How Gut Bacteria Can Impact Brain Health

Recent studies suggest that the hordes of bacteria living in the gut may impact mental functioning. The human body is home to close to 100 trillion bacteria – that indicates that there are close to 10 times as many bacterial cells as human cells in your body. Mounting evidence indicates that these microbes – collectively referred to as the microbiome – play an integral role in health, especially brain health. Mice studies suggest that microbes living in the digestive tract are associated with depression and anxiety.

Researchers from UCLA were interested in the connection between gut bacteria and mental functioning in humans. To find out more information, researchers gave healthy women fermented milk with either a probiotic supplement, or no probiotic, and scanned their brains while showing them photos of people with emotional expressions on their faces. The women who received the probiotic demonstrated a reduced brain response to the faces, compared with the women who did not receive the probiotic.

There has been some speculation that late-onset autism and other brain conditions may have a connection with unusual gut fauna. According to Arizona State University researcher, Rosa Krajmalnik-Brown, children with autism have numerous intestinal problems. She led a team of investigators who discovered that children with autism had fewer types of gut bacteria and reduced numbers of several key microbes, when compared with typical children.

There are still many mysteries regarding gut bacteria and mental health. Reserchers have noted that the vagus nerve, which controls the rhythmic motions of the digestive tract and communicates sensory information to the brain, could be directly involved. Additional research is required to solve the puzzle of how stomach bacteria can influence specific behaviors.

Written by Stuart Diamond

Empowered Doctor Editor-In-Chief