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The Connection Between Gut Health and Mood

Look in both directions when you cross ANY street

onewayImagine yourself about to cross an empty street. You see a sign across the street telling you that it’s a one way street. Do you bother to look in the opposite direction? Or do you proceed to cross after glancing quickly in one direction?

Up until recently, it was generally accepted that communication between your brain and gut only happened in one direction;152176975 that is from the brain to the gut and not vice versa. Your digestive system remained a silent operator, following all the commands of your brain. For the first time, a study had found that there’s now evidence that bacteria in your food (beneficial bacteria, probiotics) can have quite an impact on your brain function including your mood. It gives a brand new meaning to the phrase “gut feeling”. Your neglected digestive system might have been voicing its concerns for some time….?

Thank the researchers who thought to “look the other way” and saw your digestive system sending out its own signals. The sign was wrong. It’s a two-way street after all.

Let’s analyze the study. The study summarised that women who regularly consumed probiotics (in yoghurt) manifested altered brain function. By altered brain function, I don’t mean they turned into the zombies of the World War Z type or The Walking Dead type either. By altered, I mean their brains were less alarmed or stressed and able to handle visual stimuli better. In essence, their brains were able to perform better. Other data taken from the study includes:

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  • Number of participants: 36 women, ages 18 to 55
  • Divided into three groups:

    1st group – ate yoghurt twice a day

    2nd group – ate a dairy product resembling yoghurt (but which contained no probiotics) twice a day

    3rd group – ate no products (of course, they ate something, their regular diet)

  • Study duration: 1 month

149266368Women who ate probiotics showed lower levels of stress in their brain compared to the groups which didn’t consume any probiotics. This was particularly evident in an area of the brain called the insula and the somatosensory cortex. The insula is an area of your brain which handles internal body sensations like those of your neglected digestive system. The somatosensory cortex handles sensory stimuli (stimuli you can feel). The researchers were expecting activity from the emotion centers, but didn’t expect activity from the insula and somatosensory cortex. To add to their surprise, those who consumed probiotics had less activity and greater connectivity compared to the other groups which consumed either probiotic-free dairy or no products at all.

121127247In a nutshell (meaning the one important point for you), whether they (the group with probiotics) were aware of it or not, their brains were able to handle the stress of the stimuli better. If your brain is less stressed, you’ll be in a better mood and frame of mind. Could the beneficial bacteria have played a major role in this? The study thought so.

I think you’re already aware of the significance of these findings. Think of the additional ways you can improve your brain function by choosing the food you eat.

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What We Thought was a One-way Street (Stress can lead to gastrointestinal problems)

Personal experience was ahead of science. We felt it before we came to know about it elsewhere. When we’re stressed, we can experience an assortment of digestive problems like nausea, vomiting, indigestion, “upset” stomach, loss of appetite, stomach pain, heartburn and diarrhea……proof that stress can impact powerfully on the digestive tract.

Stress is inevitable. It’s a part of life. Your brain releases CRH (corticotropin releasing hormone) during times of stress. This hormone acts on your adrenal glands. As a response, your adrenal glands secrete epinephrine and corticosteroids. These two have somewhat opposing effects on your appetite. CRH decreases your appetite. This is the reason why sometimes you have no appetite when you’re stressed out. On the other hand, corticosteroids can increase a person’s appetite. This is the rationale behind someone trying to subconsciously eat their way into an obese lifestyle (no pun intended). Which of the two will predominate exactly, the experts aren’t sure.

What We Now Think as a Two-way Street (Your digestive system answers back)

164910374Precisely how does our digestive system communicate with our brains? That’s the hard part. The exact mechanism still remains elusive. There are some theories of course.

Do you know what serotonin is? It’s a neurotransmitter (something which carries neural signals) that is manufactured in the brain. It’s surprising to know that the majority (between 90 to 95 percent) of the supply of serotonin is stored or put away in your digestive system and blood platelets.

Most of your neurons (brain cells) associated with appetite, sleep, memory, regulation of temperature, social behavior, sexual function, desire, and mood all react to serotonin. So if this is the storehouse for serotonin and you have an unhealthy digestive tract, could this alter your ability to handle emotional situations less effectively? Mmmm….Another link that suggests the health of your digestive tract has an impact on your brain function?

Incidentally, there are some studies which found that there are low blood levels of serotonin among those who are depressed. Low serotonin levels in the blood coupled with poor gut health would have a compounding effect on depressive states…wouldn’t it?

Another theory is that the beneficial bacteria in your digestive tract could be producing substances which alter your brain function. So what happens if we have a lot of harmful bacteria? Well, I’m glad you asked. The presence of a lot more harmful bacteria in relation to the beneficial bacteria can mean that there’s more harmful substances (toxins) being produced which negatively affect your brain function and mood. It’s important that you tip the scale in favour of the beneficial bacteria.

More studies are being done to provide more evidence as to exactly how beneficial bacteria can positively influence brain function. For now, the best you can do is to help maintain the positive balance of these good bacteria in your system. Increase your intake of PRObiotics, especially if you have had to take ANTIbiotics lately. Make your digestive system healthy and you’ll reap the rewards. Create an environment where there is a continuous supply of serotonin.

Future Expectations

In the end, the study was actually a game changer in its purpose and in fact, did open up a can of worms, raising the questions:
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  • 1. Is it still safe to take antibiotics?
  • 2. What is the exact mechanism by which beneficial bacteria affect brain function?
  • 3. How much probiotics should we take in order to improve our brain function?
  • 4. How can this study help in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease, Autism, Alzheimer’s disease and others?

It’s a wait and see game and in time research may well answer these questions. Stay tuned dear readers. Let’s hope those worms turn out to be beneficial.

Get more information on probiotics and their impact on your soon NOT to be neglected digestive system by getting in touch with any of our qualified staff . Together, let’s look in both directions.


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