Microbes in your body can control how you feel and what you want to eat, here's how.

SeekerPublished: July 10, 2018
Published: July 10, 2018

 

The average human being hosts tens of trillions of microbes in and on our bodies, most of which reside in our intestines. Depending on the person, 2-6 pounds of our entire weight could be purely microbial. It turns out these microbial passengers are both giving back to us and potentially sabotaging us. Scientists are calling this the gut-brain axis, and it can even be referred to as your ‘second brain.’

It turns out that the teeming and diverse community in our gut acts as a collective unit with a mind of its own. For example, your bacteria may be making food choices for you. Some bacteria love eating fiber, some love pure sugar or fat, and depending on your diet, you may be cultivating a gut population with a preference for one over the other. Whichever your ‘second brain’ prefers, it’s probably going to to tell you what it wants. Your microbes do this by hijacking your neurotransmitters until you feed them what they want. And when you do, there’s a wave a relief. This interaction between your cravings, your microbiome, and how your brain registers all of this is really complex.

When your bacteria feel happy, you feel happy because bacteria, it turns out, communicate with one another via neurotransmitter--  the same kind of chemicals used in your regular brain: like serotonin, dopamine, cortisol, and GABA. These from one neuron to another in your brain, and because you host so many bacteria, when they use them it can affect you and your mood, too. We’re still unclear on how exactly these signals get from your gut to your brain. A likely candidate seems to be the vagus nerve, a long nerve that connects your stomach and intestines to the base of your brain, but it could also be your hormones or your endocrine system. It could also be both.

The results that are coming in from this kind of research are pretty remarkable. One research group at University College Cork in Ireland fed Lactobacillus rhamnosus, a good bacteria, or ‘probiotic’ you can usually find in yogurt, to one of two groups of mice. The probiotic mice were much more likely to persevere and succeed in the face of adversity tests than those not treated with the probiotic. They repeated a similar study in humans, with the probiotic-fed humans displaying improved resilience to negative emotions than those without the probiotic.

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