiness is holding space right in your solar plexus.
If happiness starts in the belly, then how do you eat your way to joy?
- Flood your body with plant fiber
Your gut bacteria—specifically, the friendly ones that support happiness—thrive off of insoluble fiber, like the kind found in leafy greens (but also plenty of other plant foods). Along with aiding digestion, research has found that particular bacterial strains produce specific neurotransmitters, like the aforementioned serotonin, as well as feel-good dopamine, and calming GABA.
Chasing happiness through junk food laced with sugar and low-quality fats isn’t just ineffective; it actually backfires. These dehydrating, inflammatory, arguably toxic foods can lead to yeast overgrowth, gut dysbiosis and a condition called leaky gut, which has been connected with many mood disorders such as ADHD, chronic fatigue, anxiety, and depression.
Meanwhile, a startling 97% of Americans are deficient in fiber. But by eating a varied, colorful, plant-rich diet, you can ensure you’re providing your gut bacteria the nourishment they need to keep your body healthy and your spirits high—one and the same, as it turns out. Just like planet Earth, the greater variety in species of fauna, the heartier the ecosystem thrives. It blossoms with fervor and is more resilient. Our bodies follow suit.
- Find your perfect probiotic
A healthy gut is paramount to happiness. To double down on the effects of a plant-rich diet, Dr. Safdieh recommends a powerful probiotic. Make sure to do your research and find one that is high-quality, not DOA, with a high number of CFUs (somewhere in the 20-50+ billion range) and a number of diverse strains.
-lactic acid bacilli (e.g. Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium)
-a nonpathogenic strain of Escherichia coli (e.g., E.coli Nissle)
These particular strains reduce inflammation in the body, support the building of the intestinal wall, create regularity in digestion and de-bloat, as well as support mitochondria health. Specifically, bacteria like Bacillus, Streptococcus and Bifido, help produce dopamine, serotonin, and GABA. These neurotransmitters are your gateways to the mood-boost we all crave. In addition to a powerhouse probiotic, Safdieh advises to include prebiotic fiber, which will help proliferate the good bacteria, to begin with. Think of the probiotics as fish, and the prebiotics as fish food. The perfect trifecta of gut health supplements would also include digestive enzymes, which break down macronutrients and help you better absorb your meals. P.S. This is our ultimate secret weapon for nixing bloat.
Our complex ecosystem, when nourished properly, hums like an efficient machine. When it’s all in sync, your skin appears lit from within, your mood is elevated and balanced, you’re satisfied and energized by your meals, and your trips to the bathroom are drama free. And while diet and a proper gut health regimen lay the foundation for a joy that reverberates beyond a genuine smile, we can’t neglect the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), also known as the rest-and-digest system. Stimulating the PNS by meditation and deep, diaphragm breathing—the kind where you let your belly hang over your jeans...(stay with us, it feels great). This is a less-talked-about ingredient to inner peace. And when you're at peace, you feel happy.
Find three moments in your day to take 5-10 expansive belly breaths (ideally before meals) and find the present moment. Through the act of focused inhale, exhales, you will foster a more soothing digestive experience, absorbing your nutrients, and creating flow within the body. This kind of abdominal breathing is the natural breath technique of newborn babies or when we’re sleeping; deeper breaths oxygenate the blood, release muscle tension, and stimulate hormone production. From an emotional standpoint, connecting to a more conscious breath opens you up to listen to your intuition.
The study of the human microbiome and its far-reaching effects is intimidatingly vast and ongoing. But if there’s one thing we want you to take away from all this, it’s that you are in control. When you unlock the secrets of your gut, you are empowered to mine happiness from within. The rewards you’ll reap are a thriving mind, a physical body in harmony, a soaring spirit…and no bloat, to boot.
Happiness can seem elusive, in this today's world of overstimulation and hyper-connectedness, but in truth, it’s right there in your third chakra, a glowing yellow ball of light between your ribcage and your belly button. The joy is already at the center of you.