Your emotional health is a major part of your well-being, but it’s often not as simple as avoiding stressors or just “being happy.” Many people try top-down approaches to regulate mood and focus by focusing on the brain, however they’re missing out on what scientists are now calling “the second brain” – your gut.
As part of the enteric nervous system, your gut contains hundreds of millions of nerve cells (as many as a cat’s brain!), that can influence behavior and mood. Outside these nerve cells are trillions of beneficial bacteria that make up the gut microbiome, which are capable of not only producing enzymes to aid in digestion, but also neurotransmitters and hormones to act on nerve cells and your “first” brain.
Gut bacteria may regulate anxiety and behavior*
To test the hypothesis that gut microbiome has an impact on stress and anxiety, neuroscientists from the French Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM)(1) prepared two groups of mice, one with normal gut bacteria and one with decreased bacteria, and observed their behaviors when introduced to new environments. It was observed that the modified mice preferred to stay in the corners of the arena and did not explore the field as much as normal mice, indicating increased anxiety in the mice without proper gut microbiomes.
A similar conclusion was found in humans by a team at The Ohio State University (2). These researchers sampled the gut microbiome of a group of young children and then reviewed their behaviors from questionnaires done by parents. Results showed that children rated with greater sociability had greater diversity in gut bacteria and also that activity level differed in correlation with gut microbiome.
Gut bacteria might have a link to depression*
In a study done at Hedmark University College in Norway (3), researchers recruited 37 depressed patients and 18 non-depressed patients to examine differences in their gut microbiomes. After analyzing proportions of bacterial species, it was found that while depressed patients had reductions in certain species, they also had overrepresentation in others. While this study was only observational, it does raise interesting questions about the mutual effects that mood disorders and the gut microbiome may have.
The gut may be crucial to preserving cognitive health
According to scientists from Oregon State University (4), distinct diets, especially high fat and high sugar, may hinder cognitive flexibility and alter the gut microbiome.
The scientists assigned mice to one of three diets: high fat, high sugar, or an optimal balanced diet. Each group was then placed in an environment designed to test ability to adapt to changing conditions. It was found that mice on the normal diet were faster to adapt and showed the least amount of anxiety.
As strange as it may sound, there is increasing evidence that your gut may be crucial to better brain health. To better support your gut microbiome, be sure to eat wholesome meals that are diverse in nutrients. Probiotics and supplements such as MicroNourish are also great sources of nutrition that may help support digestion and your gut!
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(1) Absence of the gut microbiota enhances anxiety-like behavior and neuroendocrine response to acute stress in rats. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2014 Apr;42:207-17. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2014.01.014. Epub 2014 Jan 31.
(2) Gut microbiome composition is associated with temperament during early childhood. Brain Behav Immun. 2015 Mar;45:118-27. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2014.10.018. Epub 2014 Nov.
(3) Correlation between the human fecal microbiota and depression. Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2014. Aug;26(8):1155-62. doi: 10.1111/nmo.12378. Epub 2014 Jun 1.
(4) Relationships between diet-related changes in the gut microbiome and cognitive flexibility. Neuroscience. 2015 Aug 6;300:128-40. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2015.05.016. Epub 2015 May 14.
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