Sometimes, you have to “go with your gut” and not over think about decisions. The gut-brain connection is not just a saying, it’s real, and it affects us more than we may realize.
Your digestive health, and its relationship to your immune system are heavily documented. However, exploration into how the menagerie of bacteria in your digestive tract influences your behavior, or the gut-brain connection has just begun.
For decades, scientists knew the gut-brain connection existed. Mental disorders and behavioral problems have physical, digestive side effects. They wrongly assumed, however, that the communication was a one way street from the brain to the gut.
The digestive system and the trillions of microorganisms that live there lookout for their own well being. Years ago doctors looked at the gut-brain connection to understand human hunger and eating habits. Now, they realize it could even be affecting our behaviors. And not just when we’re hangry and upset that our lunch break is an hour from now.
How Your Gut Talks To Your Brain
There may be a connection between how you act, and the microorganisms that live in your digestive tract. Of course, this is not to say that a sudden desire to take over the world is your gut’s fault. Instead there could be subtler changes. For example, the type of food you are craving most likely have nutrients needed to support the growth of whatever bacteria is dominate in your gut. Regardless of if they are good or bad. Certain types of bacteria can reducing stress, increase anxiety, or even impair memory.
Research suggests that the early developments of our microbiome may affect our mental health. At least, early exposure to stress greatly reduces the diversity of microbes available in our guts. Lower microbial diversity means a less healthy gut. This may, in turn, shape our mental health.
A 2001 study from McMaster University compared the behavior of two groups of 8-week-old mice. Those that had microbe-free guts and mice with normal microbes present. The microbe-free mice showed higher levels of risk-taking and higher stress hormones, specifically the brain chemical BDNF, linked to anxiety and depression in humans.
Some studies are even beginning to explore the possibility of using new types of probiotic treatments to help with more than physical ailments. These probiotics aren’t the same as the currently available supplement types, but are closely related.
There is still a lot of skepticism in the field, and a lot more questions. So far all studies like these have only looked at mice. Venturing into human subjects will take time. It is only within the last decade that research has studied the gut-brain connection. However, scientists are optimistic for the future and ready to see what our gut has to tell us about our overall health.