Yogurt for your mood....your gut may be influencing how you feel!





Apparently vanilla yogurt may help improve your mood. Researchers looking at how mood affects your food choices, and how your food choices influence your mood, gave participants various yogurts. Apparently, the low fat vanilla yogurt performed the best for improving mood. But what researchers noticed is that all yogurts had a positive effect on mood.

What caused this improvement in mood? Was it the sensory experience…..or possibly the perception of something delicious? Or maybe it was the influence of the food’s nutrients on the body? Or maybe it was the beneficial bacteria…….the probiotics in the food that had a positive effect on mood.

Interestingly there seems to be strong evidence in the psychology world to show that mood and emotions can direct food choice. For instance, when you feel happy you may crave a certain food or when you are feeling down you may always run for that same delicious treat in the cabinet. But what about how the food you eat affects your mood? To answer that we will turn to the “gut-brain connection” and the understanding of the digestive system as the “second brain.”

Who is in charge: your mood or the gut bacteria?

It gets real interesting when we start to look at the physiology and anatomy of your digestive system and your mood. The digestive tract creates and releases in upwards of 90% of the body’s serotonin, and close to 50% of the body’s dopamine. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter and is one the primary feel good hormones in the body. It acts in the nervous system supporting various functions including: appetite and digestion, sleep, memory and sexual desire; as well as well-being, happiness and social behavior.

SSRI’s are the most commonly prescribed medications to improve your mood. These prevent the breakdown of serotonin, helping to keep levels elevated and you in a “better state” mentally. While not addressing the underlying cause of why you have mood issues, SSRI’s can help to relieve some of the heaviness that comes with mood fluctuations.

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Serotonin is made from tryptophan (an amino acid from the diet) and helps create melatonin, the sleep hormone. Serotonin is one of the chief hormones connecting the gut with the brain or better yet the gut with activity in the nervous system. Now remember the nervous system exists all over the body, and includes the brain, but also includes the nervous system in the gut itself and the body at large. This connection is known as the ‘gut brain connection.’ The gut brain connection is all about how the function of your digestive system will ultimately affect your brain & nervous system, and ultimately how you feel (aka your mood).

The digestive system is sometimes referred to as the ‘second brain.’ It has it’s own nervous system (the enteric nervous system) and when cut off from the central nervous system, it can still function on it’s own (though not as great, as there are major channels of communication between the brain and the gut). This is pretty brilliant on the part of the body. And yet leaves so much still to be answered about how the health of the digestive system affects all other areas of the body.

My Gut Made Me Do It

Research is uncovering and learning that the microbiome, the living probiotics inside your digestive system, on your skin and mucous membranes (sinuses, vagina, etc), may do more than just “hang out.”According to newer research on the microbiome, communication by the digestive system to the rest of the body, may largely be influenced by the type of micro-organisms living in your digestive system.

There are 10X as many micro-organisms living in you & on you as your own cells!! AND depending on what type of bacteria, yeast, and viruses live inside your digestive tract, you can experience both negative or positive health implications. In fact, we are now understanding that probiotics have numerous ways of influencing your health. The microbiome can influence your immune system, your weight (or inability to lose weight), it produces metabolites (breakdown by-products) that look just like your serotonin and dopamine which may cross the blood brain barrier influencing your mood, it may influence your predisposition to cancer, and last but definitely not least, the microbiome can affect the digestive system itself.

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A beneficial probiotic, lactobacillus helveticus, given to animals after a stress restraint test, proved better for positive behavioral adjustment than citalopram (an SSRI). There were lower stress hormones released in the body with the use of L. helveticus, and greater brain serotonin and norepinephrine (helps with focus and concentration) levels.

Micro-organisms (beneficial probiotics) produce metabolites when they feed off of specific nutrients. For instance, Bifidobacteria, one of the main inhabitants of the colon, feed off of dietary fiber creating butyric acid, a short chain fatty acid (SCFA). These SCFAs not only provide fuel/energy for the colon cells themselves, but they help to reduce inflammation in the microglia, part of the immune system.

Ok, back to yogurt, your mood and emotions.

Is it the vanilla yogurt that improves your mood or is it the probiotics? If you begin to delve into all the research on the mircobiome, you may just begin to believe it is the later.

Thus your mood may direct your food choices. But your MICROBIOME (probiotic make-up in our digestive system & body) may direct your food choices and your food choices may just influence our mood!

And lastly, if you don’t already eat fermented foods (I recommend to eat some daily), you can learn more here.

Here’s to reclaiming your health,

Dr. Maggie


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Maggie Luther
Maggie Luther
Dr. Maggie received a Naturopathic Medical Degree (ND) from Bastyr University as well as Advanced Herbal Training from Blazing Star Herbal School. From a young age Dr. Maggie has been in love with the natural world, while at the same time questioning everything having to do with making the world a healthier place. As a thought leader in the wellness field Dr Maggie knows the new frontier in medicine is better focused on health and healing rather than simply treating symptoms, natural or otherwise. Wellness is about restoring health to every organ system in the body. This strengthens the body and mind, creating a resiliency from which health can flourish. From there, daily health promoting habits allow the body and mind to be able to weather the inevitable ups and downs life throws our way. Having healed many conditions in herself, Dr. Maggie knows firsthand that healing and the maintenance of health is not about reaching a final destination, but is a journey where every day you get to learn what contributes to your health. This is the foundation of preventative medicine: when it comes to our health we need to be living a proactive life, rather than a reactive lifestyle. Only then will we see true healing occur on every level.

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