One look at the title of this article and you might think we’re talking about the odd noises your stomach makes after a little too much curry. But we’re not talking about any minor gastrointestinal distress you might suffer a good meal; we’re talking about how the gut flora that live in your stomach and intestines can actually improve your mood!
Let’s start with a little information about what we’re talking about when we say “gut flora.” Our bodies are covered with bacteria inside and out, so many that there are actually 10 times more bacteria than there are our own cells. (You might not be who you think you are!) Some of the most beneficial are bacteria in our gut, called gut flora, aka gut microbiota, or aka gastrointestinal microbiota. (Probiotics, aka Lactobacillus acidophilus, is a specific species that you’ll find in you’ll find in our natural probiotics supplements.) Gut flora are there to help you digest food, and they’re also there to fight off worse bacteria that might make you sick. So while you might get sick sometimes, it would be a lot worse without those beneficial bacteria in your intestines.
But there’s another way in which gut bacteria might be affecting you. Since scientists discovered that the brain controls the body, we always thought that information was a one-way street. The brain told the heart to beat, and it beat. It told the lungs to breathe, and they breathe. But we’ve recently found out that your digestive tract, and the microbiome in there, can actually affect the brain!
Wait, Who’s Controlling My Brain?
Don’t worry too much. Your microbiome is yours and yours alone, and the specific combination of bacteria, their ratios, and even species are yours. In fact, you probably have bacteria in your gut that couldn’t be found in anyone else. Most of our microbiome is established by the time we’re between one and two years old, so although it does change a little over the years, it’s as much a part of you as your own cells.
It’s a symbiotic relationship, and the body and brain are always talking to each other. Gastroenterologist Kirsten Tillisch, UCLA, notes ““it’s a conversation that our bodies are having with our microbiome.”
Science is incredibly interested in how gut flora can affect mood, so they turned to the typical lab rat to run some tests. The rats’ moods were evaluated (honestly, we’re not sure how) and found to be typical rats. They then had their own microbiome eradicated, leaving them without gut bacteria.
The scientists then took intestinal samples from that of depressed humans and introduced them to the rats. As you might have guessed from what we’ve heard before, the rats actually became depressed! While one could joke and say that the rats were depressed because they’d just been fed poo bacteria, it’s pretty obvious that the bacteria were affecting their brains.
Weird Mice, Valiant Mice
Studies have also been done on mice. Like the rats, the mice had their own microbiome flushed out of their systems. In this case, though, they were allowed to live out their lives without the gut bacteria. A study noted that “mice born and raised without bacteria behave in all sorts of bizarre ways, exhibiting antisocial tendencies, memory troubles and recklessness, in some cases.”
But those two studies were about how bacteria (or the lack thereof) affected creatures negatively. Here’s a study showing the positive effects of gut bacteria. Scientists at the University of Cork in Ireland fed one batch of mice natural probiotic supplements, while feeding the second batch of mice regular rodent food They then dropped the mice into bowls of water, and if you know anything about mice, they are not fond of swimming. The lip of the bowl was too high for them to climb out, so they had to keep swimming around trying to find a way out. The group of mice that had been fed probiotics kept swimming longer before giving up. In other words, they actually wanted to live more! Not only did they have fewer stress hormones, they had less anxiety and lived overall happier lives (once they were saved from the water, that is!).
So How’s All This Happening?
Studies are all relatively new, but the most common theory is that it’s the byproducts of the bacteria that are producing some of humanity's favorite neurotransmitters: serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. These are the chemicals that make us feel good, relaxed, and more resilient. It’s likely that these chemicals are being sent to the brain via the vagus nerve.
So Where’s My Bacteria Prescription?
Believe it or not, human trials have actually begun on these “psychobiotics.” A study showed that people who had taken pills filled with a specific type of bacteria felt sharper and more alert after four weeks. While it was a small study, it’s promising.
The most promising aspects in this field of medicine might just be in treating depression. Instead of taking synthetic antidepressants that can have serious side effects, probiotic and bacterial pills might be used in order to introduce new gut bacteria that can have a positive effect on people’s moods, even fighting the bacteria that’s making them sick.
Are There Any Problems?
There is one big hurdle, however. Up above we mentioned that your biome is well established by the time you are two years old. New mood-altering bacteria doesn’t always stick around, as it can be fought by the body and expelled. A hard-restart, like that with the first rats mentioned above, is drastic but could drastically help people suffering from severe depression.
Luckily, the bacteria that aid in digestion, such as the Lactobacillus acidophilus in our natural probiotic supplements, tend to stick around because it’s such a common bacteria. (There are also 10 other common strains in our capsules that work equally as well.) With 50 billion colony forming units in our probiotic capsules, they set up shop nicely and help you body digest foods easier and more efficiently.
Want to learn more? Here’s an excellent article from Science News that goes into even great detail on some of the studies we mentioned in this article. If you take anything from this blog and that article, it’s that a healthy biome is important to most every aspect of your health, and natural probiotic supplements can help. Check out the best natural probiotics right here!