Bacteria & Brains; the Gut Connection
Your gut microbes can affect your health in numerous ways. In recent years, it’s become increasingly clear that the microbes in your gut play a much more vital role in your health than previously thought possible. In fact, probiotics, along with a host of other gut microorganisms, are so crucial to your health that researchers have compared them to “a newly recognized organ!"
The bacteria, fungi, viruses and other microorganisms that comprise your body’s microflora actually outnumber your body’s cells 10 to 1, and it’s now becoming increasingly clear that these tiny organisms play a major role in your health—both physical and mental.
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The impact of your microflora on your brain function has again been confirmed by UCLA researchers who, in a proof-of-concept study, found that probiotics (beneficial bacteria) indeed altered the brain function in the participants. As reported by UCLA:
“Researchers have known that the brain sends signals to your gut, which is why stress and other emotions can contribute to gastrointestinal symptoms. This study shows what has been suspected but until now had been proved only in animal studies: that signals travel the opposite way as well. ‘Time and time again, we hear from patients that they never felt depressed or anxious until they started experiencing problems with their gut,’ [Dr. Kirsten] Tillisch said. ‘Our study shows that the gut–brain connection is a two-way street.’”
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The study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Gastroenterology, claims the discovery “carries significant implications for future research that could point the way toward dietary or drug interventions to improve brain function.
The study enlisted 36 women between the ages of 18 and 55 who were divided into three groups:
The treatment group ate yogurt containing several probiotics thought to have a beneficial impact on intestinal health, twice a day for one month
Another group ate a “sham” product that looked and tasted like the yogurt but contained no probiotics
Control group ate no product at all
Before and after the four-week study, participants’ underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans, both while in a state of rest, and in response to an “emotion-recognition task.” For the latter, the women were shown a series of pictures of people with angry or frightened faces, which they had to match to other faces showing the same emotions.
“This task, designed to measure the engagement of affective and cognitive brain regions in response to a visual stimulus, was chosen because previous research in animals had linked changes in gut flora to changes in affective behaviours,” UCLA explains.
Interestingly, compared to the controls, the women who consumed probiotic yogurt had decreased activity in two brain regions that control central processing of emotion and sensation:
The insular cortex (insula), which plays a role in functions typically linked to emotion (including perception, motor control, self-awareness, cognitive functioning, and interpersonal experience) and the regulation of your body’s homeostasis, and
The somatosensory cortex, which plays a role in your body’s ability to interpret a wide variety of sensations
During the resting brain scan, the treatment group also showed greater connectivity between a region known as the “periaqueductal grey” and areas of the prefrontal cortex associated with cognition. In contrast, the control group showed greater connectivity of the periaqueductal grey to emotion- and sensation-related regions. According to UCLA:
“’The researchers were surprised to find that the brain effects could be seen in many areas, including those involved in sensory processing and not merely those associated with emotion,’ Tillisch said…‘There are studies showing that what we eat can alter the composition and products of the gut flora — in particular, that people with high-vegetable, fibre-based diets have a different composition of their microbiota, or gut environment, than people who eat the more typical Western diet that is high in fat and carbohydrates,’ [senior author Dr. Emeran] Mayer said. ‘Now we know that this has an effect not only on the metabolism but also affects brain function.’”
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Your gut actually sends far more information to your brain than your brain sends to your gut… To put this into more concrete terms, you’ve probably experienced the visceral sensation of butterflies in your stomach when you’re nervous, or had an upset stomach when you were very angry or stressed. The flip side is also true, in that problems in your gut can directly impact your mental health, leading to issues like anxiety and depression.
For instance, in December 2011, the Journal of Neurogastroenterology and Motility reported the novel finding that the probiotic (good bacteria) known as Bifidobacterium longum NCC3001 has been shown to help normalize anxiety-like behaviour in mice with infectious colitis. Separate research also found the probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus had a marked effect on GABA (an inhibitory neurotransmitter that is significantly involved in regulating many physiological and psychological processes) levels in certain brain regions and lowered the stress-induced hormone corticosterone, resulting in reduced anxiety- and depression-related behaviour.
Just as you have neurons in your brain, you also have neurons in your gut — including neurons that produce neurotransmitters like serotonin, which is also found in your brain. In fact, the greatest concentration of serotonin, which is involved in mood control, depression and aggression, is found in your intestines, not your brain. It’s quite possible that this might be one reason why antidepressants, which raise serotonin levels in your brain, are often ineffective in treating depression, whereas proper dietary changes often help…
Please understand that I cannot personally advise you without seeing you in my clinic.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!
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