This is a fantastic question which I believe will be at the forefront of Probiotic research and studies very soon. There is a well-known relationship between physical stress and mental stress. This relationship is bidirectional meaning one influences the other. There are many stories about patients who suffer from physical illnesses with chronic pain or discomfort developing mental stress leading to for example Anxiety, Depression, Insomnia and Mood Disorders. The impact on quality of life is palpable.
On the other hand, patients who suffer from mental stress such as loneliness, grievances, anger and fear along with those who suffer true Psychiatric diagnoses can experience what is called somatization where symptoms and conditions in the physical body are a result of stressors in the mind.
Stress as a whole be it Physical or Mental impact the Immune System. Altered Immune System function can make people susceptible to diseases linked to Infections and Immune Mediated Disorders.
Research has shown that stress can impact the gut bacterial populations which in turn affect immune system function. Classical examples of this are seen in IBD or Inflammatory Bowel Disease such as Ulcerative Colitis/Crohn’s Disease which can worsen or even unmask during periods of unusual stress.
Asthma, another example can worsen during stress challenge.
Recall in the previous blog relating gut and brain. Studies have also found that gut bacteria may play a role in enhancing immune function when in good balance. When you are sick, the body feels bad and the mind seems to know that the body needs to recover. Instinctively the mind calms and focuses on the needs of the body by allowing rest leading to recovery as the Immune System does its work and the convalescence can be reached. Ever notice the sense of energy you experience when your mind becomes acutely aware of your body “turning the corner” after a bad illness such as the Flu?
This is not by accident, the Brain/Body relationship is real as is the impact of the gut microbiome on the interrelated physiology of our being.
Now, lets dive deeper into this on a more daily event scale. I believe there is a relationship between gut microbiota balance and Mental wellbeing. I want to talk about Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). IBS is a Syndrome which means the condition is not a disease per se but a complex of symptoms that lead to decreased quality of life. To categorize, there are 3 types of IBS: IBS – Diarrheal type, IBS – Constipated type and IBS – Mixed Diarrheal and Constipated types. Imagine, having either one of these types of problems being a mainstay in your daily life. Imagine or recall if you are a sufferer how much of your daily activities are “designed around” your condition be it knowing where “the cleanest bathrooms are” or where the “closest bathrooms are”!
How about the impact of body image due to bloating and gaseous sensations or audible sounds that embarrassed you to the point of avoiding certain events or activities, this all impacts quality of life.
Imagine always being aware of your stomach and bowel function? Most people don’t think about his on a recurrent basis but those with IBS seem to incorporate those concerns and awarenesses every day.
This condition is starting to sound like a very stressful condition now isn’t it?
It seems intuitive that people with IBS will have varying degrees of Mental stress daily due to the “state of their gut”! Quality of life becomes an issue where some people accept it and incorporate the symptoms as a standard part of their lives and adapt whereas others cannot either due to more severe symptoms or just coping mechanism differences and become obsessed about their conditions leading to multiple Doctor visits and unfortunately many suboptimal treatments. Repetitive treatment failures lead to a defeated spirit and this in some can lead to Mental stress manifested by Anxiety and/or Depression.
I have a huge question: What if the routine of failure IBS patients experience can be broken by a change in the gut microbiota?
I have seen dramatic results in treating patients with IBS by the use of probiotics. One of the main reasons I designed Ancoraflor-Daily Health was with the IBS patient in mind. Approximately 50% of patients seen by a Physician daily has IBS of some sort, and these patients are on a spectrum from minimally symptomatic to highly symptomatic. These patients often have coped with their symptoms and have no idea how good they could feel if they were relieved of the IBS symptoms they have dealt with. I believe everyone benefits from a properly balanced microbiome and recommend probiotics for everyone however when it comes to the people with IBS, I am certain that probiotics are an absolute benefit to symptom improvement and better quality of life for those who improve their gut microbiome balance.
As a Gastroenterologist I too have prescribed what I refer to as “band aid” treatments for IBS. These treatments I refer to as “symptom chasers”. Drugs that slow down the contractions of the gut in IBS – Diarrhea, stool bulkers and drugs that keep water in the Colon in IBS – Constipated patients and various cocktails of medications for IBS – mixed type of IBS which is the most challenging to treat. Most of these treatments work for awhile not great and sometimes lead to opposite symptoms from those you were trying to treat!
The time it takes and the variables impacting outcome such as diet, life stressors and other medications make treatment success an elusive target. I am a realist and give realistic goals to my IBS patients of shooting for 85% improvement as a target, unfortunately that target is a moving one.
All this leads to what I mentioned earlier, a sense of helplessness and despair. I also want to mention that some of the newer medications may not even be accessible due to excessive cost and poor prescription insurance coverage.
I have been recommending probiotics for over 15 years and have seen first hand the benefits. I too use probiotics with success. Over the years I was using probiotics as an additional component of my treatment plan, however one day I decided to look at probiotics as a primary component of treatment and use other modalities such as those mentioned above as additional components. Ancoraflor-Daily Healths unique blend has benefited most everyone who has taken it and now patients symptoms are so minimized that “traditional approach medications” are used selectively to fine tune patients managements.
This approach of “Better Balance. Better Health” rings true and I believe that this better balance leads to better quality of life and decreased mental stress. Science has proven the relationship between mental stress, physical stress and the function of the Immune System. Increased stress can alter the function of our Immune System and make us more susceptible to infections, disease and conditions we otherwise would be protected from if our Immune function wasn’t compromised. Increased stress impacts our Endocrine System which can impact our bodies in ways such as Hypertension, Peptic Ulcer Disease, Diabetes and other illnesses. Inflammatory conditions like Arthritis and Colitis can be impacted.
I look at probiotics as a part of the team for wellbeing. They are not the end all but a cog in the wheel.
My approach is to prevent symptoms rather than chase them and remember that the body is an intertwined entity of checks and balances which needs to be optimized in many ways.
I believe that the role a balanced microbiome plays will become more and more clear as research continues to reveal the complex relationships we have discussed here.