Gut Bacteria and Mental Health

Mounting evidence shows a direct link between gut and brain function.  The New York Times shared, “it has long been known that much of our supply of neurochemicals — an estimated 50 percent of the dopamine, for example, and a vast majority of the serotonin — originate in the intestine, where these chemical signals regulate appetite, feelings of fullness and digestion. But only in recent years has mainstream psychiatric research given serious consideration to the role microbes might play in creating those chemicals.”

A recent study suggests our anxiety levels may not just be driven by what’s going on in our brains and the world around us, but what’s inside our gut as well. Scientists at University College in Cork, Ireland found a strong link between high levels of depressive and anxious behavior and low levels of microbes. “The study showed that mice reared ‘microbe-free’ displayed higher anxiety levels than those with them.” It is believed that the microbiotic environment of the gut influences two areas of the brain, the pre-frontal cortex and amygdala.  These are both tied to a range of mental health conditions that include anxiety and depression.

The interest between the link between gut bacteria and mental health has grown due to technological advances. We are now able to better sequence bacteria and better understand genetic profiles and their individual functions.

“I definitely see the gut as like a second brain,”

— Dr Megan Rossi, Research Associate atKing’s College London told the BBC.

So, what can you do to better support your gut?  Foods to enjoy include kimchi and probiotics. Beneficial produce like asparagus, onion, garlic, legumes, dates, and figs also help, but variety is key.

“The number of microbes down there and the sort of shape that they are in largely depends on what you eat and what you drink,” Mosley said. “Because everything you don’t digest, feeds them,” Dr. Michael Mosley, author of “The Clever Gut Diet: How to Revolutionize Your Body From the Inside Out,” told ABC News. He adds that “many Americans have ruined their gut with junk food and excessive use of antibiotics, but he said new scientific research is looking at how a change in diet may be able to reprogram your physical and psychological well-being.”

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