It might sound odd to hear that the bacteria that lives in your gut may affect your mood, but could such a thing be possible? Some researchers believe that it could.
The BBC has recently revealed that bacteria in our guts may have an “invisible hand” in altering our brains and affecting our mental health, with conditions such as depression, autism and neurodegenerative disease now being linked to gut bacteria.
Ways gut bacteria affects the brain:
- Bacteria breaks down fibre into chemicals called short-chain fatty acids, that can have affects throughout the body.
- Through the vagus nerve which is an information superhighway connecting the brain and the gut.
- The microbiome (defined as a community of microorganisms that live in the human body) influences the immune system, which has also been implicated in brain disorders.
- There is also evidence to suggest that bacteria in the guts could be using small strips of genetic code called microRNAs to alter how DNA works in nerve cells.
Prebiotics and Probiotics
There are ways to manipulate the bacteria in your gut, through prebiotics and probiotics. Prebiotics are types of dietary fibre such as chicory root, dandelion greens, garlic and other specific sources of fibre that feed the friendly bacteria in your gut. Probiotics, according to the NHS, are live bacteria and yeasts promoted as having various health benefits, often described as ‘good’ or ‘friendly’ bacteria that are thought to help restore the natural balance of bacteria in your gut when it’s been disrupted by an illness or treatment.
Gut Bacteria and Mood Research
A study by Oxford University found that prebiotics affect both emotional processing and stress hormone levels in healthy human volunteers.
In the study, the university had healthy volunteers take one of two types of prebiotics or a placebo each morning, for three weeks. At the end of the three weeks, the volunteers completed a series of tasks designed to test emotional processing. Those on prebiotics paid less attention to negative words and more to positive ones than those on the placebo; as well as having lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their saliva at the end of the three weeks compared to the beginning.
However, in a second prebiotic test, a different type of prebiotic was used which was found to have no effect on neither emotional processing nor cortisol levels.
In another study, scientists at McMaster University Orlando found that altering gut bacteria levels with antibiotics in mice, changed their behaviours and anxiety levels. The mice who were usually cautious became adventurous and less anxiety-prone after the antibiotics and gut bacterial disruption.
Research into bacteria affecting mental health and moods is still very new and there is no conclusive data or definite answer, but a future where dementia and other mental illnesses could one day be treated with “psychobiotics”, or intestinal bacteria with mental health benefits, looks more promising than ever, according to the Guardian.
Disclaimer: The content of this website is provided for informational purposes only and does not substitute the medical advice from a healthcare professional.