Ever experienced a strong craving for a particular food? Anyone who is on a diet knows just how hard it is to fight cravings. The struggle is usually with sweets, processed foods, and quick acting carbs rather than the healthy stuff – if only you could be addicted to berries instead!
Cravings are governed by the little planet of microbes that live inside your gut. Known as the gut bacteria, intestinal flora, or gut microbiome, these bacterial cells total to more than the number of cells in the human body.
While their role in human health has been understood for quite some time, it is surprising that the bigger picture has eluded people for so long. Here’s a lowdown on gut bacteria and how they may be influencing your cravings.
The Gut-Brain Axis
Apart from your nervous system that is made up of the brain, spinal cord, and nerves, there is an enteric nervous system. In other words, you have a brain in your guts. This nerve connection is linked directly to the bacteria in the gut.1
This perhaps explains why fighting a craving has so much to do with the mind and willpower, as well. There is literally an independent brain within your body that governs how you eat.
The Gut Flora Can Control Your Mood
Think of gut bacteria as a colony. Each colony has different needs for them to grow and thrive. There are multiple bacterial colonies in your gut and each of them is screaming out their own requirements. The next time you really need a slice of apple pie, think about this – the bacteria in your gut need it. But, you – not so much.
Gut bacteria can release short-chain fatty acids such as butyrate compounds when they are “displeased” with the foods supplied to them. These fatty acids influence your mood and can make you quite miserable when you cannot have that bag of chips.2
Gut Bacteria Can Cause Stress And Anxiety
When you repeatedly deny them of their preferred choice of nutrients, gut bacteria can turn into lousy monsters. This is why you experience fatigue, anxiety, and even mild withdrawal symptoms when you try to go off of a certain kind of food. In mice models, too much colonization by C.jenjuni bacteria resulted in stress and anxious behavior. The next time you have a hunger pang, think about that.
The good news is that while these unhealthy bacteria do put up a fight, you can get rid of them by eating the right foods for sustained periods of time.3
What You Eat Is What You Create
The bacteria that colonize in your gut are influenced heavily by what you put in your body. If you are trying to fight a bad craving, give it a few days, not hours, to resolve itself. Eventually, the bacteria causing the unhealthy cravings will disappear, giving the good bacteria a chance. Probiotics can also help in this regard.4
Antibiotic consumption can severely upset the balance of good vs bad bacteria. Unfortunately, you may again crave for unhealthy foods due to subsequent indigestion and bloating.5
The Candida Link
Every single day, there is a competiton going on in your gut to see which microbe can colonize it. When the good bacteria are taken over due to processed foods, sugar, and other unhealthy foods, Candida albicans, the cause of most human fungal infections, has a chance to take over.
This condition is just as easy to reverse if you can fight off the cravings that these bad bacteria and candida now cause together. When deprived of their choice of nutrients, candida can be taken over quite easily by the good bacteria.6
Eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, probiotic foods, or meat when you have a craving will not only satisfy your hunger but also take your mind off the unhealthy food you wanted to eat. Fermented foods can help promote the growth of good bacteria, so include them in your diet. However, avoid sugars, trans fats, artificial sweeteners, and alcohol for better health.
|↑1||Carabotti, Marilia, Annunziata Scirocco, Maria Antonietta Maselli, and Carola Severi. “The gut-brain axis: interactions between enteric microbiota, central and enteric nervous systems.” Annals of gastroenterology: quarterly publication of the Hellenic Society of Gastroenterology 28, no. 2 (2015): 203.|
|↑2, ↑3, ↑4||Alcock, Joe, Carlo C. Maley, and C. Aktipis. “Is eating behavior manipulated by the gastrointestinal microbiota? Evolutionary pressures and potential mechanisms.” Bioessays 36, no. 10 (2014): 940-949.|
|↑5||Quigley, Eamonn MM. “Gut bacteria in health and disease.” Gastroenterology & hepatology 9, no. 9 (2013): 560.|
|↑6||Kennedy, Michael J., Alvin L. Rogers, and Robert J. Yancey. “An anaerobic continuous-flow culture model of interactions between intestinal microflora and Candida albicans.” Mycopathologia 103, no. 3 (1988): 125-134.|