Gut Health & Mental Health

by durbina03 on May 8, 2017 - 8:56pm

If I had to pick a theme for my life over the past year, it would be learning to listen to my gut. The article “Mental Health May Depend on Creatures in the Gut” (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/mental-health-may-depend-on-creatures-in-the-gut/) has helped me understand that what we refer to as the gut is more than just a vague sensation of feeling. It is made up of microbes that play a role in both physical and mental health.

 

There is a great deal of research being done on the connection between the gut and the brain. Studies on mice have shown that disruptions to gut bacteria can lead to symptoms of anxiety, depression, and autism. Conversely, when the microbiome of the mice were restored, their behavior returned to normal.

 

Scientists are exploring how we can use food to enhance our microbiomes and treat mental health conditions. One study conducted in Japan looked at stress hormones released by the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis in mice with altered microbiomes. They found much higher stress hormone levels in germ-free mice. They also found that pretreating the mice with a bacterium called Bifidobacterium infantis had the effect of reducing stress responses in the brain.

 

Something as simple as eating yogurt has been shown to reduce reflexive brain activities caused by anxiety. In a study conducted at UCLA, women who ate yogurt twice a day for a month showed less typically anxious responses to photos intended to trigger emotion-processing areas of the brain. Kirsten Tillisch, the study's principal investigator, said it “shows that bacteria in our intestines really do affect how we interpret the world.”

 

The article suggests that there is a great deal of potential in this field of research. While probiotics are currently used for treating certain gastrointestinal disorders, there is not yet enough evidence about their effect on the brain.

 

I’m personally exited by the idea that eating foods high in probiotics, or taking probiotic supplements, can potentially prevent or treat disorders such as depression and anxiety. I’ve made changes in my own diet to incorporate more fermented foods, such as yogurt, kimchi, and kombucha, in order to bring more healthy bacteria into my gut. 

 

I’m encouraged to see so many studies being done on the connection between the gut and the brain, particularly in the area of mental health. For decades pharmaceutical companies have been pouring money into treatments for depression and anxiety. While there are many benefits to pharmaceutical treatments and many peoples lives have been improved, they also come at great cost and often with serious side effects.

 

I think a more natural approach can help a great deal. While pharmaceuticals are needed in some cases, I believe we, as a society, rely on them far too often. Our own bodies have incredible healing power as well as the power to fight off illness in the first place if we give them more of a chance to do so. By figuring out more about how our bodies work and what helps and harms their most intricate functions, we may be able to forego some pharmaceutical treatments in regard to mood disorders. For me, it’s exciting to think that the old adage, “you are what you eat,” may be even truer than we had thought.

 

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Comments

Love this article, Andrea. Since I teach microbiology here at Ulster I am fascinated by the new research coming out. We are looking at disease states from a whole new angle! Microbes are not always our enemies. We are finding more and more that they are what help prevent disease.

Andrea, this article is sooo interesting to me. I have an aunt who would make us all use acidophilus daily to make sure our stomach is in tip top shape. We thought she was crazy or that she didn't know what she was talking about. Now I definitely see the importance in maintain my gut. Thank you for sharing this article. It was definitely an eye opener.

Andrea,

What a fascinating connection this is between the brain and the gut. It's crazy to think that when someone says "listen to your gut", there may be more truth to the saying than one might think. My mom always has at least one yogurt a day and tells me it keeps her stomach healthy, and now I understand what she's talking about much more. Over the past couple of years I've developed slight anxiety, and I never realized how much it can interfere with someone's life until it started happening to me. Now after reading this I'm thinking I should start eating a yogurt everyday like my mom! I also found other articles supporting the belief that Greek yogurt lowers anxiety because it lowers blood pressure and has a healthy dose of B vitamins (http://food.allwomenstalk.com/foods-that-lower-anxiety/3). It truly is beneficial to know that there are good kinds of bacteria in our intestines that will affect our brains and overall interpretations of the world.

The Autism connection portion of your article I found especially interesting (I also posted an article about causes of Autism). It's intriguing to read of different theories for the cause of the disorder. Genetics is typically the most believed to be cause of Autism, but its exciting to read of a different potential cause, especially it being related to microbiomes.

I loved your topic! I never would've thought there would be a connection between bacteria in the gut and the brain, I found your article extremely interesting. I feel the same way about natural alternatives for treating medical conditions. It seems as though this is not something often considered, most people are so used to just taking a medication to get rid of an illness or symptom they are experiencing.

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