We are used to think of our gut as a lowly organ where the less pretty bodily functions take place. And yet, the gut has been called the second brain: it turns out that bacteria in our belly influence our mood, and antibiotics may even be used to treat depression.
Image Credit: psicologiapsicosomatica.com
Has it ever happened to you to suddenly get scared or really nervous and instantly get an urge to go to the bathroom? It is long been known that our mood and stress level influence our digestion. However, the connection goes both ways: the term “gut-brain” axis describes a complex relationship in which the gut is an equal partner.
The second brain
Biologist Michael Gershon first called the gut “the second brain” in his famous book. The lining of the intestine contains 500 million neurons – 5 times more than in the spinal cord! – allowing the gut to exchange information with the brain via the vagus nerve. Moreover, your gut is home to 40 trillion bacteria (more than cells in your body), and as recent research shows, those bacteria (together known as microbiome) have a direct influence on our brain.
Bacteria produce chemical compounds that stimulate the vagus nerve, enter the blood stream and eventually reach the brain, or activate the immune system. The exact mechanisms are still mysterious, but soon we may have revolutionary treatments for depression, IBS, and more.
Kefir for depression?
Serotonin – a key neurotransmitter that regulates our mood – is mostly produced in our gut. It is widely believed that serotonin imbalance causes depression – but the production of serotonin is regulated by the microbiome! Thus, regulating the bacterial flora in the gut may allow to treat depression (here is one of the studies).
Other mental disorders have been linked to the gut, too. Studies show that children with autism often have abnormal levels of Clostridium bacteria, while schizophrenia seems to be correlated with Lactobacillus. These discoveries have led to the emergence of a new concept – psychobiotics, or beneficial bacteria that can treat mental illness.
A cure for inflammation
Our microbiome can hold the key to understanding many diseases, such as inflammation and the Irritable Bowel Syndrome. It seems that having less diverse gut microbiome results in allergies and auto-immune disorders. The rise of such illnesses in the West can be a result of our diet rich in fats and animal proteins and poor in fiber and vegetable proteins. Treating dysbiosis (unbalanced bacterial flora in the gut) is a promising way to cure IBS, leaky gut, ulcerative colitis, and chronic inflammation.
Help your microbiome now
Gut bacteria are essential to your health, both physical and mental. And luckily, it’s in your power to improve your microbiome with these easy tips!
Varied diet – avoid processed foods, eat more vegetables and fruit, whole grains, and fermented dairy products.
Probiotics – add yogurt, kefir, and other dairy to your meals; we advise you to try making your own yogurt.
Antibiotics – they can seriously harm your microbiome, so consider probiotic supplements if you have to take antibiotics.
The gut-brain axis is a fascinating frontier in medical science – and it affects each and every one of us. Treasure your gut bacteria, take care of your “second brain” – it seems that you cannot be happy unless your gut is happy.