More and more research is coming out on the Mind-Gut Connection by which they mean the glorious mircobiome that lives in our digestive tract and how it works via the Vagus nerve with our brain. The exciting proof of the direct connection comes from this study Gut bacteria spotted eating brain chemicals for the first time.
Sounds terrifying but do not panic.
Bacteria — along with viruses and fungi — are microbes, and we’re filled with them. For each one of your human cells — that is, for every cell that’s “you” — there are an estimated 10 microbial cells. They live everywhere in your body: on your skin and inside your mouth, your nose, your genitalia, urinary tract, and intestines. …
“Without gut bacteria, we wouldn’t be anything. They are a critical part of us and essential to our health,” Snyder says.
So basically we are all covered in bacteria. It sounds gross but as you read on in this article, there is little we can do about it because they are literally part of our control system!
We acquire our intestinal microbes immediately after birth, and live in an important symbiotic relationship with them. There are far more bacteria in your gut than cells in your body, and their weight roughly equals that of your brain. These bacteria have a vast array of genes, capable of producing hundreds if not thousands of chemicals, many of which influence your brain. In fact, bacteria produce some of the same molecules as those used in brain signalling, such as dopamine, serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). Furthermore, the brain is predominantly made of fats, and many of these fats are also produced by the metabolic activity of bacteria.
So where does that leave us? Controlled by bacteria. No.
Fortunately, researchers are beginning to understand the differences between the wrong mix and a healthy one, as well as the specific factors that shape those differences. They hope to learn how to cultivate this inner ecosystem in ways that could prevent—and possibly treat—obesity, which doctors define as having a particular ratio of height and weight, known as the body mass index, that is greater than 30. Imagine, for example, foods, baby formulas or supplements devised to promote virtuous microbes while suppressing the harmful types. “We need to think about designing foods from the inside out,” suggests Jeffrey Gordon of Washington University in St. Louis. Keeping our gut microbes happy could be the elusive secret to weight control.
And it is not just Scientific American that thinks so. Study after study is exploring the mind-gut connection and determining what “good” bacteria can help us reduce cravings and digest foods better.
But there is more. Not only can improving the health of your gut bacteria help you lose weight. Studies have also shown that it can help you improve your mind!
Perhaps the most well-known human study was done by Mayer, the UCLA researcher. He recruited 25 subjects, all healthy women; for four weeks, 12 of them ate a cup of commercially available yogurt twice a day, while the rest didn’t. Yogurt is a probiotic, meaning it contains live bacteria, in this case strains of four species, bifidobacterium, streptococcus, lactococcus, and lactobacillus. Before and after the study, subjects were given brain scans to gauge their response to a series of images of facial expressions—happiness, sadness, anger, and so on.
To Mayer’s surprise, the results, which were published in 2013 in the journal Gastroenterology, showed significant differences between the two groups; the yogurt eaters reacted more calmly to the images than the control group. “The contrast was clear,” says Mayer. “This was not what we expected, that eating a yogurt twice a day for a few weeks would do something to your brain.” He thinks the bacteria in the yogurt changed the makeup of the subjects’ gut microbes, and that this led to the production of compounds that modified brain chemistry.
But wait there’s more. Our gut bacteria can impact not just mood but mental disorders from anxiety to possibly autism.
Anxiety and depression have been thought to contribute to gastro conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). A Johns Hopkins expert explains how what’s going on in your gut could be affecting your brain.
So what do you do now? Well care and feeding of your mircobiome is now more vital than ever.
It’s possible that you could reshape your microbiome, giving it a healthier profile,” Petrosino says. This could improve immune function, lower inflammation, and lead to overall better health. Not just a healthy diet, he says, but a more varied diet may be key to fostering a diverse and healthy microbiome. Exercise might diversify gut bacteria, too, says a recent study that showed athletes had more varied intestinal microbes than their non-athlete peers.
Additionally, you can find probiotics on the shelves of nearly every grocery store, pharmacy, and health store now. Make certain they have a mix of good bacteria including bifidobacterium, lactobacillus, streptococcus, lactococcus.
This article, Nurture Your Gut Bacteria — Improve Your Mood and Health, has a few good tips on what to do next including what to eat (interestingly fermented foods like yogurt obviously but also sauerkraut, who knew).
Your gut bacteria is a part of you. Instead of thinking of it as something icky, consider this another body part, an organ that deserves to be treated with the same care and attention that you would your brain.
Because let’s face it. They are connected.