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Coronavirus and the Gut-Brain Blues

There’s no doubt following social distancing guidelines when you and your family go outside is the smart and safe way to avoid the many health risks associated with the coronavirus (COVID-19).

But those guidelines don’t take into account the stress you’re feeling, whether you’re hunkered down for long periods of time with work-at-home responsibilities plus family responsibilities or not working at all.

We’ve talked a lot about the gut-brain axis, the connection between your brain, emotions and intestines.

If you’ve been doing a lot of stress eating lately, it could be a sign that your gut-brain axis needs some extra help to stay in balance and keep the weight off too.

Don’t fear, there’s many ways to rebalance your anxious gut-brain axis safely and gently, even in these stressful coronavirus times.

First, let’s take a look at how we got there.

Overeating processed foods

Consuming a typical Western diet full of processed, high-fat foods is a huge problem all by itself, which is often worsened by stress.

The more you eat, the more your gut produces higher levels of gastric inhibitory polypeptide (GIP), a hormone that manages the balance of energy in your body.

Last year, Baylor College of Medicine researchers discovered this extra GIP that the gut produces travels through the bloodstream to the brain where it slows down the impact of leptin, a hormone produced by fat cells that promotes a feeling of fullness or satiety, in a series of tests on mice.

(Messing up your sleep cycle affects how your body produces leptin too.)

Baylor scientists recognized the gut-brain connection when they took steps to block the production of GIP which reduces the appetites and weights of mice fed high-fat diets.

But that’s not all…

Too much real sugar

You may also recall our warning about foods sweetened with real, refined sugar that can be just as harmful to your health as those containing artificial sweeteners. It doesn’t take much of the real thing to trigger sugar cravings either.

The average American consumes at least 66 pounds of real sugar, if not more, every year, fueling the epidemic of obesity and many more health problems.

Real sugar affects the brain in a unique way by signals traveling from the gut all the way to the brain via the vagus nerve, according to a very recent study on mice appearing in Nature.

It was really hard for Columbia University researchers to ignore the connection. When given the option of being fed water with artificial sweeteners or real sugar, mice gravitated to the real thing after only two days.

What’s more, scientists found that the gut-brain connection kicks into gear in the presence of glucose (often added to processed foods as dextrose and extracted from corn starch).

Rebalancing your anxious gut-brain axis

Depending on how the coronavirus outbreak is slowing down in your area (or not), getting back to a normal routine may take a while.

With this in mind, ask yourself these four questions each day to help make sure you’re maintaining your balance, mentally and physically.

  • Are you taking breaks to exercise at home? At the very least, plan short walks outdoors (while practicing safe distancing).
  • Are you reaching out to your family and friends for support? All of us need some extra love and attention right now.
  • Are your sleep habits a real mess? Get back on a regular schedule!
  • Are your eating habits in hibernation mode? You have a golden opportunity right now to clean up your diet and lose some extra pounds.

A very safe and healthy way to relieve those gut-brain blues and boost your immune system without a drug — taking a multi-strain probiotic, like EndoMune Advanced Probiotic with 10 strains of beneficial bacteria — is one of the best choices you can make.

And, if you need some extra help to lose a few pounds, you may want to consider EndoMune Metabolic Rescue with its proven formula of Bifidobacterium lactis and the prebiotic XOS that promotes a greater sense of fullness and healthier blood sugar levels too.


Journal of Clinical Investigation

Baylor College of Medicine


Howard Hughes Medical Institute

University of California at San Francisco/sugarscience


two woman standing at yoga class

Exercise Changes Your Gut

Exercise is one of the best things you can do, not only for improving your physical and mental health. Fact is, exercise can help your body work and sleep better and may even help you live longer too.

In some cases, exercise may promote a stronger immune system, based on findings from a pair of related studies on mice and human subjects appearing in Gut Microbes and Medicine & Science in Sports & Science.

Running mice beat colitis

The animal study, conducted by scientists at the University of Illinois and the Mayo Clinic, started by letting a group of mice either run around or be sedentary for most of their lives.

Then, researchers transplanted gut bacteria from those two groups of mice into rodents that were bred to be germ free, so their microbiomes would more easily adapt to the new bugs.

Several weeks later, those younger mice were exposed to chemicals that induced ulcerative colitis to test the health of their microbiomes.

No surprise, those germ-free mice conformed to the bacteria they received, and the changes in their gut health were plain to see. But how?

Mice receiving transplants from active animals experienced less inflammation and healed damaged tissues better and faster than those receiving bacteria from sedentary animals. The tell-tale sign: Higher amounts of gut bugs producing butyrate.

In humans, the presence of butyrate (a short-chain fatty acid) protects your gut from harmful bacteria like E. coli and keeps gut inflammation in check.

The human touch

Researchers took a different approach with their follow-up work on human subjects (18 lean and 14 obese patients). First, patients were assigned to an ongoing cardiovascular exercise program (30-60 minutes, three times per week) for six weeks.

After completing the exercise cycle, microbiome samples were taken, and then a final one after six weeks of no exercise.

Just like their animal counterparts, the guts of humans produced more butyrate and other short-chain fatty acids during the exercise cycle, then declined during the sedentary period of rest.

Also, levels of butyrate and other short-chain fatty acids rose dramatically in the guts of leaner patients, compared to that of obese patients. Moreover, there were very consistent differences in the ratios of gut microbes between obese and leaner patients at every point in the study.

“The bottom line is that there are clear differences in how the microbiome of somebody who is obese versus somebody who is lean responds to exercise,” says Dr. Jeffrey Woods, a University of Illinois professor of kinesiology and community health. “We have more work to do to determine why that is.”

An additional factor that may have been a difference maker on the human side of this study: Patients ate what they wanted and weren’t assigned special diets.

A lot more to learn

There’s more work being done at other research venues to determine how much exercise benefits the human gut and how frequently one needs to be active in order to maintain those healthy rewards.

As is the case with many healthy things, however, the benefits of exercise have their limits, especially when you overwork your body. Pushing it with excessive exercise can become a big problem to the point that it can reverse the physical benefits you hoped to achieve.

Exercising to an extreme can take a huge toll on the health of your gut too, promoting leaky gut in as little as two hours.

However, one of the chemical triggers of leaky gut – the production of zonulin – was eased in a human study by taking a probiotic, like EndoMune Advanced Probiotic, containing multiple strains of beneficial bacteria.

Can excessive exercise promote leaky gut?

The benefits from regular exercise — from reducing your risks to catastrophic conditions like cancer, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease to improving your brain — are many and varied. In fact, a very popular Lancet study argued the lack of regular exercise could be as deadly to your health as smoking.

But, what happens when you take exercise to the opposite extreme? Overdoing anything often reverses much of the benefits you might’ve achieved in moderation, and exercise is no exception.

Based on a 2015 study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, people who exercised more than four hours a week had virtually the same risk of dying as sedentary folks who rarely exercised.

A pair of very recent scientific reports have also tied excessive exercise to serious health problems that may promote leaky gut, a disorder in which a breakdown in the intestinal wall allows unintended substances — undigested food, toxic waste products, bacteria and viruses — to seep through the intestinal barrier and into the bloodstream.

Extreme exercise may harm your gut after 2 hours

Exercising for two hours at 60 percent of the maximum volume of oxygen an athlete can use (VO2 max) along with stress felt from excess heat pushed patients into an unhealthy state, based on a review of studies featured in Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics.

How does that happen? If a patient’s gut loses a lot of blood during exercise, medical experts speculate the resulting inflammation can leave its protective lining damaged. In this vulnerable state, an ideal environment is created for leaky gut.

This review also determined that low to moderate exercise may be beneficial for patients suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

Lengthy military training may harm the gut too

Prolonged exercise was a trigger for leaky gut in a second study appearing in the American Journal of Physiology — Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology.

In this study, military scientists from Norway, the U.S. Army and the Geneva Foundation as well as the Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research tracked the health of 73 Norwegian Army soldiers training in cross country skiing for four days. During that time, soldiers skied 31 miles while carrying 99-pound backpacks.

Researchers collected blood and fecal samples before and after the exercise. Before giving urine samples on the first and third days of training, soldiers drank a mix of water and sucralose and mannitol (an artificial sugar and a sugar alcohol, respectively) to detect signs of leaky gut.

By the end of the training period, the collective gut health of these soldiers as well as the composition of substances in blood and stool samples taken from them changed significantly and for worse. The excretion of sucralose rose greatly too, indicating an increase in leaky gut.

Multi-species probiotics do make an impact

Despite the good probiotics do, some scientists believe they may not do much to protect gut permeability. However, a 2012 report from the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition that tracked the health of 22 trained athletes taking multi-species probiotics proved otherwise.

The key takeaway: The production of zonulin — an inflammatory protein that regulates leakiness in the gut — decreased slightly from levels slightly above normal to normal ranges, then dropped significantly after 14 weeks of supplementation with multi-species probiotics.

There are times when the leakiness triggered by zonulin protects your body in healthy ways, experts say, when you eat foods contaminated with harmful bacteria. When that happens, zonulin reacts by triggering diarrhea to get rid of the bad bugs.

Not only is taking a probiotic with multiple strains of beneficial bacteria like EndoMune Advanced Probiotic an ideal way to shorten the duration of diarrhea, this non-drug treatment gives your body a much needed boost to its natural defenses and may offer some protection from leaky gut too.

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