The Science Behind How Your Gut Microbes Influence Your Mind
Your gut and all the microbes living in it have a bidirectional communication highway leading straight to your brain.
This isn’t some back road taking you through detours to different nervous systems before you finally reach your central nervous system.
This is a straight shot of communication with no detours or dirt roads from your enteric nervous system (ENS) to your central nervous system (CNS).
This highway is called your vagus nerve and with its afferent and efferent fibers, it helps directly carry information to and from your ENS and CNS.
Your vagus nerve is like the major highway in a city influencing most of the traffic between your gut-brain axis.
But similar to cities, there are those back roads we like to enjoy on a Sunday afternoon.
This is true with your gut-brain connection as well because it also has indirect connections to your central nervous system.
These include pathways sent via your autonomic nervous system involving neural, endocrine, immune, and hormonal links.
Through all of these pathways, your gut bacteria can have a direct and indirect influence on your mood, behavior, and mental health. Your gut has even been linked to the development of depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, autism, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Your Gut Microbiome
If the communication from your gut to your brain are like highways and backroads then your gut microbiota are the cars traveling down these pathways. Your gut microbiota consists of a diverse community of 40 trillion microorganisms mostly made up of bacteria.
These microorganisms contain genes, which can influence your body’s overall health. These genes make up your gut microbiome and are 150 times greater than your human genome.
When all is well in the gut microbiota community you can experience:
- Proper functioning of your digestive system
- Mood stability
- Strong immune responses
- Hormone balance
- Weight maintenance
But when there is an imbalance of your good and bad bacteria it can cause gut dysbiosis, which can lead to a breakdown in the proper functioning of your enteric nervous system. Gut dysbiosis has been linked to:
Your gut microbiota health is a representation of your body’s overall health.
How Your Microbes and Brain Communicate
As a newborn, you are first exposed to your mother’s vaginal microbiota, which influences the development and diversity of your gut microbiota. Research shows how the exposure of the mother’s microbiota through birth and breastfeeding is important for the development and maturation of your brain and gut.
So, we know these microbes have had a relationship with your brain from the very beginning, but how does your gut bacteria communicate with your brain?
Your gut bacteria effectively communicates through the gut-brain axis which can affect your thoughts, moods, and mental health in the following ways:
- Vagus nerve communication – You already know how the vagus nerve is the main pathway for the signals coming to and from the gut to the brain. Your vagus nerve is made up of 80% of afferent fibers which relay signals from peripheral organs – your gut – to the central nervous system.
Studies show how alteration of gut microbiota with harmful pathogens can produce anxiety-like symptoms.
- Production of bacterial metabolites – Certain bacteria produce short-chain fatty acids, which stimulate a branch of your autonomic nervous system called the sympathetic nervous system, mucosal serotonin release, and influence memory and the learning process.
- Systemic immune modulation – Gut microbes can also stimulate inflammatory cytokines to be released into the bloodstream. These cytokines can cross the blood-brain barrier for direct interaction with the brain potentially affecting brain function.
- Hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis modulation – Your gut-brain axis communicates through the HPA axis via hormones. The HPA axis sends signals involving stress hormones and is also apart of the limbic system, which is a crucial zone in the brain involved in memory and emotional responses.
- Neurotransmitters – Specific bacteria produce and release certain neurotransmitters in the gut such as GABA, serotonin, histamines, and catecholamines. These bacterial-derived neurotransmitters affect your brain’s cognition, memory processing, emotion, and behaviors.
The research involving the gut-brain connection has just begun to unfold. Scientists found that all five of these pathways are communication gateways leading from the gut microbiota to your central nervous system. The fact that your gut bacteria influence your thoughts, mood, and mental health is groundbreaking.
Gut Microbiota and Mental Health Issues
Factors such as food allergies, intestinal inflammation, intestinal permeability, exposure to parasites, and gut dysbiosis can lead to immune dysregulation affecting the brain. These have been linked to:
- Anxiety and depression – The gut-brain connection related to anxiety and depression is apparent. When your serotonin and GABA neurotransmitters aren’t being released by your gut you’re going to have a major fluctuation in mood – this can lead to anxiety and depression. if your gut bacteria that help stimulate these neurotransmitters aren’t up to par.
- Schizophrenia – The research on gut bacteria and mental health has shed more light on people battling schizophrenia. This has opened the doors to possibility that the risk factors for schizophrenia originate in the gut.
- Autism – Mood disorders such as autism also have a strong correlation to gut dysbiosis.
- Alzheimer’s disease – Since Alzheimer’s disease is a central nervous system disorder an outpouring of research between the gut-brain axis has begun. Certain gut microbiota can secrete large amounts of lipopolysaccharides and amyloids, which is a hallmark sign for Alzheimer’s. Gut dysbiosis can induce inflammation by proinflammatory cytokines which are associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
Healthy Gut, Healthy Mind: Manipulate Your Gut Microbes
Gut-brain connection research is just getting started, but there’s no denying of the relationship between your gut bacteria and brain. Your diet and lifestyle are two major influences on the health of your gut bacteria and mind.
If you are struggling with anxiety, depression, brain fog, or cognitive decline you might need to turn to your gut health for help.
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