April 18, 2022

Heal the gut, heal the brain?

Researchers have found an association between the microbiome and mental illnesses including depression and anxiety. This article will explore how optimizing gut health can affect the brain.

The communication between the central nervous system and our gut is often referred to as the gut-brain axis. Researchers have known for decades that hormones released from the gut affect appetite, food intake, and blood glucose regulation; however, recent work has identified a more complex communication path between the gut and brain. Scientists have identified that our gut microbiome could have a direct effect on mental wellness.

Hello brain, it’s your gut calling

Scientists have shown that the ‘good’ probiotic bacteria that live in our gut can communicate with our brain through the microbiome-gut-brain axis. These bacteria release chemicals that interact with the small nerves that surround the intestines to send signals up to the brain via the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is the main nerve that allows for communication between the brain and the heart, lungs and gut.

Changes in gut health affect brain function

The potential for this communication between the brain and the gut has led researchers to associate increasing rates of chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity, and irritable bowel syndrome with psychiatric illnesses. One study reported that mood disorders affect over 50% of those who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome.

Some research has linked the gut microbiome to having an impact on depression. Preliminary evidence suggests that taking probiotics may benefit major depressive disorders as well as overall mood in healthy populations.

Though a direct link between anxiety and the gut microbiome has not yet been fully established, scientists are exploring this area with interest. Some early research indicates that an unhealthy gut with only a few types of good bacteria is linked to anxiety, however, not all researchers agree on this relationship. However, what is known is that many individuals with gastrointestinal disorders also present symptoms of anxiety.

Your optimum health takeaway

Working to improve your gut health is an important component of ensuring optimal brain health, mental health, and overall wellbeing. Researchers hope that one day, treatment of mental health conditions will include targeted approaches with special probiotics or fortified yogurts. What is known is that an important bidirectional link exists with the microbiome-gut-brain axis and that optimizing the health of the microbiome will only serve to improve this axis. A proper team of health care professionals can help you get there by assessing and monitoring the way you eat to help diversify and improve your gut microbiome.


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