How the Bacteria in Our Gut Influences Our Minds

How the Bacteria in Our Gut Influences Our Minds

Eating healthy, exercising on a regular basis, and getting a good night`s sleep is the key to keeping a healthy brain.  But, brain health can be also affected by an unexpected source- our 2nd brain. The gut, situated within the walls of the digestive system, contains bacteria which could help mold the brain structure, potentially affecting mood, mental health, and behavior.

In the infographic, “Can Bacteria Talk To Your Brain? Your Microbes and Mental Health,” LabRoots, a website which stresses digital innovation in scientific collaboration and learning, shows how the brain and the digestive system are related. The gut has the ability to communicate with the brain via the vagus nerve — a cranial nerve extending from the brainstem to the abdomen through the heart, esophagus, and lung — known as the gut-brain axis.

This communication is enabled by the molecules produced by gut bacteria which enter the bloodstream. The blood releases neuroactive compounds and hormones, which enter the bloodstream, and go to the brain.

The human body has about four pounds of gut bacteria. When they become imbalanced, it can lead to symptoms like:

  • Headaches
  • Rashes
  • Gas
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Joint pain
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Memory problem
  • Painful periods
  • Fatigue
  • Poor sleep
What Does an Imbalance of Healthy and Harmful Gut Bacteria Do?

An imbalance of beneficial versus detrimental gut bacteria has been associated with many psychiatric and neurological disorders like stress, anxiety, depression, and autism. It may even play a role in Alzheimer`s, Parkinson`s, and other neurological disorders.

There is research which shows that manipulating the gut bacteria can produce behaviors related to depression and anxiety. According to a 2013 study, replacing gut bacteria of anxious mice with bacteria from fearless mice led to the mice becoming more sociable and calmer.  It also worked in reverse, when the bold mice became timid, they received bacteria of anxious mice and aggressive mice calmed down when scientists replaced their gut bacteria.

There are a couple of implications of the gut-brain connection, including the possibility of prevention and treatment of neuropsychiatric and neurological disorders through gut health.

This goes to show that having a healthy gut equals a healthy mind!